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One day, the patriarch of a family decides to bring a chick home. The tiny bird, a newborn, is meant to be a playmate — a toy, really — for the family’s two pet cats. Six months on, however, the Bharde family realises that the scenario has turned on its head. What began as a game of cat-and-chick has become one where the bird, now fully grown into a rooster, is the bully. This quirky situation is the subject of a Rishi Chandna’s short format documentary, Tungrus, which has been travelling the festival circuit lately.

The hilarious 14-minute documentary, which captures a week in the life of the Bharde family as they deal with an unusual pet in a cramped Mumbai apartment, is an official selection at the prestigious Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Film Festival 2018. It has also been selected for Visions du Reel Film Festival, among other documentary festivals.

Chandna knew that the subject lent itself to a documentary as soon as he heard about the Bharde family through a common friend. “It’s tough to imagine a rooster as a pet in a city like Mumbai. The stories that we heard from Sameer, the youngest member of the Bharde family, sounded farcical and hilarious. Some members of the family feel that his father had made a mistake by bringing the bird home because the cute little chick had grown to become a hell-raising rooster who claims too much space in their cramped suburban apartment, crows at odd hours and bullies the cats. While the other, unhappy members attempt to make peace with the situation, the father, who decided on bringing the bird home in the first place, believes that any rooster exists to be eaten,” says Chandna, recounting the situation that drew him to document the situation.

The bizarre scenario lends itself beautifully to the documentary as the rooster flutters around the house, scares away the cats to eat up their food, messes up the spotless floor with excreta, interrupts family members as they work around the house or just watch television. Instead of following the rooster with a handheld camera, the talented cinematographer Deepak Nambiar captures, in beautiful frames, how the bird disrupts the peace in the house.

However, Chandna admits that the film is driven by more than the quirky setup. “When we decided to document the Bhardes, we were also reacting to the socio-political situation in the country. The beef ban had been brought into place and since then there has been an attempt to dictate what people in this country eat, a choice that is deeply personal. In such a scenario, we find that the Bharde family offers a counter argument. Even though it’s about chicken here, each member of the family respects the other’s choice. The patriarch, Nusrat Bharde, has a rural upbringing and so he is not unused to the bird as a pet that is later slaughtered for its meat. The sons offer a contrast with their urban upbringing and cannot imagine a pet being consumed even though they hate it,” points out Chandna. The dilemma, thus, offers an interesting albeit unusual angle to the story.

The title of the documentary is, well, another story, and bears an unexpected connection with Naseeruddin Shah. Chandna says that the only way to shut the rooster up is to chase it around the house, which makes for a sight. “And the job of doing that fell on uncle (Nusrat), which his wife said, reminded her of the scene from the Shyam Benegal classic Mandi (1983), where Naseeruddin Shah’s character called Tungrus was chasing Om Puri. The moment she said that, we knew that’s what we will call our film: Tungrus,” says Chandna.