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A Selection to Die for

admin   May 18, 2022

From the latest works of recognised masters to new films from budding directors, the official Cannes 2022 selection has the diversity, depth, and daring for everyone to exult over or cringe from. The quality of the lineup that festival director Thierry Fremaux has put together is expected to be the event’s most talked-about topic. By SaibalChatterjee

The 68 titles that constitute the Official Selection of the 75th Cannes Film Festival add up to one of the strongest lineups that the event has cobbled up in recent years. Picking ten, or even 20, of the films that one must definitely to watch over the 11days of the festival – often called the Olympic Games of world cinema – isn’t the easiest of chores. We are giving it a shot nonetheless.

The Cannes Film Festival, by far the world’s most important celebration of cinema, is, as is well known, approaching a landmark. The edition that is set to unspool on the French Riviera is the festival’s 75th. It isn’t, however, the number of editions that have been toted up that cineastes are focused on. The quality of the lineup that festival director Thierry Fremaux has put together is beyond any ifs and buts. It promises to be the biggest talking point during the event.

The Cannes 2022 official selection isn’t devoid of diversity, depth or derring-do. From the latest works of established masters to new films from emerging directors, the 75th Cannes Film Festival has a bill of fare that has something for everybody to exult over or recoil from.

Nothing can rival the thrill of discovering gems from directors who are starting out in their careers or stumbling upon films from corners of the world that have minuscule movie industries. This year’s official selection – eight of the titles in Un Certain Regard (which means ‘A Certain Gaze’) are from first-time directors.

At the other end of the spectrum, competing for the Palme d’or (Golden Palm) are four previous winners, including a sibling duo who has claimed the festival’s top prize twice. Belgium’s Dardenne brothers (Jean-Pierre and Luc), Japan’s HirokazuKoreeda, Sweden’s Ruben Ostlund and Romania’s CristianMungiu will have another shot at the coveted award alongside many other wellregarded directors.

The Dardenne Brothers – who won the Palme d’Or for Rosetta (1999) and L’Enfant (2005) – are back with another social-realist drama, Tori and Lokita, which tells the story of a young boy and an adolescent girl who have travelled from Africa to Belgium and have their friendship tested by the difficult circumstances that they are thrust into.

Both Ostlund (winner of the Palme d’Or in 2017 for The Square) and Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 4 Days, which won the prize in 2007) have new films that expressly turn the spotlight on the state of humanity and world politics, something that many of the stories that will unfold on the screens in Cannes this year are likely to do.

Among these trenchant commentaries on the world that we live in are two other films from Scandinavia –Swedish-Egyptian director Tarik Saleh’s political thriller Boy from Heaven and Danish-Iranian filmmaker Ali Abbasi’s Holy Spider. Both Saleh and Abbasi are Competition first-timers. The latter’s sophomore venture Border won the Un Certain regard Prize in Cannes in 2018.

Boy from Heaven, set in Egypt, is about a fisherman’s son studying at a prestigious Cairo religious university who witnesses a tussle a power after the death of the grand imam on the first day after summer holidays.The film is a contemplationnot only on what Egypt is turning, but also the direction the world as a whole is moving towards.

Holy Spider is a serial killer hunt drama involving a religious fanatic out to eliminate street prostitutes in a holy Iranian city. After murdering several women, his desperation peaks as he begins to feel that his divine mission isn’t receiving the public enthusiasm that it merits. Holy Spider is a police procedural that journeys into the darkness at the heart of contemporary human existence.

In Sweden’s second Palme d’or contender, Triangle of Sadness, a dark comedy, Ostlund serves up a probe into what humans have become and how precarious socio-economic hierarchies are. A luxury cruise ship under the command of a staunch Marxist captain sinks. A celebrity couple are stranded on a desert island with a group of billionaires and a cleaning lady. Equations are disrupted as the cleaning lady moves up the pecking order because she is the only one among the marooned who can cook.

Mungiu’s R.M.N. raises questions about people who are under severe strain from rising intolerance. A man returns to his small village for Christmas and finds himself in the midst of a community overrun by strong anti-immigrant sentiments.

Kore-eda, the 2018 Palme d’Or winner for Shoplifters, continues to explore the theme of broken families and parenting dilemmas in Broker, a film about “baby boxes” in which people can anonymously leave unwanted babies. The film spotlights a mother who leaves her baby in a box and returns several years later to reclaim it.

A European festival held under the shadow of the hostilities in Ukraine cannot but contribute its mite to the unfolding discourseon war and its repercussions. The Cannes 2022 Competition lineup includes Tchaikovsky’s Wife, a film by dissident Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov, while Ukrainian filmmaker MaksimNakonechnyi’s Butterfly Vision is one of the 20 films that constitute the Un Certain Regard sidebar.

Serebrennikovcould not to travel to Cannes for the premiere of his previous two films – Leto and Petrov’s Flu. He was serving a suspended prison sentence (on what his supporters believe were trumped-up embezzlement charges) and was under a three-year travel ban. Serebrennikovis now in Germany, having been allowed to travel to Hamburg to direct a play based on an Anton Chekhov short story. So he is expected to hop across to Cannes to present Tchaikovsky’s Wife in person.

Serebrennikov’s new film is a 19th century drama that delves into the legendary Russian composer’s tempestuous relationship with his wife. Classical in terms of formal rigour but very contemporary
in mood and spirit – that is what one can expect Tchaikovsky’s Wife to be.

While two world cinema octogenarians, Poland’s Jerzy Skolimowski (Eo) and Italy’s Marco Bellocchio (EsternoNotte),are in the Cannes 2022programme, the 79-year-old Canadian David Cronenberg, a
maverick who has never shied away from provoking the audience with his “body horror” movies, returns to the Croisette with Crimes of the Future. Skolimowski and Corenberg are in Competion, Bellocchio is in Cannes Premiere.

Bellocchio’s EsternoNotte (Exterior Night), which is scheduled to be released in the cinemas as a two-part film and then as a series that will play over two nights on television, is a dramatization of the events leading to the kidnapping and killing of Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro by the Red Brigades in the 1970s.

Another series that will have a part of it showcased in Cannes Premiere is Olivier Assayas’ Irma Vep. It is adapted from the director’s 1996 film of the same name that played in Un certain regard. Starring Alicia Vikander, Irma Vep is the story of an American actress who, after a break-up, goes to France to work on a remake of a vampire film. She begins to lose hold of herself during the shoot as similarities between the character and herself assume unsettling proportions.

Although it shares the title of the 1970 Cronenberg film, Crimes of the Future is not a remake. If nothing else, the film starring Viggo Mortensen, Lea Seydoux and Kristen Stewart is expected to set the cat among the pigeons.

Skolimowski’sEo, a modern interpretation of Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar, tells the story of a donkey that begins in a circus in Poland and ends in a slaughterhouse in Italy. The Berlin Golden Bear-winning director (for Le depart, 1967) ruminates on humanity (or its absence) through the prism of mankind’s treatment of animals.

Discussions around gender parity in the official selection havebeen a constant in Cannes for several years now. Fremaux has consistently insisted that his choice of films isn’t swayed by quotas. Last year, although the percentage of female filmmakers in the line-up wasn’t exceptional, all the major prizes at the festival were won by women directors.

The 20-film Un certain regard section has nine films directed by women, which translates into nearly 50:50 gender parity. Eight of these films are by first-time directors. The sidebar will, therefore, definitely be worth keeping an eye on if you are looking for surprises and discoveries.

This year, only five of the 21 Competition titles have been directed by women but chances are that at least two of them – 76-year-old French auteur Claire Denis (Stars at Noon) and American filmmaker Kelly Reichardt (Showing Up) – will be in with a chance of being among the awards.

We also expect Park Chan-wook (Decision to Leave), Arnaud Desplechin (Brother and Sister), James Gray (Armageddon Time), Albert Serra (Bora Bora)and Mario Martone (Nostalgia) to be on the radar of the jury when the nine members chaired by French actor Vincent Lindon begin their final deliberations.

Other major works to watch out for in Cannes are the Opening Night film Coupez! (English title: Final Cut) by Michel Hazanivicius, Austrian director Maria Kreutzer feminist period drama Corsage, the Tom Cruise starrer Top Gun: Maverick and Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis Presley biopic, Elvis.

Last but not the least, ShaunakSen’s All That Breathes, which won the World Documentary Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, gets a Special Screening in Cannes this year. The film centres on two brothers who, amid Delhi’s worsening air pollution and growing social unrest, devote themselves to rescuing black kites.

In the Special Screenings section, All that Breathes is in the company of documentaries by Ethan Coen (Jerry Lee Lewis: Trouble in Mind), Patricio Guzman(My Imaginary Country) and Sergei Loznitsa (The Natural History of Destruction), who has been disowned by the filmmaking fraternity in Ukraine because he has declared his opposition to Russian filmmakers being boycotted because of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of his country.


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Indian Trio in Venice

admin   August 5, 2020

For the first time, three Indian films have been selected at the Venice Film Festival – Chaitanya Tamhane’s Marathi movie The Disciple (Golden Lion Competition Section), Ivan Ayr’s Punjabi film Meel Patthar  (Orizzonti Features Competition) and Sushma Khadepaun’s Gujarati flick Anita (Short Films Competition). By Saibal Chatterjee

It has been a terrible year thus far. Pandemic-struck, the entire world has ground to a halt. Filmmaking has been put on hold, cinema halls are shuttered, and festivals have been thrown off gear. But The Disciple has pulled off a miracle. Amid the gloom, Chaitanya Tamhane’s sophomore outing has ended a nearly two-decade-long drought for India cinema.

The first film from the subcontinent in competition in one of the ‘Big Three’ festivals – Cannes, Venice and Berlin – in 19 years, The Marathi-language film will be vying with 17 other films for the 77th Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion. The jury is headed by Cate Blanchett.

The Disciple is set in Mumbai but in a milieu far removed from Court, Tamhane’s debut.The 2014 film examined the anomalies of the Indian judicial system, weaving the tale around the death of a manhole cleaner, the plight of a protest singer who is accused of inciting suicide and the question of freedom of expression. The Disciple, the synopsis indicates, is set in the rarefied world of Indian classical music.    

Tamhane, 33, is of course no stranger to Venice. His uber-realistic courtroom drama Court not only played in Orizzonti in 2014, it won the section’s Best Film prize in addition fetching the director the Luigi De Laurentiis Award.

The synopsis of The Disciple reads: “Sharad Nerulkar has devoted himself to becoming an Indian classical vocalist, a lifelong quest in which few succeed. Initiated into this centuries-old tradition by his father, he follows his dream with sincerity and discipline, committing himself entirely to his artistic journey.

“As he strives to attain the highest level of his craft, Sharad traces his way through the hallowed mysteries and rituals of past musical legends. But as the years pass, Sharad will be forced to negotiate between the complex realities of life in contemporary Mumbai and his chosen path, leading him to find his true voice in music and in life.”

In a press release, Tamhane has said: “This is an important milestone for not just for us but also for the Indian independent cinema movement. The Disciple has been a true labour of love, and collectively we have poured every ounce of energy, effort, and love into it over the last four years. It has been a beautiful collaboration and I’m thankful to all of the film’s extremely dedicated actors and the entire crew. I am relieved and happy that it has found such a great start for its journey even in these tough times.”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if The Disciple goes all the way and scoops up the Golden Lion? The importance of the Venice Competition slot for Tamhane’s film obviously lies in the fact that the last time an Indian was here was way back at the turn of the millennium. Felicitously, that film, Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding (2001), went on to win the festival’s top prize.

Not to forget, the year before, a Bengali film, Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Uttara (The Wrestlers, 2000), was in the Venice Competition and it earned the filmmaker the Special Director Award. If The Disciple returns with an award, it would be three-in-a-row for India.

In case you wish to look for any other positive signs in favour of The Disciple, it could be this: Satyajit Ray’s 1957 Golden Lion winner, Aparajito (The Unvanquished) was also the director’s second film. Among the films that Aparajito beat on the way to gold was Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood.

So, what is The Disciple up against? A spread of films that are amazingly diverse and imposing, including Michel Franco’s Nuevo Orden, Amos Gitai’s Laila in Haifa, Andrei Konchalovsky’s Dear Comrades, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Wife of a Spy, and Gianfranco Rosi’s documentary about life at night in the Middle East, Notturno.

India will have two other shots at Venice glory this year – in the Orizzonti features competition with Ivan Ayr’s Meel Patthar (Milestone) and the section’s short films competition with Sushma Khadepaun’s Anita.   

In Ayr’s 98-minute Hindi/Punjabi film Milestone, one of 19 titles in Orizzonti competition, the past catches up with a truck driver in his 50s. “He has got to a point where he is well respected in his company but the future appears very uncertain,” the director says. The film looks at how that “sometimes gets him desperate and reveals bit by bit his inner fears, his life choices and his journey.”

Among the other films in Orizzonti competition are Lav Diaz’s Lahi, Hayop, Gia Coppola’s Mainstream, Uberto Pasolini’s Nowhere Special and Adilkhan Yerzhanov’s Yellow Cat.

Ayr’s first film, Soni, was in Orizzonti in 2018. The director was at the Berlinale earlier this year to pitch his “second film”, but he had another film in the works that he talked about. That is where Venice got wind of Meel Patthar, which Ayr competed five or six days before he flew to Berlin.

“I showed them an initial director’s cut. In fact, I hadn’t even told them I was working on a film. Word just got to them, probably because I talked about the film to everyone I met in Berlin,” say Ayr.

“Meel Patthar,” Ayr says,“is a very personal story of just one character. I say it is personal because many of the elements come from own experiences with my extended family. I have extended family in India, the US and Canada who are in the transportation business.”

Meel Patthar has Punjabi actors Suvinder Vicky (from Gurvinder Singh’s Chauthi Koot) and Lakshvir Saran.

Sushma Khadepaun’s 17-minute Gujarati short Anita was conceived as a feature-length film about a woman looking for freedom through an arranged marriage in the US. But things do not pan out as she expects them to and she finds herself trapped, completely dependent on her husband.

The director says that the story of the film “comes from personal experience”. She adds: “What the short film is asking is: is it possible to go away completely from where and with what you have grown up?”

“It is still evolving,” the New York City-based director says. “I am working on expanding the protagonist’s relationship with her husband. The short film has emerged from that process.”

Anita was filmed near Valsad with mostly Gujarati actors. “Only Aditi (Vasudev) does not speak Gujarati. I cast her a year before the film was made. She learnt the language,” says Khadepaun.

“A platform like Venice gives the film a push and opens up the possibility of it finding a wider audience,” she says. “In fact, given the situation we are all in, just the thought of being able to see the film play on a big screen is exciting.”

Film Bazaar backs emerging filmmakers

Many of the subcontinent’s most applauded, well-travelled contemporary films and festival films have taken shape – and wings – on National Film Development Corporation’s Film Bazaar platform that has made mentoring and networking facilities available to emerging filmmakers.

All three Indian filmmakers — Chaitanya Tamhane, Ivan Ayr and Sushma Khadepaun — who have made it to Venice Film Festival 2020 have had their film journeys and mentoring at Film Bazaar. Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court was part of the Film Bazaar Co-Production Market in 2012. Ivan Ayr’s Soni was part of the Work in Progress Lab in 2017. Sushma Khadepaun’s Sabras was in Co-Production Market in 2019.

As an incubator of new film projects in India and the rest of the subcontinent, the NFDC Film Bazaar, now in its 14th year, has rendered yeoman service by engendering an ecosystem that allows originality to thrive while not losing sight of tried and tested ground rules that have proven beneficial.        


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‘NFDC Film Bazaar Goes to Cannes’

admin   June 22, 2020

A quintet of independent Indian films, all feature debuts, will be pitching for global breakthroughs in Marche du Film’s ‘Goes to Cannes’ section
Saibal Chatterjee

Five films-in-post, all debut features, constitute the ‘NFDC Film Bazaar Goes to Cannes’ selection for the Marche du Film, which will this year be a wholly digital platform.

The Indian quintet will join 15 other films – five apiece from Hong Kong- Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF), Poland’s New Horizons International Film Festival and the Thessaloniki Film Festival – in vying for the attention of sales agents, distributors and festival curators at the premier event scheduled from June 22 to 26.

Two of these titles – Ajitpal Singh’s Hindi-language Fire in the Mountains and Natesh Hegde’s Kannada film Pedro – were NFDC Film Bazaar 2019 Work-in-Progress (WIP) Lab winners.

Prasun Chatterjee’s Bengali film Dostojee (Two Friends) was part of Film Bazaar Recommends last year, while Ashish Pant’s Uljhan (The Knot) and Irfana Majumdar’s Shankar’s Fairies, two Hindi films set in Lucknow, were in the WIP Lab lineup.

DOSTOJEE (TWO FRIENDS)

Dostojee, an independent Bengali film, has taken seven years out of the life of young writer-director Prasun Chatterjee. All the effort and time have borne fruit: the film is now on the Cannes bandwagon.

It is set in the early 1990s in a rural Bengal outpost, as far away as one could have got from the reverberations of the Babri Masjid demolition and the subsequent Mumbai serial blasts.

Through the prism of an “innocent friendship” between two village boys, Palash and Safikul, Dostojee examines how two cataclysmic events that took place three months apart impacted the two boys and their village.

Chatterjee, who has designed the film’s sound without banking on music, wrote the script in 2013. “I have been travelling in the area for the last 12 years. I even lived there for two-anda-half years to understand the struggles of the exceedingly poor people there,” he says.

Besides a few theatre actors, the cast of Dostojee has 150-plus villagers, all non-actors. The two main roles are played by boys from the border village, Ashik Sheikh and Arif Sheikh. One is the son of a migrant worker; the other’s father works as an earth-digger for a local brick kiln. To help them ease themselves into the unfamiliar job of acting, Chatterjee would sit down with the two schoolboys every day and assist them with their homework.

Ashik and Arif weren’t the only ones who learnt on the job during the Dostojee shoot. Director of photography Tuhin Biswas did, too. Biswas is an award-winning photographer (and primary school teacher in Ranaghat, Nadia district) who was hired to click working stills. He took over as the cinematographer. His work is earning accolades on the evidence of the trailer alone.

“We shot the film in different seasons. A rain-making machine cannot produce showers to replicate natural rain,” says Chatterjee. “Also, in the period that Dostojee is set, there was no electricity in this village (which is located in the last subdivision on this side of the India-Bangladesh border between Murshidabad and Rajshahi). Everything had to be filmed in light from natural sources and from candles and lanterns.”

Chatterjee says he will be pitching Dostojeeto both festival heads and sales agents.

FIRE IN THE MOUNTAINS

The Hindi-language Fire in the Mountains, directed by Ajitpal Singh, is set in an Uttarakhand village where tradition still hinders the path of modernity.

A woman saves money with the intention of making life easier for her disabled son. Her husband, on the other hand, has his eyes set on her savings. He has a shamanic ritual in mind as a means to curing the child.

Fire in the Mountains is produced by Ajay Rai of JAR Pictures, who came on board after seeing Singh’s 2018 short film Rammat Gammat. Veteran French cinematographer Dominique Colin (who has worked with Gaspar Noe and Cedric Klapisch)is the film’s director of photography

A personal tragedy triggered Singh’s first narrative feature. The filmmaker lost a cousin because her husband believed she was possessed and therefore refused to take her to a hospital. “I was angry and dealing with the shock when the idea struck me,” says the writer-director. “My cousin was a progressive woman married to a conservative, old school guy.”

It is a similar clash between tradition and modernity that Fire in the Mountains explores. “In Uttarakhand, I found out about shamanic practices like ‘jaagar’ in which gods and spirits are summoned to cure ailments. It was the perfect setting for this kind of film.” Debutante Vinamrata Rai (she has been in short films before) plays the female lead opposite the NSD trained Chandan Bisht. Fire in the Mountains also has Sonal Jha in a secondary role.

About the Film Bazaar Goes to Cannes programme, Singh says: “If the pandemic hadn’t happened, I would have had a clear picture, but now I am going along and trying to figure out what is really happening in the market.”

The Marche du Film participation, he hopes, will help him know what the industry’s strategy is going to be in the current situation. “I just want to know where we stand and how we should plan ahead,” says Singh.

PEDRO

Pedro is directed by Natesh Hegde, a filmmaker based out of a small village near Dharwad in Karnataka. The project won the WIP Lab’s DI Support Award at the 2019 NFDC Film Bazaar.

The film is about a middle-aged electrician (played by Hegde’s father) living with his mother and his brother’s family in a remote village. The man commits an act that upsets the villagers and elicits an unexpected reaction from them.

“My father is an electrician. The film is based on some incidents in his life,” says Hegde. “There is a great deal of fiction in the film although the characters are real. They are from my village, and some are even relatives. In Pedro, I want to navigate between documentary and fiction.”

Hegde hopes, first and foremost, to tap the Goes to Cannes section to land a good festival premiere. “I will, of course, also be looking for distributors,” he adds. Hegde, a self-taught filmmaker, regards the late G. Aravindan as his principal creative lodestar. “I have been aspiring to be a filmmaker for 6-7 years now,” he says. “The director who inspires me the most is Aravindan. “In his films, the line between the real and the imagined is blurred.”

Hegde cites Aravindan’s Thampu, a film about circus performers shot in documentary style, as a case in point. “It is hard to fathom how he managed to shoot the close-ups of those people. His films were disarmingly simple but they had important things to say,” says the young filmmaker.

SHANKAR’S FAIRIES

Set in early 1960s Lucknow, Shankar’s Fairies is based on “the childhood memories” of director Irfana Majumdar’s historian-mother. The film is about a nine-year-old child of a senior police officer and her bonding with a family retainer, Shankar.

Majumdaris a Varanasi-based theatre director, teacher and solo performer.“ In terms of aesthetics, visuals and the film’s spatial feel, I’ve relied on the instincts that my theatre training has given me,” she says.

The cast of the film has a mix of trained performers and non-actors, with whom she did a lot of work for several months before the shoot. “The main actor lived in the house and worked as a servant in preparation for the role,” says Majumdar.

The short synopsis of Shankar’s Fairies on the Marche du Film site reads: “A little girl belonging to a privileged family and a village man who is the family servant share a relationship based on imagination and stories. Underlying their innocent bonds are divided worlds: city and village, master and servant, adult and child.”

In Shankar’s Fairies, Majumdar has used her mother’s recollections to craft a non-linear, fictionalized film in which most of the incidents in the film take place in houses similar to the Lucknow Cantonment bungalows that officers of the Uttar Police Force lived in. “The setting is very real,” she says.

Her expectations from the Marche du Film? “This is our first feature film and we’ve made it completely independently. We are looking for anyone who might partner with us to help us get the film seen and get it out to the world,” Majumdar says.

ULJHAN (THE KNOT)

The second Lucknow film in the NFDC Film Bazaar selection, Ashish Pant’s Uljhan (The Knot) homes in on a middle-class couple whose car is involved in an accident one night. The conflicting reactions of the two to the incident drives a wedge between them and turns the spotlight on their values and beliefs.

Produced by Kartikeya Singh (Anhey Gorhey Da Daan, ChauthiKoot, Soni), Uljhan is Pant’s first feature. He is a writing and directing alumnus from Columbia University who worked in theatre, assisting a lot of directors. He now teaches film in New York.

The Knot (Hindi, Urdu, Awadhi) has its genesis in a real-life car mishap that happened when Pant was seven years old. He says: “Within a few minutes the car was surrounded by people banging on the windows. They assumed that we had made a mistake. I was terrified. That image stayed with me.”

“Lucknow,” Pant says, “has always been portrayed on the screen in the historical context. But my film is totally contemporary.”The central character in Uljhan is a small businessman. Says Pant: “It is very much about the class structure but the difference is that we have restricted the perspective to the middle-class couple.”

“The third character,” he explains, “comes from outside this class, but any judgement that the audience will make will emerge from the perspective of the middle class. My intention is to get the viewer to think what they would have done had they been in a similar situation.”

Vikas Kumar (Hamid), Saloni Batra (Soni) and Nehpal Gautam play the three main roles in Uljhan. “The film is pretty much complete, so we are looking for festival slots,” says Pant. “But we will also explore sales and distribution opportunities.”


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A Ray That Still Lights The Way

admin   June 22, 2020

IN HIS CENTENARY YEAR, SATYAJIT RAY REMAINS AS RELEVANT AS HE WAS WHEN THE WORLD DISCOVERED HIS BRILLIANCE IN CANNES ALL OF 65 YEARS AGO
by Saibal Chatterjee

Nearly three decades after his passing, Satyajit Ray’s relevance hasn’t dimmed a bit. In fact, as more and more contemporary Indian filmmakers seek to make renewed global inroads, Ray is the perfect role model.

After all, he combined in his remarkable body of work the twin virtues of cultural veracity and universal accessibility. He, therefore, belonged as much to India as he did to the world. Efforts to replicate his scale of international success and recognition continue in the land of his origin, but true, sustained triumph eludes his successors.

In his centenary year, Ray remains a constant presence in our midst, reminding us of the intrinsic capacity of the medium to capture the essence of life in its cultural specificities and yet communicate with people all around the world. His epochal first film, Pather Panchali (Song of the Little Road), won a major prize in Cannes in 1956 and put Indian cinema on the global map.

Indian and world cinema have moved on since Pather Panchali redefined the parameters of the medium, but the master’s all-pervasive influence continues to impact our films and filmmakers to this day.

Born on May 2, 1921, the multi-talented Ray – filmmaker, writer, music composer, graphic artist, illustrator, and designer – was a master storyteller and a consummate craftsman. What set him apart, however, was his masterly ability to achieve a seamless mix of content and technique, an attribute that a lot of Indian filmmakers of the new millennium would do well to keep in mind. Flamboyance sans depth and substance is a completely useless quality to aspire for.

Ray once told an interviewer, “I feel that an ordinary person – the man in the street, if you like – is a more challenging subject for exploration than people in the heroic mould. It is the half shades, the hardly audible notes that I want to capture and explore… In any case, I find muted emotions more interesting and challenging.” His cinema spoke to all of us because, no matter where in the world we lived, it was about all of us. His humanism was all-pervasive.

Veteran film critic Chidananda Dasgupta, wrote in his book, The Cinema of Satyajit Ray: “Seldom has a film director’s work chronicled the process of social change in a country over as long a span of time as Satyajit Ray’s. The subjects of his films range over the shifting social scene in India for over one hundred and fifty years (at the time of the book’s publication). Devi (The Goddess, 1960) is placed in the 1830s. Shatranj Ke Khilari (The Chess Players, 1977) in the 1850s. Charulata (1964) is laid in 1879, Jalsaghar (The Music Room, 1958) at the turn of the century, the Apu trilogy in the early years of the 20th century. Sadgati (The Deliverance, 1981) was written by Premchand in the 1930s about an unspecified, as it were timeless, period. Ashani Sanket (Distant Thunder, 1973) deals with the British-made wartime famine of 1943; besides, he of course made a host of contemporary films.”

Ray’s contemporary films – Abhijan (The Expedition, 1962), Mahanagar (The Big City, 1963), Aranyer Din Ratri (Days and Nights in the Forest, 1969), Seemabaddha (Company Limited, 1971), and Jana Aranya (The Middleman, 1975), among others – present a vivid portrait of a society and a culture in flux. No filmmaker has ever caught the nuances of this process of change and its impact on human beings quite with the same felicity. The effortlessness was obviously misleading. Nothing that Ray did was ever chance-directed.

Few filmmakers in the annals of cinema have had as much control over the medium as Ray. He wrote the screenplay, handpicked the cast, directed the film, scored the music, operated the camera, did the production design, contributed actively to the editing of his films, and even designed his own credit titles and publicity material. Cinema is a collective art form. A film is the result of teamwork. In Ray’s case, however, the medium came closer than ever to being a means of pure personal expression.

Providing a glimpse into his approach to cinema, Ray wrote in an article published in March 1952: “In the thirty years of its existence the Bengali film as a whole has not progressed one step towards maturity. Looking over the past three or four years one comes across a handful of commendable efforts… a bare dozen altogether, none entirely successful and satisfactory but each containing passages of acting, direction, writing or photography which, if sustained, would make for respectable cinema. As for the others (the overwhelming majority), they bear the same relation to art as do the lithographs in Wellington Square to the art of painting… These films neither stimulate the sensibilities, nor please the senses.”

The freshness evident in Pather Panchali probably stems from the fact that all the major technicians who worked on the film, including Ray himself, came to the project with little or no experience. Ray was no more than a film lover at that point, his cameraman Subrata Mitra had never shot a film before, art director Bansi Chandragupta had cut his teeth on The River, and for editor Dulal Dutta, Pather Panchali was only the third film. Pather Panchali rescued Indian cinema from the confines of studio sets and set it free into the wide, unexplored expanse of real locations.

Satyajit Ray and Pather Panchali altered the face of Indian cinema forever. Sixty-five years on, Ray’s debut film – and the rest of his work – remain a benchmark and a beacon that inspire those blessed with the courage to break free from stale habits.

RAY AT CANNES

Beginning with the ninth edition of the Cannes Film Festival (1956), where his debut film Pather Panchali won the Prix du Document Humain, the Indian maestro travelled to the Croisette on several occasions in subsequent years. He had three more titles in the Cannes Competition – Parash Pathar (1958), Devi (1962) and GhareBaire (1984) – besides Ganashatru (1989) in the Special Screenings section. In 2013, one his greatest films, Charulata, was screened in Cannes Classics.

Pather Panchali is as much a part of Indian cinema folklore as it is of the Cannes Film Festival’s own history. In 1956, it won the Best Human Document Award, narrowly losing the Palme d’Or race to the French documentary Le Monde du Silence (The Silent World), directed by Louis Malle and famed oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau. It was a year of heavy-hitters in the Cannes Competition, with the likes of Ingmar Bergman (Smiles of a Summer Night, which also won a Special Award), Akira Kurosawa (I Live in Fear) and Alfred Hitchcock (The Man Who Knew Too Much) going head to head. It was also the year when Henri-Georges Clouzot, known for his seminal French thrillers, landed a Special Jury Award for his Picasso documentary, Le Mystere Picasso (The Mystery of Picasso).The jury was headed by French actor-director-producer Maurice Lehmann.


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Screen Moms; Best Movies to Stream on Mother’s Day

admin   May 9, 2020

By Saibal Chatterjee

Wildly differing in sum and substance, these ten titles are drawn from a range of genres – from cinematic masterpieces to fluffy entertainers. Watch them with an open where necessary, and enjoy the star turns when the theme appears to be bordering on the stale. Almodovar and Cuaron deliver masterclasses, Shonali Bose crafts a bright-eyed tearjerker, and the likes of Susan Sarandon and Jennifer Aniston add life to less than satisfactory fare. The idea is to celebrate motherhood no matter what. You can stream it right now.

Otherhood (Netflix)

Sex and the City and Modern Family writer Cindy Chupack’s directorial debut, Otherhood, is a comedy about three suburban women, feeling left out on Mother’s Day, decide to call on their adult sons in New York City unannounced. Complications ensue. The 2019 film hasn’t garnered great reviews but can be watched for the performances of the three leads – Patrician Arquette, Angela Bassett and Felicity Huffman.

Mother’s Day (Netflix)

Director Garry Marshall’s last film, Mother’s Day is a 2016 dramedy about a bunch of Atlanta moms, led by Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson and Julia Roberts, dealing with a host of issues related to their offspring. Again, like Otherhood, Mother’s Day isn’t the greatest movie you will ever see, but you can watch it nonetheless for the sprightly cast that does its best to liven up the proceedings.

Roma (Netflix)

An arthouse classic that deserves to be more widely seen than it has thus far been, Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma focuses on a soft-spoken woman, Cleo, who works as a surrogate mother to three children of a middle-class Mexican family while coping with an unwanted pregnancy of her own. It is the director’s fond remembrance of the housekeeper who raised him. Deliberately paced, masterfully shot and edited, Roma is an exceptional film. 

All About My Mother (Disney+Hotstar)

This 1999 Oscar-winning masterpiece from Pedro Almodovar goes beyond being a film about a mother. It is about the meaning of motherhood itself. A nurse loses the teenage son she raised on her own. The distraught woman travels to Barcelona to look for the boy’s lost-lost father. Her maternal instincts are re-aroused as she forges deep ties with a pregnant, HIV-positive nun, a popular stage actress and a transgender sex-worker. A film awash with beauty and compassion.

Mothers and Daughters (Netflix)

Jointly directed by Paul Duddridge and Nigel Levy, this 2016 film examines the relationships between several mother and daughters. A filmmaker (Selma Blair) captures the ties on film eve as she tries to mend fences with her own estranged mother. The film’s ensemble cast is led by Susan Sarandon and includes her real-life daughter Eva Amurri, besides Christina Ricci, Mira Sorvino, Courtney Cox and Sharon Stone.

Freaky Friday (Disney+Hotstar)

Starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan, Freaky Friday is a body-switch fantasy comedy in which a woman and her daughter assume each other’s personalities. Anna is peeved that her mom does not support her musical aspiration; the mother, a widow about to remarry, is upset that the girl cannot stand her fiancé. When the freaky exchange happens, well, there is bedlam.

The Sky is Pink (Netflix)

Not so much about a mother as a whole family, Shonali Bose’s is rumination on death and the process of coming to terms with it, delivered in a style that embraces a zest for life and positivity. Priyanka Chopra Jonas brings star power to the true story of a girl with a terminal illness and the determination of her parents to make the last days of her life as pleasurable as possible. Sensitive and poignant but entertaining. 

Private Life (Netflix)

This is the odd one out on this list: Private Life (2018) is the story of a woman who wants to be a mother but is running out of time. Oscar-nominated director Tamara Jenkins teams up with actors Paul Giamatti, Kathryn Hahn and Kayli Carter to deliver a tender tale of a couple in their 40s desperately trying to be parents. The film is a humorous exploration of marriage, intimacy and a desire for motherhood. Watchable all the way.

Lion (Netflix)     

The beginning is harrowing. A five-year-old boy is separated from his family and ends up on the streets of Kolkata. The climax is heartbreaking. Twenty-five years later, the protagonist, now an adoptive son of an Australian couple, goes back in search of his biological mother, Lion, directed by debutant Garth Davis, spins a true tale that is emotionally uplifting and wonderfully well-acted by a cast that includes Dev Patel, Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara and David Wenham.

Mom (Netflix)

A crime drama on Mother’s Day? Well Mom, starring Sridevi, is worth a shot. It tells the story a mother who will stop at nothing to avenge the rape of her step daughter, a girl with whom her relationship has been choppy. Bolstered by a strong central performance, this is a gut-wrenching film that employs the tropes of a revenge saga to address questions surrounding safety of women and distortions in law enforcement. 


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Best Movies of the New Millennium Streaming Now

admin   May 2, 2020

I Am Kalam (Hindi, 2011)

Genre: Drama
Director: Nila Madhab Panda
Starring: Harsh Mayar, Gulshan Grover, Pitobash Tripathy, Beatrice Ordeix
Streaming on Netflix

A young boy works in a highway food joint but dreams of going school, fired by his love for books. He befriends a lonely prince who lives in a sprawling mansion. The growing bond between the two boys across the social and class divide that separates them opens doors for both.

High points: The relevance of its social message and the simplicity of its storytelling style

Little Zizou (Hindi/Gujarati/English, 2008)

Genre: Drama, Family
Director: Sooni Taraporevala
Starring: Boman Irani, Sohrab Ardeshir, Imaad Shah, Shernaz Patel, Zenobia Shroff, Dilshad Patel
Streaming on JioCinema

The scripter of acclaimed Mira Nair films such as Salaam Bombay and The Namesake made her directorial debut with this delightful drama about two feuding Parsi families in Mumbai and an 11-year-old soccer-crazy boy who dreams of meeting his idol Zinedine Zidane in person.

High points: Little Zizou is vibrant,touching, warm-hearted and uplifting, a rare believable cinematic portrait of the Parsi community

Paan Singh Tomar (Hindi, 2012)

Genre: Crime, Biography, Action
Director: Tigmanshu Dhulia
Starring: Irrfan Khan, Mahie Gill, Rajesh Abhay
Streaming on Netflix

By far one of the best biographical films ever made by a Mumbai director, Paan Singh Tomar eschews established storytelling conventions and delivers a punchy, deeply affecting real-life story of a champion athlete forced by rural inequities to become an outlaw.

High points: A top-draw performance by Irrfan Khan as the eponymous character and sure-handed scripting and direction

Qissa (Punjabi, 2013)

Genre: Drama, Fantasy
Director: Anup Singh
Starring: Irrfan Khan, Tisca Chopra, Tillotama Shome |
Streaming on YUPP TV

A victim of the Partition of India, desperate for a son to carry on the family name, drags his wife and youngest daughter into a destructive vortex. Director Anup Singh blends solid naturalism with surreal strokes to craft a haunting tale about the pitfalls of patriarchy.

High points: Superb acting by Irrfan Khan and the rest of the cast and afable-like tale that leaves a deep imprint on the mind

Stanley Ka Dabba (Hindi, 2011)

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Family
Director: Amole Gupte
Starring: Partho A. Gupte, Numaan Sheikh, Abhishek Reddy
Streaming on Disney+hotstar

A children’s tale written and directed by Amole Gupte, who also plays one of the key onscreen roles. Set in a Mumbai school, the film is about a creative schoolboy who is loved by his teachers with the exception of one, who resents the fact that the protagonist’s friends share their lunch with him.

High points: The purity of the storytelling is bolstered by great performances by the young actors as well as the adult members of the cast

Super Deluxe (2019), Tamil

Director: Thiagarajan Kumararaja
Genre: LGBTQ, Dark Comedy
Starring: Vijay Sethupathi,Fahadh Faasil,Samantha Ruth Prabhu
Streaming on Netflix

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. The director throws four sub-plots into a giant, constantly whirring grinder and emerges with a film so fascinating and so wondrously inventive that one is caught by surprise at every turn.

High Points: Super Deluxe is testimony to what younger Tamil filmmakers are capable of as storytellers and craftsmen.

Swades (Hindi, 2004)

Genre: Drama
Director: Ashutosh Gowariker
Starring: Shah Rukh Khan, Gayatri Joshi, Kishori Ballal
Streaming on Netflix

Written, produced and directed by Ashutosh Gowariker, Swades was a worthy follow-up to his Lagaan. It is justifiably regarded as one of the most ‘complete’ Bollywood films ever made. A NASA scientist of Indian origin returns to his roots and inspires his remote north Indian village to produce its own electricity.

High points: Shah Rukh Khan’s un-starry star turn; skilled blend of social philosophy and mainstream entertainment

Kaaler Rakhal (Bengali, 2009)

Genre: Drama
Director: Sekhar Das
Starring: Bimal Chakraborty, Usashi Chakraborty, Phalguni Chatterjee
Not available for streaming

A rare contemporary Bengali film that directly addresses the political skull duggery that is rampant in rural parts of the eastern Indian state, Kaaler Rakhal is about an itinerant performer who, owing to his poverty is sucked into a twister of ruthless exploitation by those in positions of power.

High points: Highlights a unique cultural aspect of Bengal while exposing the depredations of the political class

Shabdo (Bengali, 2013)

Genre: Drama
Director: Kaushik Ganguly
Starring: Ritwick Chakraborty, Raima Sen, Churni Ganguly
Not available for streaming

Shabdo (which, in Bengali, can mean either ‘word’ or ‘sound’) is the story of a Foley artist who is trapped in a world of ambient sound and becomes incapable of registering human voices around him, including that of his exasperated wife. An unconventional story told with skill, subtlety and sensitivity.

High points: Director Kaushik Ganguly’s handling of an unusual theme and lead actor Ritwik Chakraborty’s flawless performance


Stars of a Parallel Sky

admin   February 21, 2020

Mainstream Bollywood is on the cusp of change with the rise of a parallel cinematic universe that uses the means and resources of the industry while making films that are akin to the social chronicles and cautionary tales that emerge from a more independent space By Saibal Chatterjee

A parallel universe has taken a concrete shape in mainstream Bollywood. It is defined by the work of directors and actors who work within the mass-oriented Hindi cinema but, in their films, address issues and themes of contemporary relevance in a manner that generates serious conversation and attracts ample media and audience attention.

Exactly one such Bollywood release is scheduled for February 28. Thappad, directed by Anubhav Sinha (Mulk, Article 15) and starring Taapsee Pannu, deals with a woman’s right to fight off domestic violence in a conservative society.

Sinha and Pannu, who played an important role in the former’s Mulk, a film revolving around the impact of Islamophobia on unquestioning minds, have both carved a niche for themselves by delivering stories that confront prickly subjects in a manner that facilitates engagement with wider audiences.

The duo represents a segment of Bollywood that uses the means and resources of the industry but makes films that are akin to the social chronicles and cautionary tales that emerge from a more independent space. Their upcoming collaboration, Thappad, is about a woman who walks out on her marriage when her husband slaps her. Sinha is a Mumbai film director who devoted more than a decade and a half to making romantic dramas (Tum Bin and its sequel), thrillers (Dus, Thathastu and Cash) and a superhero film starring Shahrukh Khan (Ra. One). In 2018, he reinvented himself with Mulk, about a Muslim family in an Uttar Pradesh town struggling to clear its name when one of its younger members is drawn into a terror plot.

In 2019, Sinha made the hard-hitting Article 15, which told the story of a young police officer who is posted in a town where caste discrimination is rampant. Three girls go missing and the protagonist is sucked into a world where the weak and oppressed are also completely defenceless as a result of deeply ingrained social prejudices of those that wield political and administrative power.

The role of the cop in Article 15 is played by Ayushmann Khurrana, who
has achieved stardom on the back of a series of roles that border on the revolutionary in the context of popular Hindi cinema. The actor made his film debut in 2012 with Vicky Donor, directed by Shoojit Sircar. Khurrana played a sperm donor, a character unheard of in Hindi cinema.

After a few misfires, the actor began a phase that has seen him, among other things, play the husband of an overweight woman in Dum LagaKe- Haisha, a man with erectile dysfunction in Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, a youngster grappling with a bald pate, and a blind pianist who ‘witnesses’ a murder in Andhadhun.

In Shubh Mangal ZyaadaSaavdhan, the follow-up to Shubh Mangal Saavdhan, Khurrana dons the garb a small-town middle-class boy who causes a stir by coming out as gay and bringing his partner home. So, there we are: a whole new world is opening up in the pan-Indian Hindi cinema on account of actors and directors who are willing to take risks.

Shoojit Sircar, who directed Khurrana in Vicky Donor, also gave Taapsee- Pannu a role that changed the course of her career. The film was the intense legal drama Pink, featuring Amitabh Bachchan as an ageing, cynical lawyer who comes out of retirement to represent three young women subjected to sexual violence after a rock concert. It was produced by Sircar.

A Bollywood director who has made a career out of dark thrillers, Sriram Raghavan has never lowered his guard in the matter of keeping his output free from dog-eared devices. He helmed one of 2018’s most acclaimed Bollywood thrillers, Andhadhun, which arrived virtually unheralded and went on to acquire a cult following.

A decade ago, Raghavan delivered Johnny Gaddar, a stylized crime thriller that remains a benchmark for the genre. In 2015, he made the subversive thriller Badlapur, about a man who lies in wait for years for a criminal who killed his wife and child in a random act of violence.

Also working in mainstream Bollywood but with a distinct slant towards the real and tangible is AshwinyIyer Tiwari. She has directed three Hindi films to date – Nil BatteySannata, Bareilly Ki Barfi and Panga. Each one of them has struck a chord without having to resort to potboiler conventions.

Bareilly Ki Barfi, a romantic drama set in a specific small-town milieu, saw Ayushmann Khurrana lock horns with an actor who has a niche all his own – Rajkummar Rao. Rao, a regular Hansal Mehta collaborator, has built up an impressive body of work since debuting ten years ago with Dibakar Banerjee’s Love Sex AurDhokha.

With Mehta, Rao has delivered two of his finest performances – in Shahid, which fetched him a National Award, and Aligarh, a film in which he held is own against a superlative Manoj Bajpayee.

Together, these directors and actors have created a space where Bollywood explores themes and ideas that are far removed from easy certitudes that the industry usually peddles. They have lent Mumbai cinema an edge it never had before by erasing the line between commercial success and artistic courage.

Winds of Change

The ageing Bollywood superstars are nearing their sell-by dates. Their fan followings are intact, but are struggling to convince audiences that they are still young enough to play action heroes and romantic leads. With the goalposts having moved significantly, the likes of Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan are exploring fresh creative pastures.

Aamir Khan is the lead of Laal Singh Chaddha, an official remake of Forrest Gump (1994) directed by Advait Chandan. Shah Rukh Khan, on his part, hasn’t signed a film since 2018’s Zero. And Salman Khan, despite the below- par showing of several of his recent releases (notably Tubelight, Race 3 and Bharat) is sticking to his guns.

He seems to be continuing down the Dabangg path – the third installment of the franchise hit the screens in 2019 – with Radhe: Your Most Wanted Bhai, directed by Prabhudeva. Dabangg 3 was incidentally also helmed by Prabhudeva.

It is reported that Shahrukh has given the go-ahead to a script penned by Raj Nidimoru and Krishna DK (writers of Amar Kaushik’s Stree and makers of Shor in the City and Go Goa Gone). So, has SRK seen the writing on the wall?

But even as winds of change sweep over the Mumbai industry, Akshay Kumar (Good Newzz), Ajay Devgn (Tanhaji: The Unsung Warrior) and Hrithik Roshan (War) have delivered massive hits this past year. Bollywood is, therefore, being driven by contradictory impulses.

On one hand, films like Meghna Gulzar’s Chhapaak and Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s Panga earn critical accolades that do not necessarily translate into box office returns. On the other is the next Tiger Shroff vehicle, Baaghi 3, a high-octane actioner that will probably rake in big bucks.


The World’s Village for Domnic Sangma

admin   February 20, 2020

Drawing creative inspiration from life and culture of the picturesque Indian state of Meghalaya, Dominic Sangma’s cinematic style has found many takers across the world. As one of the seven Indians selected for Berlinale Talents, he hopes to take his next project a step closer to fruition. Interview with Dominic Sangma

Meghalaya filmmaker Dominic Sangma has put Garo cinema on the world map with his debut film, Ma’Ama (Moan). The director’s uncompromising vision lends the film a meditative quality. He explores loss, mourning and reconciliation through the eyes of his father, who lost his wife 30 years ago and continues to live in the hope of being reunited with her one day.

Sangma is now prepping for his second feature, Rapture, which will see him move from the deeply personal space of Ma’Ama to a story capturing the wider social and contemporary context of the remote village that he grew up in.

The life and culture of his part of the world are an essential part of Sangma’s creative credo, but it is the cinema that he watched as a student of Kolkata’s Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI) that shaped his approach to the medium. He passed out of the institute in 2014.

Sangma’s SRFTI diploma film, Rong’kuchak, was in a competition at the Beijing Film Academy. It was there that he first met Ma’Ama coproducer Xu Jiangshang. She is on board for Sangma’s second film, too.

Sangma and Xu travelled to the Cannes Film Festival last year with Rapture to participate in La Fabrique Cinema organized by Institute Francais. The Indo-Chinese coproduction was among the 10 works that were selected for the programme that had Mira Nair as a mentor.

Less than a year on, Sangma is in another major European film festival. He is one of seven Indians selected for Berlinale Talents. In Berlin, he hopes to take Rapture a step closer to fruition. “I will follow up on the meetings done in Rotterdam and elsewhere,” says Sangma, who is now in the process of casting.

Like Ma’Ama, Rapture is likely to have a cast of non-actors. “The village will be the main character of the film,” he says. “I will explore the place through one family.”

Sangma plans to begin filming Rapture in September this year. “I have Dutch and French co-producers in place and will apply for CNC (Centre National du Cinema) funds.”

Troubled by the political developments that have unsettled the Northeast, Sangma has just shot a 20-minute short fiction film to express his consternation. It is a film titled Aberration. “The shoot is over. I have just returned from a forest after recording location sound,” he reveals.

The inspiration for the short film came from an incident that occurred just before Christmas a couple of years ago. An aunt of Sangma’s went into the forest to collect bananas and bamboo. Mysteriously, she lost her speech. She has been sick since then. Nobody is sure what exactly happened to her. Some people believe that a forest spirit has done this to her. Such beliefs are common in the Garo Hills.

In the film, a traditional healer is sent into the jungle to look for medicinal herbs. He sees a fleeing Muslim family and a body floating in a lake.

The filmmaker says that Aberration is his attempt to convey his reaction to the fear and foreboding that hang over the region following the eruption of protests against the National Register of Citizens (NRC) and the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).

“In the Garo Hills, Christmas festivities are big. Preparations begin in the first week of December itself. This year, people could not go out and join the protests. Nobody came out and there was no beating of drums and music. This is because the sounds go all the way down to the bungalows in Assam. The people who are disturbed raise objections,” says Sangma.

Sangma’s cinematic voice is, of course, unique. It is travelling – and finding takers – across the world for good reason. Saibal Chatterjee


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INDIA@BERLINALE-Indian Cinema’s Voices Emerging

admin   February 19, 2020

The films and talents that have made it to berlinale 2020 from the world’s most ‘productive’ movie industry reflect both depth and diversity. It inspires hope. By saibal chatterjee

It is exciting enough that four titles from the subcontinent are in the Berlin Film Festival programme this year. But no less noteworthy is India’s strong presence in Berlinale Talents 2020.

Six filmmakers and technicians from India – Ivan Ayr, Dominic Sangma, Prantik Narayan Basu, Varun Sasindran, Acharya Venu and Mukul Haloi – besides actor Geetika Vidya Ohlyan–have made the cut. What this denotes is that the pool of new Indian talent capable of making international breakthroughs is expanding.

Most of the selected Indians are already names known on the festival circuit and beyond.

Ivan Ayr’s debut feature Sonireleased on Netflix in early 2019 to positive reviews after premiering in the Orrizonti section of the 2018 Venice Film Festival.Geetika Vidya Ohlyan, the only Indian actor in Berlinale Talents 2020, played the lead role in Soni.

Dominic Sangma, a filmmaker from Meghalaya’s Garo Hills who trained at the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI), Kolkata, began his career with the critically acclaimed Ma’Ama (Moan, 2018). He is now in the process of wrapping up his next film, Rapture, which made the La Fabrique Cinema cut in the 2019 Cannes Film Festival.

Acharya Venu, an SRFTI graduate who lensed Ma’Ama, earned the Asian New Talent Award at the 2019

Laila Aur Satt geet Director |Pushpendra Singh Feature Film | 96 mins Gojri, Hindi

The timeless story of the proud and beautiful nomadic shepherdess Laila is set against the backdrop of the current Kashmir conflict. A tribute to a very modern female figure, inspired by mystical poetry and traditional songs.

Eeb Allay Ooo! Director | Prateek Vats’ Feature Film | 97 mins Hindi

Monkey repellers such as Anjani have an exceedingly tricky job in downtown New Delhi. With the sensitivity of a documentary and an Indian sense of humour, the film depicts the harsh life of a migrant and subtly mirrors today’s social realities

Sthalpuran Director | Akshay Indikar Feature Film | 86 mins Marathi

After his father’s disappearance, eight-year-old Dighu seeks refuge from loneliness in his imagination and diary entries. Long continuous shots full of wistful beauty tell a tender tale of coping with change and loss.

Gumnaam Din Director | Ekta Mittal Documentary | 28 mins | Hindi, Punjabi, Chhattisgarhi

They set off, looking for work in far-off places, but disappeared along the way. Inspired by Shiv Kumar Batalvi’s “birha” poetry, the film traces the longing on both sides: on the part of those who are missing, and those that
wait for them to return.

Shanghai International Film Festival for his cinematography in the film. Assamese filmmaker Mukul Haloi, who has the much-lauded short film Days of Autumn and the featurelength documentary behind him, is currently prepping for a fiction feature.

Kerala-born Varun Sasindran, a software engineer-turned-filmmaker who has a master’s degree from the Sarajevo Film Academy has been to Berlinale before. His short film Omarska, which highlighted the horrors heaped upon the victims of the 1992 Bosnian War, was in the Berlinale shorts competition last year.

Film and Television Institute of India-trained Prantik Narayan Basu is another of the Indian filmmakers in this year’s Berlinale Talents who is no stranger to international festivals. In 2017, his short film Sakhisona won a Tiger Award at the International Film Festival of Rotterdam. Basu followed that up with Rang Mahal, which premiered in the Berlin Film Festival in 2019.

Last year, the Kolkata-based director received the Hubert Bals Fund for script and project development of his first narrative feature, Dengue.

As for the quartet of Indian films in Berlinale 2020, it is lead by Pushpendra Singh’s Laila Aur Satt Geet (The Shepherdess and the Seven Songs). The film will compete for three prizes in the newly-introduced Encounters section, which is aimed at supporting “new voices in cinema” and providing “more room to diverse narrative and documentary forms in the official programme.”

Pushpendra Singh’s first feature Lajwanti (The Honour Keeper) played in Berlinale Forum in 2014.

Prateek Vats’ Eeb Allay Ooo!, one of the most remarkable Indian films of the year, will screen in Panorama. It had its world premiere at the Pingyao International Film Festival earlier this year.Eeb Allay Ooo!, a stinging social satire that revolves around the plight of a migrant in Delhi who lands the job that requires him to assume the guise of a langur to scare away the monkeys that pose a menace to government buildings and other locations in the national capital.

Generation Kplus has Marathi director Akshay Indikar’s Sthalpuran (Chronicle of Space). The director’s first film, Trijya (Radius), premiered in the Shanghai International Film Festival in 2019. The self-reflexive Sthalpuran sees life and its challenges through the eyes of an eight-year-old boy.

The Berlinale Shorts programme includes Ekta Mittal’s 29-minute film Gumnaam Din, a film about “missing days from the calendar of Missing people who have left for faraway cities for work”. Guided by Punjabi poet Shiv Kumar Batalva’s ‘birha’ poetry, the film explores “yearnings both from the perspective of the missing and those who wait endlessly”.


Through the Prism of Time

admin   November 22, 2019

Starting its life as a launchpad for non-mainstream Indian filmmakers who sought global breakthroughs, the Indian Panorama section of the International Film Festival of India has come a long way, as the art-commerce divide became more apparent with every passing decade. Here is how the Indian Panorama section story has evolved when looked through the prism of time and relevance
By Saibal Chatterjee

The Indian Panorama, in many ways the flagship segment of the International Film Festival of India, served a specific larger purpose that went beyond its stated goal of assembling the best films made around the country in the course of a year. Since its formal introduction in 1978, the section aided international festival curators in identifying the films that they wanted to pick for their programmes.

Until the 1990s, the Indian Panorama served as a launchpad for non-mainstream Indian filmamakers who sought global breakthroughs. Many a director, from Satyajit Ray and Adoor Gopalakrishnan to the present generation of independent filmmakers, have benefitted from the exposure it has facilitated. However, in the last 15 years or so, the overt Bollywoodization of Indian cinema has altered the parameters of both the Panorama and the way that curators from across the world approach films made in the world’s most prolific movie-producing nation.

In the early years of the Panorama, the art-commerce divide wasn’t so visible. Even before the birth of the section, in 1961, the second edition of IFFI, the selection of Indian films saw Satyajit Ray (Devi) and Rajen Tarafdar (Ganga) rub shoulders with K. Asif (Mughal-e-Azam) and Raj Kapoor (who produced and starred in Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai, directed by the showman’s cinematographer Radhu Karmakar). Also among the Indian films that were screened in 1961 was Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anuradha, that year’s winner of the National Award for Best Film.

By the 1970s, however, the distinction between commercially-oriented movies and artistically inclined films became sharper in the light of the emergence of the parallel cinema movement. In Filmotsav 1984, held in Mumbai from January 3 to 16, the films that made the Panorama cut belonged to only one side of the creative divide. Gems like K.G. George’s powerfully feminist Adaminte Variyellu (Malayalam), K. Balachander’s political satire Achamillai Achamillai (Tamil), Kumar Shahani’s Tarang (Hindi), Govind Nihalani’s Party (Hindi), Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Mukhamukham (Malayalam), Saeeed Akhtar Mirza’s Mohan Joshi Hazir Ho!, and Goutam Ghose’s Paar (Hindi) dominated the selection.

This was a particularly fecund phase for the newfangled New Indian Cinema. The composition of the Panorama made it worthwhile, therefore, for programmers representing the major film festivals of the world to make the trip to India to handpick the latest and the best. To take the 1984 Indian Panorama as a case in point, Party, Mukhamukham and Paar cemented the reputation of the respective filmmakers. Paar was selected by the Venice Film Festival, where it won the Unesco Award and fetched the lead actor Naseeruddin Shah the Volpi Cup.

Panorama, for festival spotters , quickly became the go-to source of great Indian films. Until the mid-nineties the segment kept throwing up films that attracted curators from the world over

Interestingly, the same year saw a trio of strikingly original films from the mainstream Hindi film industry make the Panorama grade – Amol Palekar’s Ankahee, Mahesh Bhatt’s Saaransh and Prakash Jha’s Hip Hip Hurray. It was an outstanding selection of 25 films – probably one of the best in living memory, not the least because even the Mumbai industry seemed to have moved to a space in which filmmakers were beginning to bridge the gap between what was commercially viable and what was artistically valuable.

The trend continued through the 1980s. The next few years saw the induction into the Panorama hall of fame of films such as Bhabendra Nath Saikia’s Agnisnan (Assamese), Prakash Jha’s Damul (Hindi), Ramesh Sharma’s New Delhi Times (Hindi), Aparna Sen’s Paroma (Bengali), Govind Nihalani’s Aghaat (Hindi), Kumar Shahani’s Khayal Gatha (Hindi), Bharathi Raaja’s Mudhal Mariyadhai (Tamil), John Abraham’s Amma Ariyan (Malayalam), Mani Kaul’s Mati Manas (Hindi), G. Aravindan’s Oridathu and Chidambaram (Malayalam), Saeed Akhtar Mirza’s Salim Langde Pe Mat Ro, Shyam Benegal’s Susman (Hindi), Nabyendu Chatterji’s Chopper and Parashuramer Kuthar (Bengali), Jahnu, Barua’s Papori and Banani (Assamese), Mrinal Sen’s Ek Din Achanak (Hindi) and Satyajit Ray’s Ganashatru (Bengali). Several of these films began their journeys from the Panorama and successfully travelled around the world, enhancing the global profile of Indian cinema.

The 1990s, too, were exceptionally productive in terms of quality. The year 1992 had Goutam Ghose’s Padma Nadir Majhi, Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Tahader Katha, Sudhir Mishra’s Dharavi and Jabbar Patel’s Ek Hota Vidushak. All these four filmmakers had already emerged as mainstays of India’s parallel cinema movement and their films continued to surface repeatedly in the Panorama in subsequent years.

The Indian Panorama, a section that is made up of both features and non-features, opens global avenues for films made by veterans and newcomers alike

In 1995, among the films that were part of the Indian Panorama were Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen, which enjoyed unprecedented success on the international festival circuit after premiering in Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes the previous year, and Rituparno Ghosh’s Unishe April, a National Award-winning film that heralded the advent of a remarkable new directorial talent. They represented two sides of the spectrum – one was a gritty, disturbing drama set in the Indian hinterland, the other a sharply chiselled, expertly scripted mother-daughter tale buoyed up brilliant lead performances.

No wonder the Panorama, for festival spotters, quickly became the go-to source of great Indian films. Until the mid-nineties, the segment kept throwing up films that attracted curators from the world over. Few went back empty-handed such were the riches on show. However, the game has since changed drastically and the major festivals are now given to employing their own methods to select films. On many occasions in the recent past, new Indian films have been discovered by Cannes, Venice, Berlin or Toronto before making their way into the Indian Panorama and imprinting themselves on the minds of the domestic audience.

One notable example of this is Gurvinder Singh’s critically acclaimed Punjabi-language film Anhe Ghore Da Daan (Alms for a Blind Horse). It premiered in the Orizzonti section of the 68th Venice Film Festival (2011) and then travelled to the BFI London Film Festival, the New York Film Festival and the Busan International Film Festival. Leading festivals on three major continents embraced the film with great enthusiasm. Anhe Ghore Da Daan played in IFFI (as part of the Panorama) only at the end of 2012, picking up the festival’s Golden Peacock for the Best Film – one of only three Indian entries to bag the prize (the other two: Govind Nihalani’s Aakrosh and Goutam Ghose’s Moner Manush).

It may be time for the Indian Panorama to reinvent itself and regain the position of pre-eminence it once had. It certainly hasn’t lost its relevance because despite the growing dominance of star power it still manages to yield slots to small films that address important issues and themes

Or consider the two Indian titles that played in the 2015 Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard – Gurvinder Singh’s sophomore Chauthi Koot and Neeraj Ghaywan’s debut Masaan. Both films won National Awards in 2016 – the former for Best Punjabi Film, the latter for Best First Film of a Director. But neither of the two was found worthy of being part of the Indian Panorama.

The cycle of major film festivals – Cannes, Toronto, Venice, Berlin, Busan,
Rotterdam – now impacts how Indian films travel around the world. Each of these festivals has its own prism to watch films through. So, what is likely to appeal to the Venice selectors may not make quite the same impact on the curators in Cannes or Toronto. So, the younger Indian filmmakers, the smarter ones among them at any rate, know exactly which festivals are likely to warm up to their films and therefore they take a route that bypasses the Panorama.

It may be time for the Indian Panorama to reinvent itself and regain the position of pre-eminence it once had. It certainly hasn’t lost its relevance because despite the growing dominance of star power it still manages to yield slots to small films that address important issues and themes. All it now needs to do is reactivate its international connections. The way the Panorama can do it is by plugging into the global scene without losing its local essence. There has got to be a greater inclination towards artistically adventurous films with the power to travel beyond the confines of the culture they are rooted in. A tough ask, yes. But eminently within the realms of reality.