Frozen (2007) – A Black and White indie treasure from Ladakh
Bollywood filmmakers romanced Kashmir for a long time. They almost remained obsessed with it till insurgency made it impossible to shoot out there. But at the same time, Ladakh – the other frontier of the state – remained untouched. Partly due to its remoteness and regulatory concerns and partly due to completely different demographics and culture, Ladakh remained aloof. The situation gradually changed in the last decade as new age film makers sought more exotic locations. But still, it remained just that – a backdrop for staging their song and dance routines. If there is one film that actually captures the harsh life in Ladakh as it is, that must be Shivajee Chandrabhushan’s first film Frozen – a winner of 2 National Awards and multiple international awards.
Bleak and Beautiful
Frozen tells the story of a middle-aged man Karma (Danny Denzongpa) with his teenaged daughter Lasya (Gauri Kulkarni) and the younger son Chomo (Angchuk). They live in a remote village and face the daily struggles of a harsh life high in the Ladakh mountains. Karma makes apricot jams with an archaic, manually operated contraption but struggles to sell them in the face of fierce competition from better equipped manufacturers. Lasya observes the world with typical adolescent bewilderment and has a suitor too. The spirited banter between her and her brother is in stark contrast with the harsh terrain and grim struggle that Karma faces.
Lasya observes the world with typical adolescent bewilderment and has a suitor too. The spirited banter between her and her brother is in stark contrast with the harsh terrain and grim struggle that Karma faces.
He makes a trip to the town to sell his products while the children visit the market and the fair with juvenile glee. Back home, an army platoon sets up base near their home and threatens to requisition the entire plot of land citing security matters. It gets bleaker, with the director not remotely interested in a traditional story with a closure. What follows is a surprise twist at the end that casts doubt over everything depicted before.
The film removes all traces of romanticism that we associate with such locations but comes up with some striking imagery that depicts Ladakh in its full glory. Looming mountains, barren pastures, exotic milieu and glacially moving caravans of military trucks may look familiar to those who have actually stayed in such locales or made those challenging high altitude Himalayan trips.
The most important creative choice that drives Frozen is the black and white cinematography. The frames by Shanker Raman are exquisite. The absolute lack of color strengthens the bleakness and sense of harshness that permeates the story. This treatment probably stems from the background of Chandrabhushan as a mountaineer, who must have observed these people from close quarters. But more interestingly, he does not merely aim at a slice-of-life depiction but is also open to playing mind games with the viewers, details of which cannot be discussed here without giving away some spoilers. The most important creative choice that drives Frozen is the black and white cinematography. The frames by Shanker Raman are exquisite. The absolute lack of color strengthens the bleakness and sense of harshness that permeates the story.
Danny carries the film as the only experienced actor in the cast. It is great to see the Bollywood veteran back a film like this for once. Apart from this intense actor, everyone else was new and inexperienced at the time of filming. While Gauri Kulkarni has done well, her presence is a bit disconcerting simply because she does not look anywhere close to a Ladakhi. But considering the nature of the film, casting must have been difficult.
An Early Indie
Frozen should also be considered as a case in point for India’s fledgling independent film scene. This film was made in 2007 and had a decent run in the festival circuit winning a few awards. But a general release was a far cry and it just managed a few one-off screenings in a couple of cities. In comparison, much lesser indie films are having wider releases now. Frozen may have been a bit ahead of its time.
Frozen – Trailer
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