FILM REVIEW: Shit one carries

Caregiving roles are reversed in Shuchi Kothari’s film Shit One Carries

There is metaphorical shit we all carry – guilt, anxiety, regret, longing (insert your emotional baggage here) – and then there is actual shit.

As Avinash, the protagonist in Shuchi Kothari’s fictional directorial debut Shit One Carries, finds out in the most unpleasant circumstances, that shit needs to be dealt with too.

Avinash didn’t ask for this. He has a comfortable, if not demanding job as a Silicon Valley engineer, a whole life built oceans away from where he finds himself now: at his elderly father’s bedside in India, taking care of the man who once was his own caregiver.

Shit One Carries premiered at the New Zealand International Film Festival before making its way around the international festival circuit to the 2019 South Asian Film Festival of Montreal. For Kothari, an Indian-Kiwi filmmaker and educator based in New Zealand, the film is deeply personal. “I wrote the script during a recent visit to India when my mother had a fall and was confined to bed,” said Kothari in a statement. “During this visit, I caught up with Director of Photography Mrinal Desai. To my rather innocuous question, ‘how’s your morning going?’ he replied, ‘Spent most of it trying to figure out who’s going to wipe my father’s ass.’ This statement gave birth to the story.”

Taking on a caregiver role can often be a thankless job. This isn’t a nurse-patient relationship, this is family. And these are not unfamiliar scenes; Avi’s father is disgruntled, impatient, maintaining his stubbornness in lieu of agency. Avi is distracted, he punctuates each strained interaction with a business call, a smokeless cigarette break. He’s there, but the distance between the two men is palpable.

“The struggle to ‘do the right thing’ manifests itself peculiarly in the Indian parent-child relationship where cultural norms and social pressures expect that all children, when grown-up, will return the gift of selfless caregiving,” said Kothari. This film, which screened as part of a selection of films from the diaspora, directly confronts the cultural and generational disconnection that can open up over place and time. In 14 short minutes, a father’s long-held expectations collide with his son’s reality.

Kothari revels in the moments where the discomfort rises to the surface and the avoidance is clear; uncomfortable pauses are hastily filled with small talk. The recognition of the other’s vulnerability is magnified under flickering fluorescent lights, and just as quickly dismissed as attendants and visitors shuffle in and out of the house. The question, ‘How are you?’ doesn’t warrant an honest response.

And then, well, shit happens. The attendant isn’t there, his father soils himself, and Avi is left to face something he never imagined having to do. He enters his father’s room cautiously, at once disgusted by the situation and overwhelmed by what it means to fully take on the responsibility of caring for someone you love. There is no more distance. Just a father and son, and a container of baby wipes.

Kothari’s film speaks to something bigger than a strained father-son relationship; at a time when baby boomers are approaching and settling into retirement, an uncomfortable new dynamic is emerging. Younger generations are grappling with the unspoken expectations of taking on the caregiving role, and in navigating these new responsibilities, a question is posed: What does how we treat our elders say about our societal values? When it comes to the unique context of diaspora communities, how do these North American values conflict with long-held cultural norms? What, as Kothari puts it, is the right thing to do?

Kothari doesn’t provide a simple answer, perhaps because there isn’t one. But in the final scene of the film, as Avi sits in solitude, wrestling with these questions himself, his father’s attendant offers a small piece of advice: “It takes a while.”


Navigating the South Asian diaspora in film

Montreal welcomes eighth annual South Asian Film Festival

Outside of Montreal’s Pepsi Forum, it is increasingly rare to see international films in the city. Hollywood dominates the film industry, leaving little to no room for other diasporas. Hosted by the Kabir Centre for Arts and Culture and running for its eighth edition, the South Asian Film Festival showcased South Asia’s best cinematography and presented films in various languages from Oct. 26 to Nov. 4  in Montreal.

“We are committed to showcasing new artistic work that has South Asian content that fosters discussions and explores the world we inhabit,” said festival director Dipti Gupta. “The festival is a platform for filmmakers worldwide whose films have a focus on South Asia and its diaspora.” The festival first began in 2011 and has been an annual non-profit event since.
As festival director, Gupta said she had the honour to select for the featured films. This allowed her to meet many influential people and draw diverse audiences.

The South Asian Film Festival is the only festival in Quebec that highlights the South Asian region. The festival’s focus on this area of the world allows audiences to understand the way of life in these countries. Overall, Gupta said she hopes the festival sheds light on the art, culture, politics, economics and social issues of this region.

“While the films may be from South Asia, the themes are often relevant to the entire world,” Gupta noted.

Last year, the festival introduced a diaspora panel where filmmakers are able to share their work as well as interact with the audience. According to Gupta, this panel encourages local filmmakers and film students in the audience to seek out stories that are important to them and touch on subjects that have not been encountered in film before. This year, four filmmakers discussed their work as well as their journeys in the industry.

In addition to her work in the festival, Gupta has taught a Bollywood course at Concordia for 12 years. She has also been teaching a course on diaspora and filmmaking since last September. “These courses are very much linked to the idea that I came up with last year to add a diaspora panel to the festival,” Gupta said.

Dant (Teeth) focuses on the unconventional relationship between a hungry street child and a medical student who cross paths.

The festival showcased 27 unique films that deal with the theme of diaspora in thought-provoking ways for audiences across generations. Among these was the seven-minute long Bengali film Dant (Teeth), directed by journalist and scriptwriter, Iqbal Hossain Chowdhury. Dant (Teeth) is Chowdhury’s first film and focuses on the unconventional relationship between a hungry street child and a medical student who cross paths.

Gupta said she and her team recognise that the festival’s audience is diverse and hope to keep improving every year. “Our staff always makes sure that there is something for each palate and age group and that we can draw an intergenerational audience for the festival,” she said.

The festival will continue in Saguenay from Nov. 16 to 18 in collaboration with Bibliothèques Saguenay. For tickets, visit

Student Life

A passion for justice through filmmaking

Dipti Gupta has been teaching for 17 years and directed the South Asian Film Festival

“During my 20s, I used to constantly read about things that were happening in India, and it made me feel extremely angry and uncomfortable,” said Dipti Gupta, an independent documentary filmmaker, researcher and multidisciplinary artist. “I wanted to do something which would lead to justice—to a fair society for all. I thought that the pen as well as the camera were two very significant and strong tools that could bring change.”

Gupta used her writing and passion for film as tools to shape her career. In the 1980s, she regularly contributed to magazines and won many writing competitions, but she said there were no university programs in India that offered courses in filmmaking or journalism at that time. While she was studying political science and commercial art at the University of Delhi, however, she met Siddharth Sanyal.

At the time, Sanyal was producing magazines under an organization called Workbench, and he took Gupta on as a proofreader. Workbench’s office was in the same building as the production company Cinemart Foundation, which produced political and socially relevant documentaries. The company was headed by documentary filmmakers Suhasini Mulay and Tapan Bose, who became inspirations to Gupta.

One of the first documentary films Gupta saw was An Indian Story (1981), a story about the suppression of civil and democratic rights in a democratic nation. Created by Mulay and Bose, the documentary focused on a series of incidents that took place between 1979 and 1980 in Bihar, India where more than 30 people on trial were blinded with acid by the police. “It made me angry and moved me no end,” Gupta said. “At 20, it made me aware of the many injustices in our world.”

An interview with Bhavna Pani. Photo courtesy of Dipti Gupta

Gupta said she was very keen to work for Mulay. “I had seen her work and had admired her immensely,” she said. Despite her ambition, Mulay was reluctant to give Gupta a job. She told her: “Do you see any other women working in this organization?” When Gupta replied that there were only men, Mulay said: “Well, then you will not survive here.”

Nonetheless, Mulay ended up hiring Gupta because “she realized that, even though I looked really scrawny and small, I had a lot of guts.” Gupta got most of her training in the field while working for Mulay and Bose. “I learned a lot while working with her. She became my mentor, and today, she is a very dear friend,” Gupta said.

In addition to giving Gupta some challenging assignments—one of which required her to travel to a remote part of Delhi to interview a Hindu fundamentalist group—Mulay was also the one who introduced Gupta to her husband. He was working as a playwright in Canada, and Gupta eventually moved to Montreal in 1991 to be with him. “When you look back in life, you realize that there was some kind of a path,” Gupta said. “All the dots connect now.” Gupta’s husband runs the Montreal theatre company Teesri Duniya Theatre, which is dedicated to producing socially and politically relevant plays. Gupta has been on the company’s board since arriving in Canada.

When she first moved to Montreal, Gupta wanted to work for Studio D, a National Film Board of Canada studio dedicated to producing women’s documentaries. Unfortunately, the studio closed in 1996 due to a lack of funding. Around that time, “there wasn’t much work for new immigrants and someone who had very little or no Canadian work experience,” Gupta said.

After working for a short time with a few documentary filmmakers, including Martin Duckworth, Gupta decided to go back to school. She completed a bachelor’s degree in communication studies and got her master’s in media studies, both at Concordia University. During her studies, Gupta had a special interest in social and women’s issues. For her 1998 master’s thesis, “Confronting the challenge of distribution: Women documentary filmmakers in India,” Gupta interviewed several female filmmakers in India about the challenges they faced.

“I focused on women who had addressed issues of poverty and violence, women who were focussing on everyday struggles in society, be it education, social injustices, gender discrimination,” Gupta said. “There were so many things happening, and that’s what inspired me to do my master’s work.”

A group photo with the committee members and organizers of the South Asian Film Festival. Photo courtesy of Dipti Gupta.

Twenty years later, these challenges are still prevalent. “I just came back from India a few days ago, and what is really sad is that not a lot has changed,” Gupta said. “People are making good films, but there is still very little funding, and today, many artists are also facing state censorship.”

After completing her master’s, Gupta began her PhD studies at McGill University in art history and communications. However, Gupta’s daughter made her realize she wanted to work in a system that would allow her the flexibility needed to take care of her child while doing research and teaching.

Gupta has now been teaching in the cinema-video-communications department at Dawson College for 17 years. She is also a part-time faculty member at Concordia where she teaches art forms of Bollywood cinema. However, she still feels sad that she never completed her dissertation at McGill, despite finishing all her course work. She said she hopes her current work may help her eventually finish it.

Gupta’s pedagogy has always focused on exploring situations or moments in history that have brought about change. “I have consciously created courses which highlight and focus on the evolution of society and the community,” she said. “I always recognize that we are ever fortunate to have an education, and we need to use this privilege to create a fair democratic society in every way.”

According to Gupta, teaching at the CEGEP level has been an extremely humbling experience. “I always remember and recognize how I was at that stage of my life as I teach these young minds. I was idealistic and had huge dreams. It is an impressionable age. Hence, we as teachers have a huge responsibility towards this age group,” Gupta said. “My focus on my teaching has always been to make sure that I can inspire students and give them tools to prepare them for their future studies and careers.”

A portrait of Dipti Gupta, an independent documentary filmmaker, researcher and multidisciplinary artist. Photo by Sandra Hercegova.

At Concordia, Gupta’s art forms of Bollywood course focuses on the study of the construct of mythology—marriage, motherhood, masculinity and misogyny—within Indian cinema, especially films coming out of Mumbai. “My aim through that is to look at this particular construct and also to break certain stereotypes that exist while viewing and engaging with popular culture from India,” she explained.

Currently, Gupta is working on a new documentary film which explores these topics. “I think cinema gives us that window to explore and study the trends—after all, art imitates life and life often imitates art.”

These are ideas Gupta promotes outside of the classroom as well. For the last seven years, she has been on the organizing committee for the South Asian Film Festival. Hosted by the Kabir Cultural Centre, a charitable organization in Montreal, the festival highlights the work of South Asian filmmakers that focus on contemporary issues in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Afghanistan. In 2017, Gupta worked as the festival’s programming director alongside her friend and fellow director Karan Singh.

One film featured in last year’s festival that particularly stood out to Gupta was A Billion Colour Story. Directed by Mumbai-based filmmaker N. Padmakumar, the film discusses communal tensions and identity issues in India. It was voted Best Film by the festival’s audience.

“The film took my breath away—with its story, it’s beautifully composed shots and the acting,” Gupta said. “[N. Padmakumar] made one of the most incredibly humane stories I have seen on screen, and it is a must-watch.”

The work Gupta does for the south asian film festival is entirely voluntary as it is a volunteer-driven festival. According to Gupta, teaching at Dawson and being a part-time employee gives her more time to contribute to other projects, such as the festival. “I am growing older, and I am realizing the urgency to contribute as well as give back to the community that has really supported me,” she said.

Dipti Gupta alongside filmmaker N. Padmakumar.

In terms of support, as a part-time faculty member at Concordia, Gupta said she feels that the Concordia University Part-time Faculty Association (CUPFA) is supportive and generous when it comes to providing grants for research. However, the research grants are not very large. “Often, as teachers, we end up putting in our own money to pursue the work,” she said.

According to Gupta, even if part-time professors only teach one or two courses, the number of hours that one puts in to create a course, to mentor or give feedback to each student is still the same as any full-time teacher. “The sad part is that, often, we are not even sure if we will continue to teach the class the following term—so you can be putting in all this work for just one term or maybe two,” Gupta added.

According to Gupta, the vice-president of CUPFA, Lorraine Oades, has created interesting forums/micro-talks on campus for part-time faculty. “Every time we get a CUPFA grant, we come and talk about our research work and the kind of contributions we are making in our discipline,” she explained. “This is very helpful.”

Aside from the film festival and teaching, Gupta is an independent filmmaker herself. Using funding from CUPFA, she made a short documentary film in 2014 alongside Karan Singh called At Home in the World. The short film celebrates over 100 years of Indian cinema in the multicultural city of Montreal. It explores Montrealers’ love of Indian cinema and their understanding of films from that country.

Gupta said establishing connections with people has been important to her life and her success. “One encounter can create a lifetime of great bonds—that is what I have learned through this entire journey,” she said. “You just have to have love in your heart and respect for people, and you will go a long way.”

As for women who aspire to become documentary filmmakers, Gupta had one piece of advice: “The key as a filmmaker and as an artist is to identify what inspires you, what drives you. I think, in your heart, you always know.”

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