Maharshi Tuhin Kashyap’s 15-minute short film The Horse From Heaven is a mix of the absurd and the real, culminating as a thought-provoking watch. The Assamese name of the film is Mor Ghorar Duronto Goti. The film has entered the Oscars 2023 in the Best Live Action Short Film category by winning at the Bengaluru International Short Film Festival 2022 in the Indian Competition Section, beating Varun Grover’s Kiss.
The Assamese film stars renowned actor Atul Pachoni as Kuxhol and Goti, the ‘reincarnation’ of Hindu god Indra’s horse. The film deploys a 600-year-old form of storytelling called Ojapali, now a dying style. In this form, performers rely on songs and dance to narrate stories from Indian epics such as the Mahabharata and Ramayana and the puranas. It seamlessly merges the epic with the contemporary.
In The Horse From Heaven, Kuxhol is an Oja or storyteller, seated in a salon, narrating the story of finding his ‘horse’ Goti to a group of enraptured listeners. While returning from a performance late at night in a village, Kuxhol finds a horse decked in headgear and instantly feels a strong connection with the animal. He takes it home and names him Goti, which means ‘speed’ in Assamese.
Ambition, absurdity and reality
The Horse From Heaven’s story is based on an incident in Tuhin Kashyap’s life when he and his father were seated near the pond in his ancestral home after his grandmother passed away. “A man came out of literally nowhere and started telling us about his horse. The incident was so absurd that it remained on my mind long after. Eventually, it became the subject of this film,” Kashyap told ThePrint.
Kashyap’s use of Ojapali and the musical instruments associated with the culture and tradition of Assam like khul and taal keeps the story rooted even as the film comments on the universal yearning for affection and companionship.
The surreal and the real, the mysterious and the banal constantly interject each other in the film. It is without doubt Atul’s talent too, which makes one feels invested in Kuxhol’s plight.
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What Kuxhol embodies is deep-seated loneliness that he seeks to erase through his love for the newfound animal. The twist in the story is that Goti isn’t a mythical horse — but a common donkey. It is Kuxhol’s belief and storytelling that make Goti a horse.
The narrative comments both on the power of storytelling and fictionalising reality to feel better. It is not just Kuxhol who is invested in his version, but also his listeners who start offering money to him to buy Goti.
In a poignant moment in The Horse From Heaven, Goti is stolen by a group of burglars, leaving Kuxhol broken. The donkey, however, returns to its owner, and Kuxhol’s belief that it is indeed Indra’s horse is reinforced.
“Everyone left me, but Goti will not leave me. He only eats from my hand,” he says in a scene. The tragicomic tone makes the storytelling even more compelling.
Kukhol wants to take Goti to Abdullah, a man in charge of an unnamed city’s horse racing. Kuxhol and Goti’s adventures are such that one is left wishing for more when the end credits start rolling.
(Edited by Humra Laeeq)