combining a poetically restrained narrative about the daily hardships of an Indian truck driver (Tapesh Sharma) with an unflinching look at the realities of his surroundings, Varun Chopra’s Lyrically Bleating Horns takes us on a journey through a version of India far beyond Bollywood aesthetics and Western news coverage. Unravelling with an almost meditative quality, Chopra’s 11-minute film follows its protagonist’s travels as he battles against obstacles large and small, all in the search of some kind of personal salvation.
As we join the young truck driver on his route, the film’s attention switches between an intimate portrait of the lonely struggles of this poor man on the road and a distanced examination of the bureaucratic hoops he has to jump through. As the man is caught between the pressures of his job and the corrupt forces around him, he also has to face personal health issues and an off-screen woman who wants to take away his son. When a possible sexual encounter ends in humiliation it becomes perfectly clear that this isn’t your romanticized Kerouacian version of living on the road.
“The truck drivers felt a deep stasis in a life that demands them to constantly be on the move”
Mixing a fictional story with documentary elements, Lyrically Bleating Horns could easily be described as the Indian short film answer to Chloe Zhao’s Academy Award winner Nomadland. With Chopra immersing himself in the world of the trucker through real-life stories recalled by those drivers eager to share their experiences, the filmmaker discovered that “ironically, most of the truck drivers felt a deep stasis in a life that demands them to constantly be on the move“. Basing his narrative on these conversations, Chopra then incorporated non-actors into his short by approaching people on the street and casting them in his film.
The production itself was also designed to be flexible in a way that the filmmaker describes as “an ‘adapt to all conditions’ type filmmaking, [where] we set out to make an entirely run-n-gun film for a lack of budget.” Looking at the deliberate framing and beautiful color palette of the film, one wouldn’t necessarily expect this kind of shooting style to be evident in the final film. Especially since the visual execution feels like it adheres to what audiences anticipate from the Nowness brand, which presents the film under its Nowness Asia banner.
The on-the-go design of the cinematography pays off through the use of wide shots that give the scenes a certain voyeuristic quality, perfectly contrasting the interactions our protagonist has in public places along his journey and magnifying the feeling of forlornness in his more private moments. In both instances, the audience feels like we’re getting a slice-of-life glimpse into a world that’s normally hidden under the surface, the film’s imagery drenched in rain and city lights, as we experience the ride as if we were sitting in the passenger seat of the truck.
One of the most interesting aspects of watching films from other countries is the fact that you can learn about different cultures and still realize how many similarities you can find, with the themes of Lyrically Bleating Horns feeling specific to India, but also universal enough to be applied to one’s own reality. With India making up over ten percent [Editors notes: 12.5% in 2021] of the Short of the Week audience, Lyrically Bleating Horns is only the tenth film we’ve featured from this country, in as many years. While we continue to strive to represent films from all over the world, a large majority of the shorts showcased on our site are still from the US [Editors notes: 40% in 2021]. At the same time, we see ourselves as part of a development that lowers the entry barrier to watching global content on the internet, as is the case with streaming services such as Netflix, which produces local content that can be consumed everywhere.
I have to admit that I know very little about the caste system in India and its inherent inequalities between different demographic groups. But the struggles of the working poor and the harsh effects of class disparities are nothing new to Western societies either. Other themes of the film ring similarly true: No matter where you are in the world, responsible fathers will always try everything in their power to take care of their family. Loneliness and the loss of connection to a deeper meaning of your vocation are clearly not limited to Indian truck drivers.
All of these factors help us to empathize with the Lyrically Bleating Horns’ protagonist while learning more about his specific surroundings. And for our audiences in India, it will be interesting to see if the film speaks to them in a different way and in fact hits more close to home.
Born and raised in New Delhi, Chopra later moved to the US to study at the LMU School of Film and Television in Los Angeles. He returned to India for the making of Lyrically Bleating Horns and is currently working on the short documentary Holy Cowboys, which follows a young boy’s journey into the world of Hindu nationalist ‘cow vigilantism’. He’s also working on his debut feature film, which is set in the same world and was selected for the 2021 Film Independent Screenwriting Lab.