Curator’s Corner

[Part of Curator’s Corner, a section dedicated to showcasing work of emerging and marginal filmmakers. See here for details.]

In this edition of Curator’s Corner, I’m happy to bring to your attention Searcher (2022), a short film by New Delhi-based independent filmmaker, Divya Sachar. A graduate from the first batch of the television department of the FTII, Divya was convinced early on — thanks to the intense experience at the institute of watching films from around the world, especially those of Ingmar Bergman — that she didn’t want to just find a place in the Bombay movie industry. Her diploma project, titled The Dead (2004), is an intimate, localized adaptation of James Joyce’s eponymous short story.

While working in the field of advertising, Divya made her first film for the Public Service Broadcasting Trust. It was called A Short Film About… (2008), and as that title indicates, it was about a subject around which an awkward silence reigns: breasts. In this half-hour documentary, several teenagers and young women talk about their breasts and how they impact their everyday lives, their relationships and their view of themselves. Woven alongside these highly articulate interviews are clips from popular movies and music videos, a personal voiceover by the filmmaker and an assortment of punning images that evoke the film’s subject.

While insightful and ripe for academic analysis, A Short Film About… derives its value in sticking close to the participants’ lived experience and not theorizing it on our behalf. The testimonies are remarkably candid and grounded in everyday life. Structured in a simple, snappy rhythm, the work defuses a great, perhaps universal taboo with warmth and humour. “It usually makes for good community viewing because it’s quite a funny film,” says the filmmaker, “and laughing alone isn’t as much fun as being among a group of gigglers.”

A Short Film About… is explicitly about the body image, but it is also in some ways about the cinematic image; a film as much about human sight as it is about breasts, which, the interviews reveal, occupy an uneasy space between the private and the public — objects to be concealed but inevitably subject to visual scrutiny. Throughout the film, Divya varies the framing pattern, now photographing the participants chest-up, now in close-up. These variations have the effect of making us aware of our own gaze and reflexively grapple with the problems of filming the female body.

Divya made her next film after a break of over a decade, induced by an undiagnosed health condition. Searcher, a play on Divya’s family name, is framed as a self-interrogation. After an opening title card invokes the neuroscientific basis for the existence of inter-generational trauma, the filmmaker informs us that she was diagnosed with schizophrenia a few years before. The film that follows is an attempt to understand her condition through the story of her grandmother, who migrated to India from present-day Pakistan during the Partition, only to lead a short-lived life of drudgery and suffering.

At the centre of Searcher is a house, an ancestral property, where the filmmaker’s grandmother once lived. The residence looks at once occupied and abandoned; where the thickly furnished interiors give a sense of inhabited space — an impression reinforced by muffled sounds of cooking and chatting — shots of wilting plants, discarded furniture, peeling paint and rusting locks suggest a forlorn site, a haunted bungalow even. The multiplication of mirrors and reflective surfaces, on which we periodically glimpse the filmmaker, amplify the feeling of inwardness, of the filmmaker being locked in.

As the house is surveyed in a mix of roving and static shots, a dialogue ensues between the filmmaker and the jamun tree adjoining the property. The tree narrates the harsh life experiences of the filmmaker’s grandmother. At one point, when the camera encircles a chakki (a traditional grindstone), we are shown Margaret Bourke-White’s photographs of the horrors of the Partition while the soundtrack plays ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax’s field recording of Old Alabama, sung by African-American prisoners. Adding to the implied tyranny of this domestic rigour is a traumatic incident in which, the tree tells us, grandmother was thrown out of the house in a state of undress by her husband.

Grandmother, we are informed, died shortly before the filmmaker was born, making the tree a kind of stand-in for the old lady, a reincarnation; Divya films the tree in tilt shots the same way she films her grandmother in photographs. Searcher articulates the inheritance of malaise across these three figures, invoking the filmmaker’s mental illness in direct relation to her grandmother’s trauma as well as to the blight that the jamun tree is suffering. Each one thus takes on the quality of a metaphor for the other: the Partition is recast as the schizophrenia of a nation torn apart, while the filmmaker views her own condition in terms of the inescapability of the grind of life.

Searcher is a looser, less regimented film than A Short Film About… Its shot composition is more intuitive and the sound mix — with high-volume music and ambient noise sharply cutting into the voiceover — deliberately abrasive. “One aspect of my approach to sound was to be completely unsentimental,” says Divya. “In contrast to dissolves, straight cuts are unsentimental.” What Searcher sacrifices in expositional and structural clarity compared A Short Film About…, it gains in emotional density. It’s a lyrical, reflective work that dwells on surfaces and textures, shadows and forms, the spaces between objects and the inchoate feelings they conjure.

A poetic diary film that is also an oblique ghost story, Searcher hints at apparitions and revenants. The camera has a markedly physical quality, only to be suddenly disembodied by the sight of the filmmaker holding another camera. In the final minutes, we see Divya editing the film seated at a desk in the house. Cut to solemn notes from a harmonium, the image evokes a propitiative ritual, a kind of rapprochement that allows the filmmaker to come to terms with the lineage of her pain. “The idea was to show the process of my recovery,” remarks Divya. “Making the film was therapeutic for me, as was the spiritual intervention of my guru.”

Searcher is not yet available for viewing online, but residents of New Delhi can catch a screening at Studio Safdar on 15 April 2023 as part of reFrame’s G-Fest, with the filmmaker in attendance. Divya hopes that the film can find a wider audience very soon.



Divya Sachar is a Delhi-based filmmaker, photographer and writer. She completed her Masters in English Literature from Delhi University and postgraduate specialization in Television Direction from the Film and TV Institute of India, Pune. Her first directorial work A Short Film About… received critical acclaim and aired on national television. Her second film Searcher has traveled to festivals such as Prismatic Ground, New York, and International Documentary and Short Film Festival of Kerala. She also writes on films and the visual arts, and has taught screenwriting and direction at Bennett University, Greater Noida. Divya‘s photography and creative nonfiction have been published by Fall Line Press. She is currently working on her first photobook.


culdivsac[at]gmail[dot]com | Twitter | Instagram


  • The Dead, 2004, 24 min., Betacam
  • A Short Film About…, 2008, 29 min., digital
  • Searcher, 2022, 20 min., digital
  • Conflict (work-in-progress)
  • Unstory (work-in-progress)


A Short Film About… (2008)

[Part of Curator’s Corner, a section dedicated to showcasing work of emerging and marginal filmmakers. See here for details.]

For film lovers fairly active on Facebook, cinephile extraordinaire Mehdi Jahan perhaps needs no introduction. His evocative posts, often screenshots of superpositions and dissolves used in films but also lyrical texts drawing comparisons across the history of cinema, attest to a voracious, formidably wide-ranging viewing habit. Although I knew Mehdi had made several films himself, I hadn’t come around to seeing them. And ever since the idea for this curatorial section of the site came up, I was certain that I wanted Mehdi to be the filmmaker to inaugurate it. So I’m very happy and proud to present his work to the readers of this blog.

Currently based in his hometown of Guwahati, Assam, in North-eastern India, Mehdi makes works that weave family stories, historical events, folktales and film history into a melancholy, highly romantic tapestry of personal reflections. Episodes such as the Partition, Sino-Indian war of 1962, the Assamese insurgency of the 1990s constitute recurring narrative elements, but they are refracted through the life experience of his friends and family directly affected by the events. The resulting films are poetic meditations on the violence of time, offering both fantasies of a lost idyll and testimonies to a fractured present.

Mehdi’s debut film Jyoti and Joymoti (2017) opens with a list of five crucial events from Assamese cultural and political history, but these combine freely in the film’s Chinese-box structure in which each story gives birth to the next: a wounded insurgent, an old woman who tends to him, her husband who runs a border canteen, the flautist he observes from the window, and finally the flautist’s long-absent lover. These nested stories take us back in time, overlaying different periods and film-historical fantasies in disregard of conventional logic, but in a manner faithful to the workings of memory. Mehdi attributes this digressive organization to his love for Latin American literature, but also the influence of his paternal grandparents’ oral practice of Sufi storytelling—a syncretic tradition now on the wane.

That Mehdi is more interested in the process of storytelling than the stories themselves is apparent from any of his films, which largely take shape through the words of their characters. Each of the stories of Jyoti and Joymoti is introduced by a preceding narrator, while Can They Hear Our Songs? (2022) unfolds as nightmares recounted by its two protagonists. The Home My Mother Never Found (2021) relies on unsent letters written by the filmmaker’s mother, who also narrates He Used to Bring Me Apples (2019). “The storyteller is as much a part of events he describes as those involved in them,” remarks Mehdi. “People celebrate rulers and warriors for fighting for their ideas, but it is the storyteller who preserves their stories.”

Despite their deep realism of time and space, Mehdi’s films are not naturalistic. If anything, in their markedly stylized dialogue and performances, they have a deliberate anti-naturalistic bent. Layering memories, dreams, fantasies and legends, they instead attempt to capture a total reality that encompasses the inner lives and felt experience of the characters. This slippage between time periods and levels of reality is an extension of how the filmmaker perceives his personal and cultural history. Mehdi recollects: “When I was a kid, my grandfather used to tell me stories about the Sino-Indian war; my parents used to tell me stories about the insurgency. In my mind, it’s all a muddle. Now I can’t make out which story took place when. That is how I relate to the entire history of Assam. It’s all one single story.”

Taken together, Mehdi’s films comprise a cinema of separations and longings, of men who have left the scene and women who hold fort waiting for them. The filmmaker ascribes this dynamic to growing up under the influence of his mother, his father having to constantly be away on account of his job. His films privilege the perspective of resilient women—women who have taken a vow, who resist coercion, who have unwavering faith in their love but yet stand on their own—all inheriting from the prototypical personality of the seventeenth century Ahom princess Joymoti, who refused to reveal her husband’s whereabouts even under torture. “Joymoti is a crucial figure in Assamese history and is remembered as this great woman who sacrificed her life for her husband and her nation,” says the filmmaker, “but no one remembers who she was as a woman.”

He Used to Bring Me Apples features Mehdi’s mother as Ayesha, a middle-aged woman whose husband, played by the filmmaker’s father, left many decades ago to join the insurgency, never to return. In his absence, Ayesha has taken over the responsibility of overseeing their village, now gripped by an epidemic of a dubious origin. As she remembers scenes from her childhood and youth, the past and present come to occupy the same time and place. In the process, scars from Assam’s own political history are reactivated as invisible machinations threaten the villagers with eviction from their land.

If their engagement with politics and history is unequivocal, Mehdi’s films are nevertheless pointedly inward-looking, contemplative. They are not calls to action, but testaments to loss. The sentiment underpinning them isn’t triumphalism, but a doomed romanticism. Notwithstanding striking notes of heel-digging defiance, their dominant emotions are yearning, nostalgia, anxiety and sorrow. In that, Mehdi’s films are contiguous, entirely of a piece, with his posts on Facebook as a cinephile.

The history of cinema does, of course, play a part in the films, whether in the silent passages of Jyoti and Joymoti or the Dreyer-like interrogation scenes of Can They Hear Our Songs? While his impressionistic influences are tangible in his approach to nature and memory, Mehdi avoids citation or pastiche, instead treating quaint technical devices like intertitles and dissolves as useful tools still conducive to original expression. History is unkind to lovers in his films, but cinema has the power to unite them across time and space. Characters rarely see each other in the eye, and the editing performs the work of integrating their glances. The two protagonists of Can They Hear Our Songs? never meet, but each of their nightmares resolves the other through a kind of solidarity brought about by cinematic means.

Does an extreme awareness of the richness of the history of cinema hinder creativity? Is there an anxiety of influence that comes with cinephilia? “I don’t think so.” responds Mehdi. “I really like what Jacques Rivette said about every film resembling twenty other films. I think it’s very true; I try to embrace it. I love the concept of dérive, this constant drifting across images that seemingly have no connection to one another. I think of films like that.”



Mehdi Jahan is a filmmaker, visual artist, and teacher based in Guwahati (Assam), India. His films have been screened and exhibited at several places internationally and nationally, as part of film festivals and exhibitions, such as The Millennium Workshop (New York) , Garage Museum of Contemporary Art (as part of Moscow International Experimental Film Festival), FILMADRID, Bogoshorts (Bogota Short Film Festival), Camara Lucida – Encuentros Cinematograficos (Cuenca, Ecuador), MUTA Festival (Peru), Pan-Cinema Experimental  (Curitiba, Brazil), Ribalta Experimental Film Festival (Vignola, Italy), Simultan Festival (Timisoara, Romania), Signs Film Festival (Kerala, India), etc. He has taught film studies, direction, and screenwriting at several institutes, including Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, Kolkata, Seamedu Media School, Pune, and Guwahati University.


mehdi.jahan01[at]gmail[dot]com |


  • Jyoti aru Joymoti (Jyoti and Joymoti), 2017, 28 min., digital
  • Teu muloi aapel anisil (He Used to Bring Me Apples), 2019, 27 min., digital
  • Do You Remember Our Last Spring?, 2020, 3 min., digital
  • Maaye ketiyau bisari nupuwa ghorkhon (The Home My Mother Never Found), 2021, 6 min., digital
  • Teuluke aamar geet bur xune janu? (Can They Hear Our Songs?), 2022, 16 min., digital
  • Hands of the Future (with Sabrina D. Marques & Dan Shoval), 2022, 13 min., digital
  • A Letter the Fire Spared, 2022, 5 min., digital
  • Eku nothoka hole ki thakil hoi? (What Would Have Been There Had There Been Nothing?), 2023, 7 min., digital


[It is recommended to watch the films at the highest resolution.]

Jyoti and Joymoti (2017), password: hawa35


He Used to Bring Me Apples (2019), password: alphonso06


The Home My Mother Never Found (2021), password: home123