Moonlight & Memories - in praise of older women

~ by Tom Alter

The fort hunched over the top of the hill like an old man enjoying the view - a solitary old man, alone but not lonely; his tattered coat of moss-covered stones telling tales of fuller days gone by, and yet still sturdy enough to protect the old man against the winds of both the night and time itself.

He had been admiring that view for centuries - as Marathas and Moghals and English came and went like the tide on the beach below, he just hunched a little closer to the hill, pulled the crumbling walls of his arms around himself, and simply let time fade away like every evening did, and return, smiling, like every morning.

And the view was enough to keep the old man smiling, too - mile after mile of beach, hugging the waters of the Arabian Sea to its sandy bosom; the old man had watched roads and buildings and towns blossom along the beach where for centuries there were only wind-swept trees and stubborn rocks. And now he watched even some of those buildings crumble - so much quicker than the buildings built by pirates and sailors and traders of yesteryear.

Across the mouth of the river leading into the bay was the temple - the Harihareshwar temple - otherwise known as Dakhani Kashi - where devotees had been coming for more centuries than even the old man could remember; and where devotees yet came today, to praise and search for god, and to relax and find at least temporary peace in the shade of the temple and the cottages built along the edge of the eternal waters.

The old man's fort was lovingly called Bankot Fort in honour of the town of the same name situated at the foot of the hill - a town deep in district Mandangarh, at the heart of the Konkan region, a town famous for shipping and - yes, smuggling - and mangoes; a town of Hindus and Muslims living together in peace; a town where time moves at the pace of the tides; a town from where a ten-minute drive can take a traveller to beaches and orchards and chuckling, rambling paths which lead from nowhere to nowhere.

A town where we went to shoot a film -
I was fortunate to have a car all to myself for the drive down from Mumbai - a sturdy Ambassador (my speed and style of car!) with an equally sturdy driver, and a supply of Rafi and Mukesh cassettes to make the very roads sing along! We left Mumbai in the early afternoon, and headed down the road to Goa from Panvel - within two hours, it was nothing but the flowing road and the land welcoming us with bowing trees and laughing birds and Mukesh serenading a long-lost love and stops for tea and biscuits; I would have been happy to travel thus for a few centuries, but our turn-off at Goregaon Patti, just before Mahad, arrived like a reminder of mortality, and we turned off into the embrace of the Konkan.

It was about two hours from there to Bankot, via Mandangarh - across drifting rivers and up easy slopes and through growing fields and rustling forests -- and it was just getting dark when we arrived and I was shown the lovely place where I would be staying - the bungalow of a dear friend of the producer, complete with a tiny, delightful swimming pool, and mango trees providing shade of the sweetest kind.

And the next day - again by late afternoon - we arrived at the Bankot Fort, our location for the night's shoot. Now, the old man had seen many, many things in his long life, but nothing like a film shoot, with its chaos and electric wires and dozens of unit members and shouting and tea being made like 'liquid halwa' and costumes and lights and actors and children and more shouting and a bewildered director and a bemused producer and a certain actor very concerned about watching the India/England World Cup match that evening; Bankot Fort had been invaded and captured by irresistible forces, and the old man could only sit back and chuckle, and sip at the 'liquid halwa'.

Tom Alter as his two sidekicks in Yeh Hai Chhakkad Bakkad Bumbe Bo
Tom Alter as Don Douglas in Yeh Hai Chhakkad Bakkad Bumbe Bo
Now, since the match still had about three hours to start, and the view from the top of the fort matched anything in South Africa, I climbed up as high as I could on the crumbling walls, and gazed out across the waters, wishing I was a sea-captain searching for either a lost love, and or a lost ship.

The director Sridhar, seeking a little relief from the chaos below, joined me - it was then that both of us noticed it; down near the bottom of the slope was a strange building, shaped like a tiny cottage without doors or windows, and with a tall, chimney-like tower rising out of the low-lying bushes right next to it.

Neither of us could figure out what it was - I went as far as to say it was some sort of garbage dump, with the chimney a kind of purifying system. The director would have nothing to do with this mundane theory, and it was his curiosity that spurred me on. In spite of his words of warning (he did not want to lose an actor!), I was scrambling down the walls and then on to the criss-crossing paths of the slope as fast as my ageing legs could carry me. Suddenly, a spirit of adventure filled me, and I was the sea captain I had wished I was, rushing down to the beach to greet the lover coming home on a ship after years away -
I knew that the old man was watching with approving eyes.

And when I neared the building, I sensed what it was even before I actually saw the plaque on its front wall - it was a grave, a tomb, a memorial to the dead and departed. All by itself on that slope leading down from Bankot Fort to the sea -
Hushed by wonder, I made my way through the brambles and bushes - I moved slowly now, not wanting to disturb the slumber of the departed. And then I was close to read the plaque - "In memory of Elizabeth Martha Kennedy -"

I turned and looked back up towards the fort - the hustle and bustle of shooting could be heard even from where I was, and people were moving about, lifting and setting shooting equipment, like busy ants. And then I turned back to the silence of the tomb. Elizabeth Martha Kennedy had passed away on this very spot, two hundred years ago. The old man had seen her, watched her, known her laughter and her love - and today, I, a traveller in time, had been blessed to meet Elizabeth, too.

I did not return to the fort in a hurry - I greeted Elizabeth, kissed her hand, and she offered me tea; she was a little shy, but gracious. And then, with a smile, she disappeared.

And I roamed in both mind and body, finding the remains of a few more graves, but none as grand, as true, as Elizabeth's. A path led me away from the graves, and to a low, stonewall, with a pine tree on the other side - I scrambled over the wall, and lay down beneath the pine and shut my eyes. As I drifted off into a brief and dreamless sleep, I heard a faint, sweet voice singing with the breeze. Elizabeth and her lover were together.
We shot for most of the night. The lights lit up Bankot Fort like it was Christmas and Diwali and Eid all in one, and the locals who gathered to watch the shoot said this was the first time they had ever dared to enter the fort after dark. The old man had to shield his eyes from the glare, but he did seem to enjoy the antics of the children.

India defeated England, and I was blessed again to be invited by one the locals to watch the match at his house.
In between innings, another actor and I, with the help of a torch, went down the slope to meet Elizabeth and wish her "good night". We could not find her. Perhaps the lights had confused her, or worried her. The lights and the people and the noise had driven her back to her true time -
I was saddened, but not upset - I could understand Elizabeth's confusion, her concern. I, too, had sought some escape from the chaos of the shoot - and found it at her grave.

The moon was a sliver - a shiver - shyly hiding behind the fort as my friend and I made our way, quietly, back up the slope. The two of us climbed over the walls like schoolboy pirates, and were welcomed back into the noisy fortress of the shoot.
The rest of the night was spent shooting, and it went well.

But whenever I got a chance, I hunched down next to the old man, and put an arm around his shoulders. And asked him, in hushed tones, about Elizabeth.

Tom Alter

Feature

Yeh Hai
Chhakkad Bakkad Bumbe Bo

(The Sensational Six)


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Produced by

Children Film Society of India
Mumbai, India


Award Winner :
Bronze Remi
37th Annual WorldFest
Houston, Texas
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'The Pink Mirror' (Gulabi Aaina) - a Bollywood entertainer with a difference : India's first film on Drag Queens is a camp romp about two drag queens and a gay teenager seducing a handsome hunk!

Official Selction at over
62 International Film Fesivals
, and winner of
Jury Award for Best Film in Fire Island and France.

More info at
http://www.solarispictures.com/ga.htm

Story Outline
Festivals & Awards
Reviews
Director's notes
Tom Alter's experience

Sridhar Rangayan Director

Cast:
Rahul Joshi, Aardra Athalye, Vinay, Anvay Ponkshe,
Raju (Dog), Ramu (Monkey)

Tom Alter, Ravindra Mankani, Mona Ambegaonkar, Bakul Thakker,
Jaydutt Vyas, Brij Bushan Shahani, Chittaranjan Giri, Rajeev Mishra,
Seema Ponkshe, Arun Hornekar

Story: Shakuntala Paranjpye | Screenplay & Dialogues: Vijay Tendulkar

Camera: Sudhir Palsane | Edit: Jabeen Merchant | Sound: Narendra Singh

Music: Kamlesh & Vinod | Choreographer: Sonia Parchure
Art: Keshav Thakur | Production Manager: Atul Chavre

Asst. Directors: Sameer Naik, Samir Kazmi, Supriya Khan

Direction : Sridhar Rangayan








 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright   Solaris Pictures 2001. All Rights Reserved
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