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Indian Films At Toronto a Sparkling Quartet

admin   August 29, 2019

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

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.

Shonali Bose

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

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.

Gitanjali Rao

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

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.

Geetu Mohandas

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

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.

Lijo Jose Pellissery

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


Greatest Strength of Indian Films in Emotions: Avtar Panesar

admin   August 7, 2018

Bollywood is a genre in itself, which tells global stories but in its own unique way, says Avtar Panesar, VP-International Operations, YRF.

Elaborating on the strength of Indian cinema, he observes that “the unique thing about India or Indian films is that by and large we tell human stories and very emotional stories”. “Of course our emotions are over the top but we as people are loud and over the top, we don’t know how to whisper. We tend to speak loudly, that’s the case when we make movies too. Our strength is emotions and that’s what connects our audiences to our films,” he adds.

Speaking on the potential of Bollywood to make it big globally, he says that India’s cultural diversity allows us to tell “so many stories” to the world. “The exciting thing is that not all these can be made in to big event films, and so it gives us opportunities to tell all kinds of stories at all levels.”

However, Panesar admits that although Indian films have now certainly made a place for themselves on the global stage “we still have a long way to go for us to start doing major business globally, beyond the diaspora”.

He also feels that the valuation of Indian Rupee against the US Dollar is one of the hurdles that limit the revenue generation by India to less than 2% of the global entertainment pie despite producing the largest number of films in the world. “We must also look at the admissions in India, which are just phenomenal and will continue to grow as more and more cinemas reach the rural areas. Also, it must be remembered that cinema is still one of the cheapest form of entertainment in India and the poor cannot afford to pay $8–12 for a ticket, and it needs to remain in the reach of the common man,” says Panesar.

On how film festivals like Berlinale, Toronto have been playing a key role in spearheading Indian cinema, he says, “I have screened Veer Zaara at Berlin which was classic Bollywood and I have also premiered Kabul Express at Toronto which was anything but Bollywood, so they take films on merit and these platforms have been a great way to showcase our cinema to the world.”

Panesar feels duty bound to connect with South Asian diaspora through Indian films. “The biggest high for me is that we are spreading Indian culture and language to kids who may never have been to India yet and may not speak the language properly, but are connected with their ancestral motherland through cinema.”

“It’s a great feeling to be at the other end of the world and see your posters being displayed alongside all the mainstream or local films and have families come to see your films as they have been doing for generations,” he says.

(Based on an earlier interview with Avtar Panesar with Pickle Magazine)