Ajitpal Singh's 'Fire in The Mountains' Premieres at Sundance 2021
Written by: Nikoleta Morales
Fire in The Mountain focuses on a mother toils to save money to build a road in a Himalayan village to take her wheelchair-bound son for physiotherapy but her husband who believes that a shamanic ritual (Jagar) is the remedy, and steals her savings.
Singh said that in 2018, "I heard about the death of my cousin sister living in a village of Punjab. She died because her husband did not take her to the hospital thinking she is possessed by a ghost. She was the first person to graduate in my father’s side of family and I was the second. Education brought us closer but we lost touch after I moved to Bombay. I was deeply saddened by news of her death and felt guilty, maybe I could save her if I kept in touch. I kept thinking about the incident and slowly the idea of ‘Fire In The Mountains’ was born".
Around the same time, he was learning not so nice things about his own self. "I realized, I was resistant to an advice given by women in my family and more accepting when the same advice came from a man. I consider myself a well-read person who respects women, yet I am biased. The idea of a woman being inferior to man is so deep-rooted that we need to question it every day, in every moment," Singh said.
The protagonist Chandra is a rational voice in the film up against superstitious and patriarchal society, in part she is like my mother, who has always criticised irrational rituals despite being an illiterate woman.
Rural India is in flux, it’s trying very hard to hold on to its traditional values. The arrival of modernity with its education, technology, availability of information on fingertips and reliance on money for work is breaking the fabric that has kept families together. Fire In The Mountains is the story of a family caught in the storm, between traditional beliefs and a modern future, which creates tension and conflict between individuals. The intention is to not to take a side, but to explore and question.
We met with the director to discuss his Sundance film and to learn more about the inspiration behind it.
Ajitpal Singh is a self-taught filmmaker living in Mumbai. His debut feature as a writer-director Fire In The Mountains (FITM) is world premiering at Sundance 2021 in 'World Cinema Dramatic Competition’ as the only film from South Asia among 10 films competing in the section.
Earlier titled Swizerland, FITM won best WIP project at 2019 Film Bazaar's Work-In-Progress Lab. The screenplay was selected for NFDC Screenwriters’ Lab 2018-19 and was part of 2020 Marche Du Films’ Goes to Cannes.
His short film Rammat-Gammat won the ‘SpecialMention’ at the prestigious Oberhausen 2018, and was selected in nearly 50 noted film festivals including Palm Spring Shorts Fest, Cinekid, MAMI and won 6 awards. His othershort film, Hummingbird which travelled to many international film festivals, won a jury award for best short film in France.
Ajitpal'sfirst screenplay was part of Sundance Screenwriters Lab 2012 where it won the SundanceGrant. His mentors were Oscar winner filmmaker Asif Kapadia (Amy) and Oscar Nominated screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga (Amores Perros, Babel and 21 Grams), Michael Goldenberg (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), José Rivera (The Motorcycle Diaries), Howard A. Rodman (Savage Grace) and Marcos Bernstein (Oscar nominated Brazilian film CentralStation). His secondscreenplay was selected for NFDC Screenwriters’ Lab. He was also part of Berlinale Talent Campus.
Ajitpal wrote dialogues for Once Again (Netflix), worked as an associate director for Gurgaon (Netflix) and as an assistant director for Patang (Berlinale). He worked on 16 international docs as a researcher and field producer.
Born in Punjab, Singh was 8 years old when his father, a farmer and ex-army man, ran a cinema hall in Bathinda which suffered huge losses and was shut down during insurgency. His family moved to Ahmedabad where his father took up a job of a security guard. Ajitpal grew up in a ghetto amidst poverty and violence and he faced a lot of discrimination due to anti Sikh sentiments in India at that time.
After studying chemistry, learning theatre and photography, he chose filmmaking as his calling. His greatest passions are writing, reading, cooking, cycling and travelling. He commutes by bicycle in Mumbai and uses an old-fashioned Nokia phone.
Fore more information:
FACEBOOK : facebook.com/FireInTheMountainsthefilm/
INS TAGRAM : instagram.com/fireinthemountains_film/
TWITTER : @FITM_TheFilm
MEET THE AR TIS T VIDEO: youtube.com/watch?v=0VwqGHNkf5g&feature=emb_logo
FITM - SUNDANCE WEBSITE: fpg.festival.sundance.org/film-info/5fd0ab944ec3e8239a5ded89