Like temperament and colour blindness, filmmaking runs in the family. Director Kamal Swaroop’s daughter Ardra has followed in his footsteps, and has made her debut with a personal film about his side of the family.
Nethar has been produced by Films Division and will be premiered on January 22 by the documentary group Vikalp at the Jnanapravaha cultural centre in Mumbai. The title is Kashmiri for marriage, since it’s a cousin’s wedding that provides Ardra Swaroop the occasion to attend a rare family reunion and investigate her grandfather’s journey from Srinagar to Ajmer.
Nethar provides a rare peek into Kamal Swaroop’s antecedents. His father, a Kashmiri Pandit named Amarnath Swaroop, relocated to Ajmer in 1935, and Kamal and his siblings grew up in the Rajasthani city. The director paid tribute to Ajmer’s shrines and its local ways in his experimental feature Omdarbadar in 1989. In a short sequence in Nethar, Ardra gets Kamal to revisit his school, which will remind fans of Omdarbadar of a similar educational institution where students learn about geography and dissect frogs.
The 40-minute film has been distilled out of 85 hours of footage, Ardra said, and there was a great deal of material about Kamal Swaroop that was left on the cutting floor since she wanted to focus on his whole family. “I am not trying to get an audience because of him – it’s just that I am in the same industry as him, and cinema is the tool I use to find answers,” she said. “I decided to trace the history of Kashmiri Pandits through the story of my family. I had only heard certain stories about my family, and I had never met most of them.”
Ardra is better acquainted with her mother’s branch of the family. Priya Krishnaswamy is also a filmmaker, and directed the feature Gangoobai in 2013. Ardra had initially explored her roots for a college project, and after she dropped out of her Masters and started assisting on films, she heard that her cousin was going to get married. “My father said I should shoot the wedding and meet my family for the first time,” said the 25-year-old debutant. “Almost immediately we heard of the Films Division accepting scripts by new filmmakers. It happened randomly.”
Nethar’s most affecting sequence involves Kamal Swaroop’s 97-year-old mother. As she sits on a bed and watches a documentary on Kashmir being projected on the wall, the nonagenarian recalls the twinned history of her clan and the state. “It’s all about our family’s subjective experience,” Ardra said. The details might be specific to the Swaroops, but viewers will recognise their own family members in the memories and moments.