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

Shishir Jha is a filmmaker from Darbhanga, Bihar, who lives and works in Mumbai. An alumnus of the National Institute of Design, Shishir began making short films to teach himself particular aspects of moviemaking while also holding a job in the advertising industry. He has recently made his debut feature Dharti Latar Re Horo (Tortoise Under the Earth, 2022), a meditative docu-fiction set in an adivasi region of Central India plagued by the ecological repercussions of unchecked mining. While Tortoise Under the Earth is still seeking distribution, viewers can get a good sense of Shishir’s work from two of his short films, The East Wind (2016) and Te Amo (2016), both presented below along with a classroom project, Goodbye and Other Stories (2018).

A monodrama set in a mountainous stretch of Maharashtra, The East Wind centres on an unnamed middle-aged man seemingly mourning the disappearance of his wife. The film, however, only hints at this premise, refusing to spell it out except as visual clues: photographs of the man and his now-absent family, a dream-like tracking shot suggesting a journey away from the protagonist, who gazes yearningly at the photos or off-screen. Images of the man cooking his sorry meal or fetching water from across the valley, and of clothes left unattended to, signal a breach in the routine without putting too strong an emphasis on it. The wind blows, ushering in the first rains. Life goes on.

Ostensibly influenced by Béla Tarr, The East Wind demonstrates Shishir’s taste for elliptical, contemplative storytelling that privileges mood, atmosphere and landscape over character development or narrative detailing. The film doesn’t narrate a story as much as dwell on a state of mind — a kind of static portraiture that characterizes the filmmaker’s other work as well. Even so, it helps that he has a professional actor in Robin Das, whose weather-beaten face and downcast body become the primary expressive vehicle of the film. Shishir has subsequently worked predominantly with non-professionals, which certainly stretches their capabilities even as the films gain in documentary authenticity.

In 2016, Shishir participated in a workshop by Abbas Kiarostami at the EICTV film school in Cuba. Scouting neighbouring villages with an interpreter for possible subjects for a short film, he found an elderly couple living on the ground floor of a housing complex in Pueblo Textil, Bauta. On Kiarostami’s advice, he spent time getting to know them, observing their environment and shooting them in their routine while proposing to them small situations to improvise on. “I don’t speak Spanish, and I developed something intuitively based on my impression of their interactions,” says Shishir.

The result was the film Te Amo, a charming picture of old-age togetherness, routine pleasures and the banality of a contended life, unfolding on a lazy summer afternoon. Arcadio and Nelsa, the couple, have obvious charisma and their endearing chattiness and enthusiastic participation draw Te Amo far away from the laconism of The East Wind. “I discovered the power of language to express emotions for the first time,” says the filmmaker. “I realized that this was magic.” The film was well-received at the workshop and garnered Kiarostami’s appreciation. “The experience gave me confidence that I can make a film anywhere,” adds the filmmaker.

Speaking of his first feature film, Shishir notes that Tortoise Under the Earth was an extension of Te Amo: “With the same approach, I wanted to tell a longer story.” At the time, he was reading Paul Olaf Bodding’s work on Santhali folklore and Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s short story collection The Adivasi Will Not Dance (2015). Inspired equally by the play of myth and nature in the films of Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Shishir set out to the district of East Singhbhum in Jharkhand, exploring the area with the help of the activist Jeetrai Hansda. “I realised that Bodding’s Santhal is far away from today’s Santhals,” he says in an interview, ”there are new problems, new possibilities and new issues.” Instead of forcing his experience into a pre-determined narrative framework, Shishir spent his months simply gathering images and sounds from the region.

It wasn’t until he came across Jagarnath and Mugli Baskey that he found his human-interest story. A middle-aged couple who have lost their daughter to unstated causes, Jagarnath and Mugli live by themselves in a spacious house in the village. Like in Te Amo, Shishir recreated their everyday interactions as fiction, partly conceived by the protagonists themselves, giving us a picture of a loving couple living in harmony with the nature around them. Mugli speaks to flowers and sings songs of lament; Jagarnath talks to a bird and buys bangles for his wife. Woven through these domestic scenes are images from an annual festival in which Jagarnath plays percussions and a village fair where the couple have themselves photographed at a makeshift studio.

This soft, rarefied drama of rural idyll is, however, interrupted by environmental threat. We learn that the region has been poisoned by rapacious Uranium mining, the footprint of which hasn’t ceased to expand. True to the understated nature of Tortoise, this invasion first appears as noise — a distant thud of the machines — before we see its material consequences in the form of water poisoning and forced eviction. Jagarnath tries to sensitize the youth of the area, who seem playful and somewhat indifferent to their collective plight, showing little desire for action. Jagarnath is, on the other hand, determined that he will not leave his home. In a beautiful night-time sequence, he stares straight at the headlights of an ominous off-screen vehicle — heels dug into the ground, fists clenched — offering an uplifting note of defiance.

Tortoise Under the Earth is above all a humanist portrait of Jagarnath and Mugli. Shishir does not regard his film as a work of activism. The politics of Uranium mining, says the filmmaker, is not something that he was expressly seeking to address. But having spent time with the couple as their guest, it was something he couldn’t avoid, so much was it a part of their identity and existence. In that respect, Tortoise serves to register that, for people like Jagarnath and Mugli, the business of living is inextricable from their struggles against erasure.



Shishir Jha is a Mumbai-based filmmaker born in Bihar, India in 1988. He graduated from the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, with a bachelor’s degree in Film & Video Communication Design. He received a Diploma in Filmmaking at the workshop of the late Abbas Kiarostami at EICTV (Escuela Internacional de Cine y TV) in Cuba in 2016. He has made several short films, and Tortoise Under the Earth is his first feature film.


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  • Meghna, 2009, 2 min., digital
  • Guddi, 2011, 5 min., digital
  • The East Wind, 2015, 15 min., digital
  • Segment in Shuruaat Ka Interval, 2014, 5 min., digital
  • Te amo, 2016, 18 min., digital
  • Goodbye & Other Stories, 2018, 18 min., digital
  • Dharti Latar Re Horo (Tortoise Under the Earth), 2022, 97 min., digital


The East Wind (2015)

Te amo (2016)

Goodbye & Other Stories (2018), password: humara123