Looking starkly through the lens of a director: Ritesh Sharma on Jhini Bini Chadariya

Director Ritesh Sharma continues his exploration of socio-cultural issues with Jhini Bini Chadariya, which was screened at the Dharamshala Film Festival
A still from Jhini Bini Chadariya
A still from Jhini Bini Chadariya

Many actors are known to resort to method acting to get into the skin of their character, but rarely has it been said about a director. Ritesh Sharma, the director of Jhini Bini Chadariya, which was recently screened at the Dharamshala Film Festival, spent days living with the families of people similar to his characters to capture the emotions for his film accurately. “I wanted to familiarise myself with the details of their everyday lives. The aim was to get involved in their joys and anxieties, understand their lifestyles and body language, and convey that with utmost authenticity,” he says.

Set in present-day Varanasi, Jhini Bini Chadariya (The Brittle Thread) is a 2021 feature film, which captures the socio-political landscape of the city through the eyes of weaver Shahdab (Muzaffar Khan) and dancer Rani (Megha Mathur), who are affected in different ways by the communal anxieties, manifesting in mob violence in the city. The 36-year-old director, who grew up in the calm suburbs of Mughalsarai in Uttar Pradesh that overlooks Varanasi from the other side of river Ganga, was fascinated by every aspect of the city–– the busy ghats, narrow lanes and its multi-cultural confluence.“For me, Varanasi is more than just the city of moksha and Shiva, and I wanted to deep-dive into its unexplored corners. Both my characters have their roots in the reality I was exposed to. Dancers performing near my city have always captured my imagination, and so has the weaving industry.

I wanted to delve further into these aspects and capture the nuances that lie within,” says Sharma, adding, “I have attempted to see how the holy capital of the country gets divided by communal hatred.”The director explains that through the story of Shahdab––a Muslim weaver with predominantly Hindu clientele––who struggles to make ends meet in a dwindling handloom industry, and Rani, who reclaims agency over her body from the voyeuristic eyes of her male customers, he was trying to embody Kabir’s doha that says Varanasi is made up of “r**nd, saand, seeddhi, sanyasi (prostitute, bulls, stairs and saints)”.    

Besides the protagonists, Varanasi is a character by itself in Jhini Bini Chadariya, which was also screened at the Tokyo International Film Festival last year. Sharma, who draws inspiration from Indian and international directors such as Guru Dutt, Shyam Benegal, Majid Majidi, Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino, takes the audience on a journey through the city using a lot of still camera work and approaches his subjects with documentary-style realism.

A graduate of Delhi University, Sharma did a course in television production from Bharatiya Vidyapith, a training that soon translated into a passion for filmmaking, feature films in particular. His earlier works include Holy Wives (2010) depicting caste-based oppression of women, Rainbows are Real (2014) and Lal Maati (2017), which look at the lives of transgenders and tribals, respectively.

Interestingly, Sharma and his team, due to budget constraints, shot Jhini Bini Chadariya in a span of 35 days, although the “creative process” preceding it took three years. “We spent about two years in Mumbai, Delhi and Varanasi looking for the perfect cast. Authenticity was a key factor I wanted in my characters, which is why I made the effort of connecting with the actors even beyond their roles,” he says, adding that the film is now looking at multiple festival screenings over the next year. Like the delicate Banarasi weave, Sharma’s own story ties up with that of his film seamlessly.

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