Meet the Bhardes: a regular we-two-and-our-two family living in one of Mumbai’s cramped suburbs. The parents are retired bankers with grown-up sons; their apartment is modest but cosy; they have two pet cats, cutely named Ginger and Garlic – and a raucous, bullying and uncontrollable rooster.

He was brought home one day by Nusrat Bharde on a whim, and the patriarch’s decision hasn’t gone down too well with some of the family members, as Rishi Chandna reveals in his delightful short documentary Tungrus. The rooster often moves faster than the eye can see, landing on people’s heads when it suits him, leaping off his perch without warning to the dismay of the cats, and leaving his droppings all over the place.

The bird’s antics are viewed with a mixture of exasperated fondness and sheer exasperation. Sameer, the younger Bharde son, is frankly disapproving. Aasim, the elder one, is diplomatic. Celestine, their mother, is sanguine, even though she has perfected the sudden ducking gesture that has become necessary with the bird’s unpredictable aerial attacks. Nusrat Bharde is closest to the creature, but not so close that he cannot debate the question that lingers in the air like the rooster’s feathers: should he be given the gift of life, or served for dinner?

Chandna’s directorial debut has been selected for screenings at the Visions Du Reel (April 13-21) film festival in Nyon and Hot Docs (April 26-May 6) in Toronto. Tungrus leaves itself open to interpretation. It could be regarded as a more sophisticated version of the eccentric pet videos that have flooded the internet. Or a delicate portrait of the ties that bind a family in unseen ways. Or a comic depiction of a typical Mumbai experience, where beauty and flights of fancy flourish in unlikely places. Or all of the above.

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Tungrus.

“I’ve been in Bombay for ten years now, and I’m still easily struck by the chaos this city breeds,” observed Chandna, who runs the production company Shoot Up Pictures. “I think it’s the density of life here that creates situations that are bizarre, absurd and also tragic and sad at the same time. You can witness these situations without being asked to make a judgement or form biases.”

Chandna heard about the family with a pet rooster from his co-producer, Ritika Ranjan, who is friends with Sameer Bharde. “In a conversation over lunch, he reluctantly, and with some embarrassment, told her about his life at home – his relationship with his dad, and how it had been strained because of the situation with this rooster,” Chandna said.

No aspiring filmmaker on the lookout for a worthy subject could have resisted. “I’d just never heard of a family in a crowded city keeping a pet rooster,” Chandna said. “And when Ritika told me the family was divided over eating it, it took me back to my childhood – I grew up in a meat-eating family and we never saw the chicken as a pet, it was always for consumption. And so I wanted to explore that is it really possible for a family, much like my family, who are hardcore non-vegetarians, to actually see this animal as a pet.”

The film was shot for four days. Some of the filming involved following the set routines of the family members, the cats and the rooster. The modestly sized apartment might have restricted movement, but it actually proved to be a blessing: “It was an important constraint we decided to use to our advantage, especially the clutter and the wear and tear; I feel this gave us a consistent visual language to present through the film.” A recurring motif is of the Bhardes going about their business, only to have the rooster drop into a corner of the frame or dart across it.

Could this film about a strange love flowering in a concrete patch of a megapolis have made sense in any other city? “The film naturally belongs to Bombay because it is in Bombay where space is of the highest scarcity,” Chandna said. “Everyone is looking to find a nook of their own. In this context, having to share their limited space with a rooster, for whom this just isn’t a natural habitat, must have been very difficult for the Bharde family. This was probably a big reason behind their angst towards it.”

Tungrus. Image credit: Shoot Up Pictures.
Tungrus. Image credit: Shoot Up Pictures.