Two years after his acclaimed debut as the writer of Raam Reddy’s Thithi, Ere Gowda has scored again with his debut feature Balekempa (The Bangle Seller).

Set in Hydarahalli in Karnataka and featuring a cast of non-actors (except for one), Balekempa is already winning accolades. It won the Work-in-Progress Lab 2017 award at Film Bazaar in Goa in 2017, and up the FIPRESCI award at the 47th International Film Festival, Rotterdam, last week.

The film, also written by Gowda, revolves around Kempanna, a bangle seller, and his wife Soubhagya. Their marriage is the focus of the morality tale. “In this film, I’ve tried to spend time understanding these two characters as deeply as I could,” Gowda said. “In Thithi, I wrote a script around characters I already knew. Here, I’ve created these characters from scratch and then woven a tale around them. Yes, even if they are fictitious characters – they obviously have their roots in the people and the surroundings I’m familiar with.”

Balekempa (2018).
Balekempa (2018).

Gowda has charted a remarkable journey from security guard to office assistant to film writer and director. He used to work at the office of Raam Reddy’s parents, and it was there that his filmmaking journey began. “I used to accompany Anitha madam [Reddy’s mother], documenting her activities as a social activist,” he told The Hindu in an interview. “The medium of visuals became my obsession. At this juncture, Raam returned to Bangalore [from Prague]. Both of us decided to make films together. We did Ika (Feather), a short Telugu film together.”

Nodekopplu near Mandya, where Thithi has been filmed, is where Gowda grew up. Along with writing the script of Thithi along with Reddy, Gowda was assigned other technical responsibilities – he was the line producer, among other things.

“The experience of making Thithi has been immensely useful in helping my preparation to be a director,” Gowda said. “After Thithi, I felt confident enough to direct my own project. I wrote the script of Balekempa over a period of three months and shot the film over 40 days. Barring one actor – Bhagyashree – all others in the cast are first time actors. It also helped that I was making a film about characters that are quite close to my life, my context and experiences. I think this is the kind of cinema that I feel most comfortable to explore – one that talks of stories that are close to my world.”

At the National Film Development Corporation Bazaar, Gowda was mentored by film critic Derek Malcolm, Pingyao International Film Festival director Marco Mueller, producers Philippa Campbell and Olivia Stewart and film editor Jacques Comets.

“I’ve done this in a straight-forward manner,” Gowda said. “I applied to the NFDC Bazaar. It did well there and then I applied to Rotterdam. Fortunately, it got selected here too.”

What were the responses to the film at Rotterdam?

“People really liked the film even though it is set in a context and a backdrop so far removed from their lives,” Gowda said. “During the question and answer rounds, people said here was a film that worked well both for the insider who is familiar with the Indian village backdrop and the outsider who views this as a human tale.”

Ere Gowda.
Ere Gowda.