(India 2018; Dir: Rishi Chandna)


Swan Song of a Rooster

review by Līga Požarska


length: 13

year of production: 2018

country of production: India

director: Rishi Chandna

production: Rishi Chandna, Ritika Ranjan

director of photography: Deepak Nambiar

editing: Neha Mehra

cast: Aasim Bharde, Celestine Bharde, Nusrat Bharde, Sameer Bharde

festivals: Visions du Réel 2018, Internationale Kurzfilmtage Winterthur 2018, Bogoshorts 2018, interfilm Berlin 2018, Brussels Short Film Festival 2018, Leuven Short Film Festival 2019, Encounters 2018, Krakow Film Festival 2018, Short Waves 2019, Glasgow Short Film Festival 2019

© images: Tungrus (Rishi Chandna)

When Chandler and Joey kept a chick and a duck in their Manhattan apartment, many fans of the popular sitcom 'Friends' considered urban chicken raising to be fun. The amusing documentary ‘Tungrus’ paints a different picture of this chicken-keeping reality, yet it is similarly difficult to refrain from laughter. Indian director Rishi Chandna uses an extensive dramaturgical and comical capacity to explore the annoying, yet hilarious, misadventures of having a bully in your household.

In a cramped Mumbai flat the Bharde family (retired parents and two working brothers) keeps a pet rooster. As the cock becomes unbearable, the family must decide whether to keep the bird or serve it for dinner. What initially started as a silly joke of spontaneously buying a chew toy for cats has now escalated to a full-on rooster’s domination.

The peculiar contrast of two opening scenes – a buzzing Mumbai landscape, followed by close-ups of a rooster – instantly grabs our attention. Sure, India is full of unexpected animals in everyday staging, but indoor poultry in one of the world’s most densely populated city evokes intrigue.

When it comes to dad jokes, the head of the family Nusrat steals the show. His pride in keeping such an original pet is enormous; the scenes where he chases the rooster to stop him from crowing are priceless. “This is one of those classic my dad moments,” his son Sameer declares. The same son who will deliver several hysterically odd lines. “A parrot is fine, maybe an owl is fine. Maybe even an eagle is fine. But I don’t see what a rooster can add to a household,” he says.

Director Rishi Chandna hasn’t abstained from including obvious statements (e.g., “nobody likes to clean up shit all the time”). These self-evident conclusions, conveyed in a slightly grumpy manner, add more colour to the problems and serve well as comical relief. When we briefly talked to Chandna about his cooperation with The Bhardes, he revealed that the father’s friendliness and curiosity about the filmmaking process helped him to become comfortable, whereas it took a bit longer for the mother Celestine to open up. He further explains that the team filmed the visual observations first. “By the time I got to the interviews, everybody was completely warmed up.”

The film’s logical progression induces the spectator to go along with a tireless eagerness. It is also the merit of the editing done by Neha Mehra and the director himself. When someone introduces an argument, someone else elaborates on that, continuously unfolding the narrative flow. ‘Tungrus’ is crafted with a strong realistic hand stroke, rather than an ephemeral light-catching grasp of an impressionist.

Deepak Nambiar’s camera is steady, merely observing. This classical visual approach leaves it to the heroes to decide how much they want to share and partake. Instead of the filmmakers following the rooster around, it pops it head in the frame every once in a while. Oh my, how this star is craving the spotlight! The camera also respects the rooster’s point of view, observing the sleeping master and looking outside the window. Ironically, at the “Quality Chickens” shop downstairs.

Consequently, the inconvenience of having a rooster is uniting the family in a way that television simply couldn’t. The acknowledgment of the animal being a proper family member introduces a peak of conflict, after which the narration evolves towards views on actually killing the bird. In India meat politics (the beef ban) is a big dividing force between Hindus and Muslims, as well as other religious communes.

Chandna believes that from the moment a filmmaker gets the camera rolling, they are influencing the course of events. “Until the last day of shoot they were not sure of their decision, but the process of shooting helped the father to make up his mind.” The tragicomical ‘Tungrus’ thus explores different power shifts and balances between urban and rural environments. Ethical questions surface beneath the comical façade.

Yes, The Bhardes share their different opinions on eating their pet, but even though one’s mind might wander down that moral path, it is encouraged to take the film for what it is: a curious case of a family keeping a pet rooster. A human story of dealing with a situation they couldn’t have predicted six months ago when the baby rooster overstepped the flat’s threshold.

To this day, the director maintains close relationships with the family, keeping them posted on the film’s journey via WhatsApp. He also elaborates on the film’s relevancy today: “In these lockdown times the film has taken on a new meaning about sharing your space.”

'Tungrus' was elected the Audience Favourite during the tenth week of My Darling Quarantine Short Film Festival.