India’s ‘fabulous four’ in the 44th Toronto International Film Festival represent exciting and distinct cinematic voices. These films, three of which will be world premiering in TIFF, have compelling stories, employing methods that stem from unique sensibilities. At one end
is the story of a real-life urban couple learning life lessons from a terminally ill but spirited daughter (Shonali Bose’s The Sky is Pink) and at the other a tale of a buffalo that escapes from its butcher-owner and sparks a frenzy in a small town in Kerala (Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Jallikattu),
The other two Indian films present divergent takes on Mumbai: Gitanjali Rao’s animated feature Bombay Rose and Geetu Mohandas’ gritty yet life-affirming drama Moothon (The Elder One).
It is a strong year in TIFF for Indian female directors. Three of the titles in this quartet have been directed by women. That apart, Priyanka Chopra, who toplines the cast of The Sky is Pink, is one of the four Indian ambassadors of TIFF’s ‘Share Her Journey’ campaign, which is aimed
at promoting gender parity in the movie industry both in front of and behind the camera. The other three are filmmakers Mira Nair, Deepa Mehta and Rima Das. Das’s last two films (Village Rockstars and Bulbul Can Sing) premiered in TIFF. She will be attending the festival this year too, to take part in the campaign launched in 2017, the year she debuted here.
THE SKY IS PINK by Shonali Bose
Cast: Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Farhan Akhtar, Zaira Wasim, Rohit Saraf
Producer(s): Ronnie Screwvala, Siddharth Roy Kapur
Shonali Bose’s The Sky is Pink, which also features Farhan Akhtar and Zaira Wasim in stellar roles, is part of the festival’s Gala Presentations. Bose is a TIFF veteran. Each of the three films that she has helmed has screened in North America’s premier festival.The Sky is Pink is scheduled for release on October 11, a month after its world premiere in TIFF on September 13.
The poignant film portrays 25 years in the life of a married couple whose relationship is depicted from the perspective of their just-deceased teenage daughter. It is inspired by the tragic true story of Aisha Chaudhary, who was diagnosed with severe immune-deficiency and had to battle through every day of her life for survival. But even as she counted her days, she never stopped living in the moment. She became a motivational speaker and wrote a book that was published a day before her death.
Bose’s first two films, Amu (2005) and Margarita with a Straw (2015), both critically acclaimed cinematic essays drawn from real life, also played in Toronto.
India | 2019 | Hindi WORLD PREMIERE 134 minutes
Director | Shonali Bose
Cinematography | Kartik Vijay, Nick Cooke, Andrew Litt, Andre Menezes, Ravi Varman
Editing | Manas Mittal
Executive Producers | Nilesh Maniyar, Deepak Gawade, John Penotti, Michael Hogan, Robert Friedland
Production Companies | Roy Kapur Films, RSVP, Ivanhoe Pictures, Purple Pebble Pictures
Production Designer | Aradhana Seth
Screenplay | Shonali Bose, Nilesh Maniyar
Sound |Anish John
Distributor | RSVP
BOMBAY ROSE by Gitanjali Rao
Cast: Cayli Vivek Khare, Amit Deondi, Gargi Shitole, Makrand Deshpnde
Producer(s): Rohit Khattar, Anand Mahindra
At the other end of the India’s TIFF spectrum this year is Gitanjali Rao, a globally celebrated animation filmmaker who has carved her own niche in a nation where animated films are not only rare but are also usually seen as entertainment meant only for children. She employs the medium to tell complex, layered stories about her city and its people, especially those who need to retreat into dream worlds to escape the soul-destroying urban grind that they must inevitably undergo on a day-to-day basis.
Rao’s first feature, Bombay Rose, which has made TIFF’s Contemporary World Cinema cut, arrives in Toronto from Venice, where it was the opening film of the Critics Week. The film looks at street-dwellers who live on the margins of the megapolis. “I have always wanted to tell stories,” Rao says in her director’s note, “about the unsung heroes who live and love in Mumbai, never become success stories, yet their struggle for survival makes heroes out of them.” Bombay Rose is composed of frame-by-frame painted animation, a painstaking process that took all of two years.
Bombay Rose is only the second Indian animation film to screen in TIFF. In 2103, Shilpa Ranade’s Goopy Gawaiya Bagha Bajaiya made it to the festival programme.
India, United Kingdom, Qatar, France, 2019 | Hindi NORTH AMERICAN PREMIERE 93 minutes
Director | Gitanjali Rao
Editing |Gitanjali Rao
Executive Producers | Deborah Sathe, Tessa Inkelaar, Charlotte Uzu, Serge Lalou
Production Companies | Cinestaan Film Company, Les Films d’Ici
Animation Studio | Paperboat
Production Designer | Rupali Gatti
Screenplay | Gitanjali Rao
Sound | P.M. Satheesh
MOOTHON by Geetu Mohandas
Cast: Nivin Pauly, Sobhita Dhulipala, Shashank Arora
Producer(s): Anurag Kashyap, Vinod Kumar, Ajay G. Rai, Alan McAlex
Mumbai also plays a key role in actress-turned-filmmaker Geetu Mohandas’ Malayalam-Hindi bilingual film, Moothon (The Elder One), which revolves around a 14-year-old Lakshadweep island boy, Mulla, who travels at great personal risk to the bustling city to look for his big brother, Akbar, armed only with a phone number. The film follows the parallel arcs of the two siblings while it focuses on the hope and despair that they have to grapple with in a city where life can be rough when the guards are down.
Although Mohandas is a TIFF first-timer, her maiden feature, Liar’s Dice (2013), had premiered in the Sundance Film Festival and was India’s official nomination for the Oscars.
Moothon, which has Nivin Pauly, Sobhita Dhulipala and Shashank Arora in key onscreen roles, is co-produced by Anurag Kashyap, who has also penned the Hindi dialogues of the film. For Kashyap, TIFF is a bit of an annual ritual. His last two films, Mukkabaaz and Manmarziyaan, were both in the festival.
India | 2019 Malayalam, Hindi WORLD PREMIERE 110 minutes
Director | Geetu Mohandas
Cinematography | Rajeev Ravi
Editing | Ajithkumar B., Kiran Das
Production Companies | JAR Pictures, Mini Studio
Production Designer | Abid T. P.
Screenplay | Geetu Mohandas
Sound | Kunal Sharma
Original Score | Sagar Desai
JALLIKATTU by Lijo Jose Pellissery
Cast: Antony Varghese, Vinayakan, Sabumon Abdusamad
Producer(s): O. Thomas Panicker
Lijo Jose Pellissery, one of the most exciting flag-bearers of the new Malayalam cinema, is in this year’s lineup with Jallikattu, based on a short story, Maoist, written by S. Hareesh. The maker of Angamaly Diaries and Ee.Ma.Yau focusses on a butcher’s buffalo that flees from his owner’s clutches on the eve of its planned slaughter. As the people of the town in Kerala’s Idukki district set out to recapture the animal, dormant animosities bubble to the surface and unleash unsettling violence. Like his previous two film, Lijo’s new outing blends heady energy with an unwavering sense of formal cinematic proportion.
Jallikattu – the title is derived from the ancient Tamil bull-running tradition that has sparked much debate in recent times – allows for a deep dive into the heart of a politically volatile state that, pretty much like the people in the story that the film narrates – are increasingly being divided along destructively emotive lines.
India | 2019 Malayalam WORLD PREMIERE 91 minutes
Director | Lijo Jose Pellissery
Cinematography | Gireesh Gangadharan
Editing | Deepu Joseph
Production Company | Opus Penta
Production Designer | Gokul Das
Screenplay | S Hareesh, R Jayakumar
Sound | Renganath Ravee
Publicist | Opus Penta
Original Score | Prashant Pillai