“Filmmaking is not an esoteric thing to me. I consider filmmaking – to start with – a personal thing. If a person does not have a vision of his own, he cannot create.” –Ritwik Ghatak
I was standing next to the graves of my ancestors in my father’s hometown in the heart of India. The mist that had been gliding slowly between the trees and gravestones all morning was beginning to subside. As I looked around Kabristan, this simple Muslim graveyard, I could see a small crowd of a dozen curious slum kids beginning to gather down the hill at the road where our vehicles were parked. Within hours that small crowd would swell to nearly a thousand. This was the first day of principal photography on KHOYA.
KHOYA is drawn not just from the real people and places of my past, but also from personal experience. The debilitating and traumatic impact of shame, particularly as it relates to adoption, is something that has been haunting my family for nearly four decades. Frustrated, perhaps, by the limitations of real people and the intransigence of real relationships, with KHOYA I was interested in exploring how someone might confront that shame, and ultimately transcend it.
KHOYA is inspired in part by autobiography and in part by the films of the late Ritwik Ghatak, a much overlooked Indian cinematic master who has thankfully received more attention in the last few years (thanks to Scorsese’s World Cinema Foundation). Two of Ghatak’s films in particular – REASON, DEBATE, AND A STORY and A RIVER CALLED TITAS – were significant influences on KHOYA. Ghatak’s films are odysseys about lost people, struggling to come to terms with trauma and loss - this is the central conflict of KHOYA.
A remarkable characteristic of Ghatak’s films is the way he blends naturalism with myth and allegory to create wrenching narratives. One of the places where myth and reality merge in KHOYA is in the folk music featured in the film. For perhaps the first time in a feature film we captured the distinct and inclusive music of Madhya Pradesh – which is unique in India because of the lack of restrictions placed on who can sing and about what. In KHOYA, the folk music becomes a vital accompaniment for the protagonist’s journey home.
“Imaginary homelands” - that’s how Salman Rushdie so eloquently described how we idealize the places we’re from... KHOYA is my own imaginary homeland.
-Sami Khan, writer/director KHOYA