Sourav Sarangi: Bilal 2

The film about the Indian boy Bilal has previously been reviewed on The idfa festival and the connected Jan Virjman Fund has followed “the carreer” of the film and has posted this small sunshine story about a film, its director and main character:

Bilal, the story of a two-and-a-half-year-old boy growing up with completely blind parents, was screened at IDFA 2008. This year the documentary travels around the world, receiving awards at film festivals from Qatar to Mexico. Bilal will even be screened at the prestigious Museum of Modern Arts (MoMA) in New York. Director Sourav Sarangi reflects on the production of Bilal, from a project supported by IDFA’s Jan Vrijman Fund to an award-winning documentary.

Last week, Sourav Sarangi received another award for his documentary Bilal, in the Horizons section of Munich’s Dok.Fest. The Jury of Dok.Fest reported: ‘The everyday life of a three-year-old boy who lives at close quarters with his blind parents and his younger brother in a poor neighbourhood of Calcutta – what would one expect from this other than misery and destitution? But Bilal is surprisingly positive, sometimes even funny, and, above all, authentic and extremely human.’

Earlier this year, Bilal won the Aljazeera Golden Award at the Aljazeera International Documentary Festival, the Award for Best Documentary at Festival de cine de pobre Humberto Solas in Cuba, the Silver Palm at the Mexican Film Festival and the Silver Ace Award at the Las Vegas International Film Festival. The biggest award for Sarangi, however, remains a Christmas gift for little Bilal and his brother from an elderly couple, following the film’s first screening in Amsterdam.

Prior to the world premiere at IDFA and last month’s traveling around the world to present his heartfelt, intimate documentary, Sarangi spent a lot of time in the family’s small living space, and later on in the editing room. He followed Bilal’s daily life over the course of a year: ‘Working on the film Bilal has been an extremely rewarding experience. The small kid was like a human window to me. Always ushering in freshness, illuminations and challenges to explore and capture. Before shooting, I had a strategy, a plan how to shoot this kid in his normal surroundings; but he made all that futile by his charming unpredictability. So I had to improvise and react to the very moment and use my instincts: it was a great learning experience.’ While staying with the family, Sarangi got a double role: firstly as a friend – Bilal calls him uncle, interacting and sharing at a human level. And secondly, as a filmmaker with a job to do. The best moments came when Sarangi failed to distinguish between the two.

Even more time was needed in the editing room: ‘Editing took a very long time, since I shot a lot in a candid manner and there was no clear-cut formula to make a structure out of apparently disconnected moments of real life, which hardly had a story in this case. Slowly the structure emerged; I could see the connections between such moments of fleeting reality, often separated by months in essence time and space. There, I tried my experience with cinema and enjoyed doing that. Although it can be frustrating because it is an experimental process and sometimes you have to throw away nicely edited scenes.’

The Jan Vrijman Fund supported Sarangi with funding for the production process. ‘While making the film, I received fantastic support from the JVF team, IDFA and my Finnish partners, as well as from my small unit and family. In IDFA’s Docs for Sale, the film also found a world distributor (Mercury Media International), which is a difficult proposition in India.’ A few weeks ago, Sarangi also received support from the IDFA Fund, a fund which offers small-scale, concrete assistance to people who have been the subject of documentaries shown during IDFA. This support will benefit Bilal and his family in their hard struggle for a livelihood.

At the moment, Sarangi is concentrating on his next film, about a river and a boy called Rubel who lives by the river and meets Bilal – of course.

For more information about Bilal, see: The trailer for Bilal can be found on the website of Mercury Media International Ltd and on the IDFA website. For distribution in the Benelux, please contact the Jan Vrijman Fund.
Publication Date: 22 May 2009

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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