Once Upon a Village
India. 2021. 61 min
Villagers have a saying that the dead come back to visit the living. Now those of us who remain have only these ghosts for company.
Semla, is a ghost village in the Himalayan foothills. The 50 families that once lived in the village, have migrated to the city, leaving behind 7 people. With this migration, livelihood connected to the terrain and seasons have slowly faded.
Like her village, Leela is old, resilient and forgotten. Despite loneliness and struggles with an aging body, Leela doesn’t want to leave for the city. Golu is the only young person in the village.
She is desperate to escape to the city but doesn’t have the means. Dreaming for a different life, Golu roams around the abandoned village.
As the film progresses, the two women face the invisible but palpable forces of migration. Their emotional journey changes their relationship with the place they call “Home”.
As time crawls by, a way of life struggles to stay relevant. In this fragile existence, ‘Ek Tha Gaon’ explores life in a dying village where a haunting absence lingers.
Srishti has recently Directed her first feature documentary Ek Tha Gaon/Once Upon a Village, which won the Audience Choice Award at Seoul Eco Film Festival, 2021, received a Special Jury award at the International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala and was selected to be in the Vision du Reel- Media Library. Her now decade-long career as a filmmaker and a media trainer has seen many accolades.
She has produced films for international organizations, Government bodies, national television and international television. Srishti has been associated with grassroots organizations across India to conduct Filmmaking workshops for communities.
My friendship with Leela Devi began during one visit to my own ancestral village. Her resilience in loneliness and dynamic personality drew me towards her. As she worked in the light and shadow of her kitchen, I saw a film emerge. With this as anchorage, I set out to understand other experiences in the village. In contrast to Leela, Golu occupies a quiet space in the film. In the hesitant silences between her sentences, she communicated to me the impracticality of her life in this village.
The film style re-creates the pace of the village and its residents. Life here is slow and quiet. This ethos is represented in wide frames and long, staying visuals. By focusing on the environment as a strong element, the film aims to break out of a human-centric telling of the story of migration. The film captures movement, destruction, and circularity taking place in nature – forest fire and mountain blasting; and on a philosophical note, a female flying ant shedding her wings to start a new colony.