Oh That’s Bhanu: RV Ramani on the national award and the lady behind it


Filmmaker RV Ramani on bagging the national award for Oh That’s Bhanu, based on late dancer Bhanumati Rao

Filmmaker RV Ramani on bagging the national award for Oh That’s Bhanu, based on late dancer Bhanumati Rao

With O h That’s Bhanu bagging an award for best direction (non-feature film category) in the recently-annpunced 68th National Film Awards, filmmaker RV Ramani feels it’s time for it to be mounted on an OTT platform. He finished filming, directing and editing the film in 2019, but the pandemic eclipsed screening plans. “I had lost all interest in distributing and selling this film for a long time, actually,” says the 64-year-old, who started chronicling the life story of dancer and theatre actor Bhanumati Rao in 2014 when she was in her early 90s.

The film’s first official screening was at MAMI Mumbai Film Festival in October 2019. Ramani had also streamed the movie online for friends, students (he started an online course during the pandemic), and select audience.

A still from Oh That’s Bhanu

Ramani has been in filmmaking for nearly four decades — starting as an assistant cameraperson in  Father, Son and Holy Water, a film by  Anand Patwardhan — and brings many visual textures like mobile, mini-TV and HD footages in  Oh That’s Bhanu. He’s a little sceptical about uploading the film on an open-access platform like YouTube. “Then, it’s going to go out of hand. If you want to push your film on an OTT platform, it shouldn’t be released in public. They want fresh films,” he says, “I want to earn from this one.”

With one foot in Delhi and the other in Bengaluru, Ramani has been able to portray different shades of Bhanumati’s “enigmatic, passionate, yet simple and pragmatic life” through expressive silences, and free-wheeling conversations with her and her daughters. Bhanumati, a trained Indian classical dancer who toured Europe in the 1940s, performed before the likes of Jawahar Lal Nehru in 1950s New York and eventually returned to India to gain prominence as a theatre artiste. She was last in the limelight in 2016, when a video of her performing Bharatanatyam at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in Chennai went viral.

A still from Oh That’s Bhanu

A still from Oh That’s Bhanu

Ramani is an art aficionado and this reflects in his cinematography. With every passing frame, he weaves a mosaic of impressionistic, personal and subjective expression. “I have always wanted to make films like how artists make paintings. This is why the trajectory of my movies is different from usual documentary filmmaking,” he says.

Ramani first met Bhanumati in 2014, when he was visiting her daughter Maya Krishna Rao, who had organised a screening for his film Hindustan Hamara at Shiv Nadar University in Noida. “When I was about to leave, Maya’s mother walked into the hall. I shook her hands and we spoke for a while, but till the very end, we kept holding hands. I didn’t feel like letting her hand go,” he says, describing the moment that nudged him to make the film on her. Though he almost completed the project, he subsequently added some footage, as Bhanumati shifted to Bengaluru. “Though the family liked what I showed, I felt it lacked something, and so, I went to Bengaluru to film Bhanu with Maya’s sister as well.”

Bhanu died in February, aged 98. “Every time I visited her, she didn’t remember me. But she’d be very happy to hear that I was making a film on her,” he says. Currently, Ramani is making a film based on the life of contemporary artist K Ramanujam, whose abstract artworks inspired Ramani’s visual expression. Of his other three projects, one is about an organic farmer activist, another about Chennai-based theatre group Koothu-P-Pattarai and a film on documentary filmmakers.

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