Film preview

Is it a biopic? A documentary? Docu-fiction? ‘Mehsampur’ is none – and all of the above

Kabir Singh Chowdhry’s film, based on Punjabi folk singer Amar Singh Chamkila, is happy to avoid categorisation.

The disclaimer on Kabir Singh Chowdhry’s Mehsampur is an apt summary of the 98-minute film: Any resemblance to actual events, to persons living or dead, is not unintentional.

Located at a narrative crossroads of fiction, meta-fiction, documentary and biopic, Mehsampur refers to a place that can be found both on a map and somewhere in the imagination of its creators. Written by Akshay Singh, Mehsampur is a self-consciously experimental film that takes on different genres, only to reject them. There are shades of a biopic in the purported attempt to revisit the short and eventful life of firebrand Punjabi folk singer Amar Singh Chamkila, who was only 27 when he died. Chamkila was shot dead along with his partner Amarjot and two troupe members in Mehsampur in Punjab on March 8, 1988. The unsolved murders were blamed on various factors, including professional rivalry and an extreme attempt at censorship by Khalistani groups.

Elements of documentary are evident in the sequences involving Chamkila’s collaborators, who appear as themselves and revisit episodes from Chamkila’s life. Metafiction has its moment because Mehsampur is a film about the act of making a film: a young director, Devrat, sets out with his camera to meet Chamkila’s associates. Finally, there is pure fiction in the re-enactments and the constructed conversations with real and fictional characters, including an aspiring actress and a hotel singer who belts out English pop songs in a Punjabi accent. Devrat gets sidetracked during his quest by getting embroiled with the actress, Manpreet, whom he meets at his hotel. When Devrat casts Manpreet as Amarjot, a new set of complications ensues.

Mehsampur, then, is a film in search of a film – the one that eventually did not get made. “It’s a critique of the process of ethnography, of biography, of filmmaking,” Chowdhry said in an interview. “The film is confused, in a way. We can go to various places with it, like a documentary festival, or fiction, or even the genre space.”

Play
Mehsampur.

Mehsampur made its international debut at the Docs Against Gravity festival in Poland in May. It will also be screened at the Sydney Film Festival (June 6-17) and the London Indian Film Festival (June 21-July 1). The production process has been arduous, and some of the sweat and tears are reflected by the film, which explores the difficulty, and even impossibility, of making a straight-up biopic on a supernova like Chamkila.

The Dalit singer rose to popularity on the back of his earthy, often ribald lyrics and magnetic stage presence. Chamkila performed widely across the state and before the Punjabi diaspora in Canada, and his death cut short a career filled with promise. Several attempts have been made to adapt his life for the screen, including a documentary and a Punjabi feature, but these projects have not been completed.

Chowdhry’s own efforts were nearly derailed by a lack of funds and a debate over the form the film should take. “We shot the film in 2015, and everything has been dependent on the cash for us,” the 32-year-old filmmaker said. “I didn’t realise how much money goes into all this. It’s been about us begging for money from different places, and that is why it has taken so much time. There were points when I abandoned Mehsampur. My first editor locked the film in two months, but we kept feeling that more needed to be done. Luckily, we had a beautiful sound designer who was completely dedicated right to the last minute.”

The film originated as something quite different. Chowdhry and Akshay Singh, his partner at the production house Dark Matter Films, initially set out to make a fictional movie about Chamkila, titled Lal Pari. The problem began when they travelled to Punjab for research, only to realise that others had beaten them to it. “I was really pissed off that so many people are making films on Chamkila,” Chowdhry said. “We weren’t working on anything new. These guys had already been exposed. We thought that we would make a film about this process, and then use this film to help us to make the film that we actually want to make. Mehsampur is only the first step, and it won’t be the last.”

Mehsampur. Image credit: Dark Matter Pictures.
Mehsampur. Image credit: Dark Matter Pictures.

The unsettling journey is represented in Mehsampur through the character of the filmmaker Devrat. The line between whose film we are actually seeing – the one Devrat is shooting on his hand-held camera, or the one Chowdhry is making through Devrat – is hazy throughout.

Armed with heaps of angst and aggression and a disregard for boundaries, Devrat hustles Chamkila’s manager, Kesar Singh Tikki, former singing partner Surinder Sonia, and dholak player Lal Chand into sharing their memories of the folk artist. Devrat crosses the line with these people ever so often, such as in the disturbing sequence in which he makes Tikki recreate over and over again a drunken attack on Chamkila’s office in 1987 when the singer refused to take Tikki along for a tour in Canada. “You need to act drunk,” Devrat yells at Tikki.

“That scene is about the cruelty of recreation – how filmmakers, in their quest for authenticity, will push their film to insane lengths,” Chowdhry pointed out. “But Tikki also knew exactly what was going in – he is game like that.”

Tikki, Surinder, and Lal Chand turn out to be adroit performers, giving Devrat and Chowdhry the spice they think is needed to make the film work. “Take my side pose,” Sonia preens to Devrat, before skewering his lack of empathy with the damning declaration, “You are only into yourself, me, me me.”

Devrat and Kesar Singh Tikki in Mehsampur. Image credit: Dark Matter Pictures.
Devrat and Kesar Singh Tikki in Mehsampur. Image credit: Dark Matter Pictures.

Are these scenes scripted or spontaneous – and what are the ethics of using real people to play approximations of themselves? Chowdhry is aiming to throw off viewers, make them think about the level of artifice that can often be found even in documentaries that claim to be about real people. He also wants to pull the biopic-seeking director off the pedestal, and underline the self-serving nature of filmmakers who only see and hear what they want to despite the contradictions playing out in front of them.

“I was actually thinking of casting all the parts,” the 32-year-old director revealed. “We wanted Chamkila’s son, Jaimal, in the film, and had some scenes written around him, but we couldn’t get him, so we had to scrap the scenes. We have tried to keep everything as close to their real lives as possible. Since they are all non-actors, we had a treatment note and a script, but they were free-flowing with their performances. We found the beat in the edit, which had to convey the sense that it has all been manipulated.”

The only actor is Jagjeet Sandhu, the performer at the hotel where Devrat is staying, and who croons Baby One More Time and My Heart Will Go On with feeling. “He is a singer and a fine actor, and he is now doing solo hero films in Punjab,” Chowdhry said.

Lal Chand in Mehsampur. Image credit: Dark Matter Pictures.
Lal Chand in Mehsampur. Image credit: Dark Matter Pictures.

Mehsampur is ultimately a film about circling around a subject rather than the subject itself. The project suggests that it is impossible to know, and encapsulate, a person’s life with certainty, and that the biopic is as much a piece of fiction as a made-up story. “We have had more than a hundred years or more or cinema, and we have to play more with its elements,” Chowdhry said. “For me and my partners, this was like film school, like a lab. We figured out what not to do and what to do when we eventually made our film on Chamkila. That story still needs to be told.”

Chamkila proves to be a spectral presence in Mehsampur, glimpsed in grainy footage and evoked through the scattershot memories of his associates. Chowdhry could not use any of Chamkila’s music in Mehsampur since he could not afford the rights – and this frustration feeds into the film’s general air of elusiveness and mystery.

“Through the process of making Lal Pari, we were listening to Chamkila’s songs 24/7, and the people who worked on the film could feel his presence,” Chowdhry declared. “There is a ghost of Chamkila that has been left behind. I sometimes go for Chamkila’s barsis. This one time, it started raining, and everybody left. Some drunkards started banging the speakers and singing his songs. I filmed this, but I got a negative reaction from the organisers. They thought I was making fun of Chamkila. But for me, these drunks still left behind in the rain are the true fans of Chamkila.”

The singer’s interrupted legacy is most poignantly felt in Tikki, Sonia and Lal Chand, who give the impression of never having recovered from Chamkila’s death. “Lal Chand had a good life before, but now, he is stuck in a situation where he is living with six other families,” Chowdhry said. “Tikki was always trying to make deals with us, and we tried to bring that out with our own experience.”

Mehsampur hasn’t been screened yet for Chamkila’s friends, or in Punjab. “I am scared to see how people react everywhere,” Chowdhry said. “We think eggs will be thrown at us. People will start tearing their seats at the crap we’ve made. But we have been sincere and truthful. We have spent all this time with a lot of conviction, so there isn’t a single false note. I have not tried to lie.”

Chowdhry is “over this trip” for the moment, and “want to make things that are false from now on”. He is working on a fictional film that involves a serial killer, body horror, and a prison setting.

Kabir Singh Chowdhry.
Kabir Singh Chowdhry.
Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

The next Industrial Revolution is here – driven by the digitalization of manufacturing processes

Technologies such as Industry 4.0, IoT, robotics and Big Data analytics are transforming the manufacturing industry in a big way.

The manufacturing industry across the world is seeing major changes, driven by globalization and increasing consumer demand. As per a report by the World Economic Forum and Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Ltd on the future of manufacturing, the ability to innovate at a quicker pace will be the major differentiating factor in the success of companies and countries.

This is substantiated by a PWC research which shows that across industries, the most innovative companies in the manufacturing sector grew 38% (2013 - 2016), about 11% year on year, while the least innovative manufacturers posted only a 10% growth over the same period.

Along with innovation in products, the transformation of manufacturing processes will also be essential for companies to remain competitive and maintain their profitability. This is where digital technologies can act as a potential game changer.

The digitalization of the manufacturing industry involves the integration of digital technologies in manufacturing processes across the value chain. Also referred to as Industry 4.0, digitalization is poised to reshape all aspects of the manufacturing industry and is being hailed as the next Industrial Revolution. Integral to Industry 4.0 is the ‘smart factory’, where devices are inter-connected, and processes are streamlined, thus ensuring greater productivity across the value chain, from design and development, to engineering and manufacturing and finally to service and logistics.

Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, artificial intelligence and Big Data analytics are some of the key technologies powering Industry 4.0. According to a report, Industry 4.0 will prompt manufacturers globally to invest $267 billion in technologies like IoT by 2020. Investments in digitalization can lead to excellent returns. Companies that have implemented digitalization solutions have almost halved their manufacturing cycle time through more efficient use of their production lines. With a single line now able to produce more than double the number of product variants as three lines in the conventional model, end to end digitalization has led to an almost 20% jump in productivity.

Digitalization and the Indian manufacturing industry

The Make in India program aims to increase the contribution of the manufacturing industry to the country’s GDP from 16% to 25% by 2022. India’s manufacturing sector could also potentially touch $1 trillion by 2025. However, to achieve these goals and for the industry to reach its potential, it must overcome the several internal and external obstacles that impede its growth. These include competition from other Asian countries, infrastructural deficiencies and lack of skilled manpower.

There is a common sentiment across big manufacturers that India lacks the eco-system for making sophisticated components. According to FICCI’s report on the readiness of Indian manufacturing to adopt advanced manufacturing trends, only 10% of companies have adopted new technologies for manufacturing, while 80% plan to adopt the same by 2020. This indicates a significant gap between the potential and the reality of India’s manufacturing industry.

The ‘Make in India’ vision of positioning India as a global manufacturing hub requires the industry to adopt innovative technologies. Digitalization can give the Indian industry an impetus to deliver products and services that match global standards, thereby getting access to global markets.

The policy, thus far, has received a favourable response as global tech giants have either set up or are in the process of setting up hi-tech manufacturing plants in India. Siemens, for instance, is helping companies in India gain a competitive advantage by integrating industry-specific software applications that optimise performance across the entire value chain.

The Digital Enterprise is Siemens’ solution portfolio for the digitalization of industries. It comprises of powerful software and future-proof automation solutions for industries and companies of all sizes. For the discrete industries, the Digital Enterprise Suite offers software and hardware solutions to seamlessly integrate and digitalize their entire value chain – including suppliers – from product design to service, all based on one data model. The result of this is a perfect digital copy of the value chain: the digital twin. This enables companies to perform simulation, testing, and optimization in a completely virtual environment.

The process industries benefit from Integrated Engineering to Integrated Operations by utilizing a continuous data model of the entire lifecycle of a plant that helps to increase flexibility and efficiency. Both offerings can be easily customized to meet the individual requirements of each sector and company, like specific simulation software for machines or entire plants.

Siemens has identified projects across industries and plans to upgrade these industries by connecting hardware, software and data. This seamless integration of state-of-the-art digital technologies to provide sustainable growth that benefits everyone is what Siemens calls ‘Ingenuity for Life’.

Case studies for technology-led changes

An example of the implementation of digitalization solutions from Siemens can be seen in the case of pharma major Cipla Ltd’s Kurkumbh factory.

Cipla needed a robust and flexible distributed control system to dispense and manage solvents for the manufacture of its APIs (active pharmaceutical ingredients used in many medicines). As part of the project, Siemens partnered with Cipla to install the DCS-SIMATIC PCS 7 control system and migrate from batch manufacturing to continuous manufacturing. By establishing the first ever flow Chemistry based API production system in India, Siemens has helped Cipla in significantly lowering floor space, time, wastage, energy and utility costs. This has also improved safety and product quality.

In yet another example, technology provided by Siemens helped a cement plant maximise its production capacity. Wonder Cement, a greenfield project set up by RK Marbles in Rajasthan, needed an automated system to improve productivity. Siemens’ solution called CEMAT used actual plant data to make precise predictions for quality parameters which were previously manually entered by operators. As a result, production efficiency was increased and operators were also freed up to work on other critical tasks. Additionally, emissions and energy consumption were lowered – a significant achievement for a typically energy intensive cement plant.

In the case of automobile major, Mahindra & Mahindra, Siemens’ involvement involved digitalizing the whole product development system. Siemens has partnered with the manufacturer to provide a holistic solution across the entire value chain, from design and planning to engineering and execution. This includes design and software solutions for Product Lifecycle Management, Siemens Technology for Powertrain (STP) and Integrated Automation. For Powertrain, the solutions include SINUMERIK, SINAMICS, SIMOTICS and SIMATIC controls and drives, besides CNC and PLC-controlled machines linked via the Profinet interface.

The above solutions helped the company puts its entire product lifecycle on a digital platform. This has led to multi-fold benefits – better time optimization, higher productivity, improved vehicle performance and quicker response to market requirements.

Siemens is using its global expertise to guide Indian industries through their digital transformation. With the right technologies in place, India can see a significant improvement in design and engineering, cutting product development time by as much as 30%. Besides, digital technologies driven by ‘Ingenuity for Life’ can help Indian manufacturers achieve energy efficiency and ensure variety and flexibility in their product offerings while maintaining quality.

Play

The above examples of successful implementation of digitalization are just some of the examples of ‘Ingenuity for Life’ in action. To learn more about Siemens’ push to digitalize India’s manufacturing sector, see here.

This article was produced on behalf of Siemens by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.