Nothing Grows Under the Pine Trees is an experimental short film encapsulated by the lens of a poet. It would tingle your anxiety with its slow, static and zoomed out frames, where every small detail has a message. Like reading a poem, you need to revisit the film multiple times in order to understand its essence. The film explores the story of two sisters in a village in Uttarakhand—the younger aspires to get married whereas the elder one despises it. Flimmaker Sachin Rana shares his idea behind the juxtapostion of the emotions on marriage through these two sisters: ‘it's a film about this girl who is being forced into marriage, whereas her little sister thinks she is the one who's getting married and is elated by the idea of it. The initial idea was to compare these two thoughts, how your thought process changes as you grow. For a nine year old, marriage is this big ceremony with all the glamour but the nineteen year old knows the societal consequences of marriage and how her freedom is being taken away from her.'
The Uttrakhand-born poet and filmmaker's creative flow emerged from his father, who was a Garhwali poet. ‘My father has published two books in Garhwali poetry and he introduced me to a lot of Pahadi literature’, he tells us. The intersection of filmmaking and poetry brings a unique voice—‘I think my poetry is very visual and my films are poetic. So that is how it blends together. I try to create images in my poetry and then I try to create poetry through images in my filmmaking.’
Rana uses multiple poetic metaphors in his film. The title of the film, Nothing Grows Under the Pine Trees, is a metaphor itself that comes from a poem he wrote in Hindi years ago. He shares that the pine trees are not native to Uttarakhand. They were planted by Britishers because they grow very fast and was beneficial for their timber business. The negative factor of growing them is that wherever pine trees grow, they destroy the vegetation and don't allow the flora and fauna to flourish. He elaborates, ‘Our native trees were oak and oak allows a lot of medicinal herbs and plants that we can eat to grow—a lot of grass for the animals but today you’ll see the vegetation butchered by the pine trees. I used this metaphor to show that individuals don't exist in a society—individual thoughts do not flourish in a closed society. Under the pine trees, individual rebels or individual thoughts that does not follow the society's rules are not respected.’
The film explores the idea of marriage in a small village and how marriage is something society has deemed as the only right course for one's life. ‘The consent of marriage is also a manufactured consent’, Rana says. ‘You’re shown all the wedding videos of celebrities and it is showcased like a festival, where you are the stars. Everybody wants to have their five minutes of stardom but when you're actually pushed into it by force, where the person you loved is being taken away from you then it becomes a problem. You’re not allowed to love especially in villages.’ The elder sister in the film likes a boy from the lower caste, which the villagers and her family reprimands. The villagers humiliates her and her family because of which she is forced to get married to another person in order to save the dignity of her family. Her individual choices are demolished by the society because that would rupture of the center of societal thinking.
Rana wanted to explore how there is no breeding of individuality in a closed society and we are conditioned to believe in choices that are designed by them. ‘It's the society who establishes gender performativity and we are conditioned into genders. You also see the younger one uses a casteist slur because that is how she has heard her family members talking about the boy her sister likes, This whole manufacturing of a thought process, why does a nine year old get excited about her marriage? When I was child, I was nudging my mother for something and out of frustration she tells me that ‘you’re getting married. For three days, I was waiting to get married. I tried to understand the basic plot from a girl’s perspective.’ The film questions the perspective of gender—how do we weigh a person in the society? The girl is seen backing trophies at school while the 28-year old she’s getting married to does not even have a job.
The film also uses the aural and visual metaphor of the sacrificial goat to show how individuals are made to sacrifice in the name collective ideas. A dream sequence in the film depicts the girl holding a goat in her arms, standing near the pyre of fire. Rana tells us ‘the fire dream sequence was me trying to get into the psyche of that girl being forced to marry. Since we never hear her dialogue and she’s silently observing the situation. I wanted to use this imagery to blend the real world with the dream world. I've taken that metaphor from my own cultural background where there are a lot of sacrificial rituals. In Pahadi households, whenever there is any "aapda" type situation in the village or if there is some burden on family, they do a pooja with sacrificial rituals and it's very much in the Tantric sphere of Hinduism but it's very normal there.’ The girl becomes a sacrificial goat, which will bring the back family's lost dignity due to her affair.
The story was born from the personal experiences of Rana. In his village, Chamoli, he witnessed a frenzy about marriage, which left him confounded about why nobody pays attention to the consequences of a woman’s life after her marriage. He set out to understand why marriage formed such a quintessential part in the lives of women around him. Rana wanted people to have the experience of the patriarchal environment in Pahadi villages, a perspective often overlooked—‘People connect mountains to beauty and a lot of culture, serenity and heritage—you go for holidays there. I just wanted to show how bleak this perception is and how closed off we also are.’
The film has static images that are repeated for a long time offering a sort of anxiety with a very immersive aural experience. The visuals are prolonged and the aural is enhanced. When asked about the cinematography, Rana tells us ‘What I am struggling with most right now is to create my own kind of cinematic language where I don't want to focus on the visuals a lot because we are flooded with images every day on Instagram. There is beautiful cinematography coming every second and the visual stimulation is too much. If I want the audience to get into that zone where they can feel the environment of a Pahadi village, I will have to keep visuals very static and then create that environment with sound because sonically we still are not flooded that much as compared to the visuals.’ Rana was focused on taking a lot of long shots to show the grandeur of nature and how small people are in front of landscapes, he explains. The landscape in itself becomes metaphor like the pine trees, where we all are suffering from the inability to think against society’s grand scheme.
The film becomes a testament of what happens in a family when their daughter tries to move out of the societal norms and the grandeur of traditions that are imposed on us. Through its prolonged silences and cinematic shots, Nothing Grows Under the Pine Trees ,offers a slow, introspective exploration of the quiet acquiescence of a woman in a society rife with divisions of caste and gender.
Words Paridhi Badgotri