Fabulous & Fantastic
Assamese writer-director Bhaskar Hazarika is a cinematic fabulist whose sensibility is anything but ordinary. His two films, Kothanodi (River of Fables) and Aamis (Ravening), foray into zones of consciousness that border on the bizarre (in the case of the former) and the macabre (in the latter) even as they remain unwaveringly humanistic.
Kothanodi drew upon a compendium of Assamese folk tales to narrate four stories blending the fabulous and the fantastic to throw light on the human condition. The film had its world premiere in Busan. Aamis, the story of a young man drawn towards an older woman via their love for meats of all kinds – a forbidden relationship that triggers a chain of acts of self-destruction. The Aamis premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Only two narrative features old, Gurvinder Singh, a filmmaker with a distinctive approach to the medium, is already close to achieving the status of a master. His first film, Anhe Ghore Da Daan (Alms for a Blind Horse, 2011), premiered in Venice. His second, Chauthi Koot (The Fourth Direction), made it to the Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard competition.
The two Punjabi-language films, adapted from literature, were richly textured, quietly engaging portraits of common people dealing with socio-political and historical forces beyond their control. The Mani Kaul protégé has been running a café in the tiny town of Bir, Himachal Pradesh for several years. His next film, Khanaur (Bitter Chestnut), which is expected to premiere in one of the major festivals later this year, is a personal “insider’s take” on the lives of the ordinary folks of a place in flux owing to its transformation into a paragliding hub.
Going Beyond Stories
Half a decade is all that the 42-year-old lawyer-turned-filmmaker has taken to carve a niche for himself. Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s combative films, which have fetched him numerous international and state awards since his first feature, the crowd-funded Oralpokkam (Six Feet High, 2014), go beyond mere stories. They engage at a very deep level with contemporary social and political issues.
Chola, his fifth feature and the sole Indian film in the official line up of the 76th Venice International Film Festival, is no different. It expands upon his concern with individuals dealing with collective attitudes and prejudices in a complex society. It, however, represents a break from his previous four films. Chola is two hours long – the longest of Sasidharan’s films thus far – and features mainstream Malayalam cinema stars, Nimisha Sajayan and Joju George, both of whom picked up acting prizes in the 2019 Kerala State Film Awards. Sasidharan’s S Durga won the Hivos Tiger Award at the International Film Festival of Rotterdam in 2017.
Actress-filmmaker Konkona Sen Sharma has yet to chalk out plans for her sophomore directorial outing, she is one talent capable of springing surprises both behind and in front of the camera. Her maiden film, A Death in the Gunj, as fine a film as any Indian first-timer has ever made, premiered in TIFF in 2016.
One of her earliest films as an actor, Shonali Bose’s Amu, in which she played the titular role, also screened in Toronto. She is currently prepping for a web series that she is slated to direct on the life and times of Arati Das, who was known as Kolkata’s queen of cabaret in her heydays. The show will be set against the social and political backdrop of 1960s and 1970s Bengal. The series is expected to go on the floors early next year. That rules out the likelihood of Sen Sharma delivering a new big screen film in 2020. She is nonetheless one Indian filmmaker whose progress as a director will be followed with keen interest.
Strong Cinematic Sense
The world is likely to soon hear a great deal more of the maverick Meghalaya filmmaker Pradip Kurbah. A two-time National Award-winner, he is all set to catapult his native language, Khasi, on to the global cinema stage. His third narrative feature, Iewduh, set in the entrails of the largest market in the northeastern hill state and filmed with sync sound, is due to emerge in a major international festival soon. Kurbah’s first two films, RI: Homeland of Uncertainty and Onaatah: Daughter of the Earth, fetched him unstinted awards and accolades.
Amrit Pritam, who works closely with Oscar-winner ResulPookutty, is the sound designer of the film. A director rooted in his milieu and endowed with a strong cinematic sense, he has already earned a fan following in his home state and other parts of India. Iewduh, which promises to be the next big leap in his career, could be the beginning of a new chapter.
An alumnus of the Kolkata-based Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, Dominic Sangma, who makes films in the Garo language, is another Meghalaya filmmaker who has begun to make waves worldwide. His debut feature, Ma’ama (Moan), a deeply personal film that probes loss and longing from the standpoint of an old man – the director’s father – grieving for his long-deceased wife, instantly marked him out as a storyteller of exceptional depth.
Ma’ama was the only Indian film to earn a slot in the International Competition of the 2018 Jio MAMI Film Festival. Sangma’s second film, Rapture, was one of ten projects from across the world selected for mentoring by filmmaker Mira Nair in the La Fabrique Cinemaprogramme hosted by InstitutFrancais as a part of the 2019 Cannes Film Festival.
A Tamil filmmaker waiting to be discovered by the world, Thiagarajan Kumararaja’s two films – the neo-noir gangster film Aaranya Kaandam (2011) and the multi-plot drama Super Deluxe (2019) – have established him as one of the most strikingly voices working in Chennai today.
Aaranya Kaandam was in the making for several years, ran into trouble with India’s censor board and eventually under performed at the box office. But the film’s appeal has grown steadily – it now enjoys cult status. Kumararaja’s second film, Super Deluxe, proved beyond doubt that here was a fearless filmmaker capable of weaving pure magic with ideas, plot twists and images. The film orchestrates its multiple strands with awe-inspiring skill and an unfailing sense of drama that draws its strength from being both provocative and entertaining.