[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)