When Jahnu Barua was eight years old, there was a man in his village whom everyone called paagol (mad). Barua and his friends enjoyed spending time with the man, reminding him of names he had forgotten and laughing at his forgetfulness. Only years later did the filmmaker realise that the man may have suffered from dementia or, perhaps, Alzheimer’s. His innocence and interactions with the children stayed with Barua, whose short film That Gusty Morning is an ode to that man. That Gusty Morning has been uploaded on the Large Short Films YouTube channel.
The short charts one morning in the house of a middle-class family. Juree (Urmila Mahanta) and her father (Arun Nath) take care of the mother (Seema Biswas), who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. They are also worried about the possible reaction of Pronab (Kopil Bora), whom Juree wants to marry. Pronab is due to visit and formally ask Juree’s father’s for permission to marry Juree. How will the mother react – and how will Pronab react to her?
That Gusty Morning might remind some viewers of Barua’s Hindi film Maine Gandhi Ko Nahin Mara, in which Anupam Kher plays a professor affected by dementia. Barua had written the story of That Gusty Morning while working on the 2005 film.
Barua consciously chose to use the short film format. “A shorter film has the chance to strike hard, shaking up people even if they haven’t directly met an Alzheimer’s patient,” Barua said. “Besides, releasing it online means it reaches more people.”
Barua’s focus is on the non-acceptance of people with dementia and the fate of their family members, who end up suffering too. Pronab notices that the family is not comfortable telling him about the mother’s illness, but he adjusts to the mother’s persistent questions without judgement.
“My characters are born out of my wishful thinking,” Barua said. “I do not wish Alzheimer’s upon anyone, but I wish for a better way of what can be controlled: society’s reactions to those living with Alzheimer’s and their families. It is one of my dreams to see a safe space created, like the way Pronab instantly offers to the family.”
The parents hold liberal values. Instead of agreeing to Pronab’s proposal, the mother asks Juree if she has given her consent. “I wanted to show that before she fell ill, the mother had a certain status as a teacher; a wise woman who respected her daughter’s independence and choice,” Barua said. Most of the female characters in his movies, which include Hkhagoroloi Bohu Door (1995) and Konikar Ramdhenu (2003), are drawn from his mother, who was educated till the second standard.
“My mother was always on the sidelines, but nothing moved in the house without her consent,” Barua said. “My father respected her tremendously while also being very protective towards her. That is the relationship I grew up watching and analysing. I learnt early on the power of a woman; that one need not be loud to be powerful.”
In That Gusty Morning, the father wakes up early, erasing marks on exam answer sheets so that his wife can work on them anew. The daughter applies paste to her mother’s toothbrush, and the father takes the mother to the bathroom for the morning ablution. We realise that this is a morning ritual.
Barua spent enormous amounts of time looking for the appropriate location. While the house seems to show refined tastes and cultural mementos, Barua also wanted to show that it had not been maintained for a while. Hence the peeling walls in the kitchen.
The characters are also traditional. It is typical of an older generation to have a house with a lace curtain and another thicker one. Every meal is eaten at the dining table, which is covered by a lace tablecloth, whereas the study table has a table cloth, often chequered. There is an antique dressing table with drawers and wood work, which indicates that the woman of the house may have brought it along during her wedding. The yellow shelf in the kitchen, the rustic refrigerator and the aluminum saucepan for tea are markers of everyday simplicity. Barua has once again scored in portraying beauty in the mundane.