Bijoy Ramachandran, Co-Founder of the architectural practice, Hundredhands, first met B V Doshi in 1995 at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Bengaluru, one of the master architect’s most iconic buildings. Bijoy recalls ‘hanging around’ the IIM, in the hope that he would run into Doshi. Not only did he meet and speak with him, Doshi also wrote a note for Bijoy that he preserves till this day. After a stint in Doshi’s Ahmedabad office from 1995 to 1996, Bijoy left for the USA. It was only in 2008, after his return to India, did he think about the idea of making a film on Doshi.
Let’s Do It
Thinking back, Bijoy recalls picking up the phone and ‘cold-calling’ Doshi to ask if he was willing to make the film. Forty eight hours later, Bijoy was on his way to Ahmedabad with his brother, Premjit Ramachandran, Founder, Hinterland Films. Doshi’s response, with almost childlike glee, was ‘That sounds like a good idea. Let’s do it.”
Bijoy says that this down-to-earth, uncomplicated attitude is characteristic of Doshi, who has never stood on ceremony. They began shooting with some basic equipment rented in Ahmedabad. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, allowing Doshi to be his natural, spontaneous self as he chatted with Bijoy, and Premjit kept the camera rolling. Doshi is philosophical through the conversation, even when he is asked about the Bharat Diamond Bourse debacle, which was arguably the biggest setback of his career. This is a man at peace with himself, someone who views his life in a larger context, seeing himself as one piece in a meta universal puzzle that cannot be controlled by human endeavour alone.
Nearly a decade later, Doshi won the Pritkzer in 2018, the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for architecture. This triggered media attention and a slew of coverage followed. In none of these interviews, is Doshi as relaxed as he appears in the film made by the Ramachandrans. It was time, the brothers felt, to make another film. A decade had passed and Doshi was 91. Premjit chose to use the same camera that he had used for the 2009 film, believing that it gave the series a continuity that was important. The second film accompanies Doshi on a journey, beginning in Sarkhej Roza, the exquisite tomb complex in Makarba, Gujarat, and ending at the Ompuri Temple, designed by Doshi in 1998 as homage to the Mother.
The latest film has a slow, languorous pace that Doshi rues we have lost in real life. The conversation is about life, philosophy and the greater design of the universe, much more than it is about buildings. There is no hurry, whether Bijoy helps Doshi navigate a path, or the master architect speaks in a stream of consciousness from his garden. This is a labour of love and the deep respect the brothers have for Doshi, is evident in the way the camera waits on his every word, patiently allowing him to complete his thoughts.
“How do we create an atmosphere that creates a mood? The mood creates thoughts that unravel stories that are buried deep inside. The stories are of your childhood or of other episodes in your life and when you recall them, you become one with the building” BV Doshi
A constant theme through the narrative, is the importance of timing, of a precise moment when larger forces align serendipitously. The brothers feel that this applied to the making of the films as well.
Premjit recalls shooting at Sarkhej Roza when the weather gods obliged with a short but spectacular display of thunder and rain, which allowed Doshi to ruminate on the play of water, light and shadows and the impermanence of life.
“We are temporal but nowadays we don’t think about death. We send people to the hospital and to the ICU and when they are gone, we say: Have they gone? Can I go back to my work? There is no pain, or loss or longing. After two hours, we are back to our phones” BV Doshi
The Ramachandran brothers have been able to capture the essence of the great architect and document his philosophy so it can be shared widely. They have done this without large teams or budgets. “It was as if it was meant to be” says Bijoy, a sentiment Doshi would approve of.
The world of design in India is strangely bereft of films that capture the spirit of our iconic creators, celebrate their lives and share their wisdom. In this context, these films are a welcome addition
Not just architects, but anyone with an interest in design – or indeed, an interest in life – must watch these films. Hopefully, they will inspire others to undertake similar endeavours.
The films can be viewed at https://vimeo.com/showcase/6538803