Serving as a launching platform for many Indian filmmakers in the past, the 46th Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) continues to live up to our expectations by showcasing three Indian feature-length films by first-time directors
By Saibal Chatterjee
The 46thToronto International Film Festival (TIFF), which retains the hybrid format that was necessitated in 2020 by a rampaging pandemic, has three Indian feature-length films by first-time directors in an expanded programme that has significantly more titles and in-person screenings than last year.
Besides Payal Kapadia’s A Night of Knowing Nothing, the Critics Week title that scooped up the Cannes Film Festival’s prize for the best documentary film – the Golden Eye – this year, TIFF will premiere sound designer Nithin Lukose’s gripping Malayalam drama Paka: River of Blood and Ritwik Pareek’s piercing social satire Dug Dug.
While the epistolary A Night of Knowing Nothing is part of the festival’s Wavelengths section devoted to avant-garde cinematic works that experiment with forms and genres, Paka and Dug Dug are screening in Discovery, a selection, as the name suggests, aimed unearthing new talent from across the world.
A Night of Knowing Nothing, the FTII-trained Kapadia’s first feature, centres on a university student who writes letters to her estranged lover, revealing through a collage of recollections, personal impressions and experiences the political realities of contemporary India.
Paka and Dug Dug, too, each in its own unique way, provide an insight into today’s India. The former deals with an inter-generational feud between two families in Lukose’s native Wayanad district, against a long history migration and dislocation within the state of Kerala.
Dug Dug, set in Rajasthan, where Pareek grew up before moving to Mumbai, examines the nature of faith and its manifestations in a nation of multiple systems of religious belief. It revolves around an alcoholic man who dies in a gruesome accident while riding his motorcycle in a drunken state. As one strange event leads to another in the aftermath of the tragedy, the deceased turns into the focal point of a rapidly growing religious cult.
Unearthing new talent is a purpose TIFF has served without fail over the years. The festival has helped many Indian independent filmmakers find a doorway to global acclaim. Especially over the last 25 years, North America’s premier film festival, while continuing to embrace mainstream Bollywood cinema keeping in mind the predilections of the south Asian audience in multi-cultural Toronto, has proven to be a wonderful platform for Indian directors crafting films of a different timbre.
Let us cast our minds back to 2001. Twenty years ago, Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, the first Indian film to bag the coveted prize since Satyajit Ray’s Aparajito (The Unvanquished), the second part of the master’s iconic Apu trilogy. Monsoon Wedding also played in TIFF Galas, a line-up that was obviously locked way before the Venice awards were announced.
It was the year of Ashutosh Gowariker’s Oscar-nominated Lagaan, which, too, was part of the TIFF line-up in 2001 alongside Pan Nalin’s Samsara and cinematographer-director Santosh Sivan’s Asoka. Both Nalin and Sivan have had other films in the festival. Incidentally, Everybody Says I’m Fine, the first film directed by Mumbai actor Rahul Bose, also made the TIFF cut that year.
Nalin was back in the TIFF mix in 2013 with the Kumbh Mela documentary Faith Connections and in 2015 with the feminist drama Angry India Goddesses, which took home the TIFF People’s Choice First Runner-up Prize. Sivan, on his part, had two early Tamil-language directorial ventures – a suicide-bomber thriller The Terrorist (1998) and the children’s film Malli (1999) – in the festival programme.
Mira Nair’s first film, Salaam Bombay!, travelled to TIFF in 1988 after bagging the Camera d’Or at Cannes, where it premiered in Directors’ Fortnight. She was back at TIFF in 1996 with Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love. In 2006, one of her most-loved films, The Namesake, starring Irrfan Khan and Tabu, figured in TIFF. Last year, the festival showcased the BBC series A Suitable Boy, Nair’s adaptation of the Vikram Seth novel.
The films by Canadian-Indian filmmaker Deepa Mehta that constitute her acclaimed Elements trilogy – Fire (1996), Earth (1998) and Water (2005) – were all at TIFF. Needless to say, Mehta, who is based in Toronto and was also a member of TIFF’s Board of Directors for several years, has had many of her films, including Bollywood/Hollywood (2002), Heaven on Earth (2008), Midnight’s Children (2012) and Beeba Boys (2015), in the festival programme.
Nair and Mehta have led the way for a long line of Indian female directors who have had a sustained and fruitful relationship with TIFF. The festival programmed Shonali Bose’s directorial debut Amu in 2005. The filmmaker’s subsequent films – Margarita, With a Straw (2014), starring Kalki Koechlin, and The Sky is Pink (2019), headlined by Priyanka Chopra Jonas – made their world premieres at TIFF.
Actor Konkona Sen Sharma’s brilliant first film as a director – A Death in the Gunj – premiered at TIFF in 2016, while writer-director Bornila Chatterjee’s sophomore effort, The Hungry, a provocative and lively adaptation of the rarely filmed William Shakespeare play Titus Andronicus, bowed at the festival in 2017.
The year 2017 also saw Rima Das’ maiden directorial venture, Village Rockstars, being unveiled at TIFF. She was back in Toronto the very next year with Bulbul Can Sing and the year thereafter as part of the festival’s ‘Share Her Journey’ campaign aimed at seeking gender parity in the movie industry.
In the case of Ritu Sarin, who directs films with Tenzing Sonam, the gap between her first and second trips to TIFF was much longer. Sarin and Tenzing’s first film Dreaming Lhasa premiered in Toronto in 2005. They returned to the festival in 2018 with The Sweet Requiem.
Nandita Das’ second film, Manto, was also in TIFF in 2018 after it had world premiered in the Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard section, a decade after her directorial debut Firaaq was unveiled for a global audience at 2008 edition of TIFF.
In 2019, Gitanjali Rao’s animated feature Bombay Rose played at TIFF. It was the second animated Indian film to make it to the festival after Shilpa Ranade’s Goopy Gawaiya Bagha Bajaiya, also a first feature, in 2013.
Needless to say, numerous male directors from India have had their first or second films premiered at TIFF. Notable among them are Murali Nair, whose hour long feature Marana Simhasanam (Throne of Death) arrived at TIFF after winning the Cannes Camera d’Or in 1999, Shivajee Chandrabhushan’s Frozen, (2007), Dev Benegal’s Split Wide Open (1999), Aamir Bashir’s Kashmiri film Harud (Autumn, 2010) and Sidharth Srinivasan’s PaironTalle (Soul of Sand, 2010).
Goan filmmaker Laxmikant Shetgaonkar’s debut Paltadacho Munis (The Man Beyond the Bridge), a part of TIFF in 2009, won the FIPRESCI Discovery Award. No other Indian film has bagged the prize to date.
VasanBala’s debut film Peddlers (2012) screened at TIFF as part of the festival’s City to City programme. The film had premiered in May 2012 in Cannes Critics’ Week. The director returned to TIFF in 2018 with Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota (The Man Who Feels No Pain), the first Indian film to make it to TIFF’s Midnight Madness.
Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota went on to win won the Midnight Madness People’s Choice Award, beating high-profile contenders such as David Gordon Green’s Halloween and Sam Levinson’s Assassination Nation.
Vishal Bhardwaj’s second film as director Maqbool, a reimagining of Macbeth, played in TIFF Discovery, while a film that he scripted, Meghna Gulzar’s Talvar, travelled to the festival in 2015. Irrfan Khan, a principal member of the cast of Talvar, was in attendance at the film’s world premiere.
In 2013, Irrfan had two films in the TIFF official selection – Anup Singh’s Qissa – The Tale of a Lonely Ghost and Ritesh Batra’s Cannes Critics Week entry The Lunchbox.
No discussion about Indian films at TIFF can be complete without a mention of Anurag Kashyap, who has been a regular at the festival since That Girl in Yellow Boots with Kalki Koechlin in the lead, made it to Toronto in 2010. In fact, one of India’s TIFF entries this year, Paka: Throne of Blood, is presented by Kashyap.
In 2011, a film produced by Kashyap, Michael, directed by Ribhu Dasgupta and starring Naseeruddin Shah in the titular role of a retired policeman, travelled to TIFF. Kashyap has since travelled to TIFF with Mukkabaaz (The Brawler, 2017) and Manmarziyaan (2018).
In 2012, TIFF chose Mumbai as the focus of its City to City programme. Nine titles, including the two parts of Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur, made up the selection. The other films screened were Anand Gandhi’s Ship of Theseus, Ashim Ahluwalia’s Miss Lovely, Manjeet Singh’s Mumbai Cha Raja, Hansal Mehta’s Shahid, Mohit Takalkar’s The Bright Day, Dibakar Banerjee’s Shanghai, besides Peddlers.
Mani Ratnam’s Iruvar (1997) and KannathilMuthamittal (A Peck on the Cheek, 2002) screened in TIFF’s Masters section, which has showcased several other Indian filmmakers over the years (Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Girish Kasaravalli and Rituparno Ghosh). But the only film by a first-time Tamil director to ever premiere at TIFF is M. Manikandan’s KakaaMuttai (Crow’s Egg, 2014). The film was co-produced by Dhanush and Vetrimaaran.
Another Tamil entry, Suseenthiran’s third film, Azhagarsamiyin Kutharai (Azhagarsamy’s Horse), was at TIFF in 2o11. Significantly, until Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Jallikattu and Geethu Mohandas’s second feature Moothon (The Elder One) premiered in Toronto in 2019, Adoor was the only Malayali filmmaker to be featured at TIFF. NithinLukose is the fourth filmmaker from Kerala to make it into the TIFF league.
Genre: Drama Director: Sidhartha Siva Starring: Indrajith Sukumaran, Lena, Minon Streaming on SunNXT, MX Player
101 Chodyangal(101 Questions) provides a view of the world through the eyes of a young boy whose factory worker-father has lost his job. There is little around him to cheer him up, but the boy keeps using his imagination to make sense of the dismal environment.
High points: Profoundly moving story and remarkably restrained acting by the principal cast
Asha Jaoar Majhe (Bengali, 2014)
Genre: Drama Director: Aditya Vikram Sengupta Starring: Ritwick Chakraborty, Basabdatta Chatterjee Streaming on Amazon Prime
A remarkable debut film by Aditya VikramSengupta, Asha Jaoar Majhe (Labour of Love) is about a day in the life of a Calcutta couple struggling to make ends meet in the time of an economic recession. No words are exchanged between the two unnamed characters – they meet only once and fleetingly at that – but the film says a lot about the anomalies of urbanexistence.
High points: A beautifully crafted film that comes as close to pure cinema as any Indian film has done in years
Anhey Ghorey Da Daan (Punjabi, 2011)
Genre: Drama Director: Gurvinder Singh Starring: Samuel John, Kul Sidhu, Gurpreet Bhangu Streaming on Netflix
First-time director Gurvinder Singh’s experimental film, based on an acclaimed novel of the same name, is an intense evocation of life, or of what is left of it, in a poverty-stricken, socially oppressed village whose inhabitants have little to look forward to.
High points: It is as stark as it is lyrical, and is marked by an evolved cinematic idiom
Woven around street cricket rivalry in a Chennai locality, director Venkat Prabhu’s first film deals with the themes of friendship and teamwork in aunwaveringly realistic manner. The film’s surprise success catapulted a whole bunch of young actors and the director to stardom.
High points: The endearing quality of the characters and the utter believability of the story
Crossing Bridges (Sherdukpen, 2014)
Genre: Drama Director: Sange Dorjee Thondok Starring: Anshu Jamsenpa, Phuntsu Khrime Streaming on Amazon Prime
The first-ever film in Arunachal Pradesh’s Sherdukpen dialect, Crossing Bridges is about a man who returns to his village after losing his job in Mumbai. As he awaits news of new openings, the serene rhythms of his own culture force him to rethink his priorities.
High points: The first-time director imbues the languid ‘coming home’ drama with both warmth and urgency
An impoverished village widow, who has lost her husband and son in debt-related mishaps, is showered with big denomination currency notes by a vote-seeking politician. With the kind of liquidity that she has never seen, the woman sets out for the market. But life has other plans for her.
High points: Debutant director Shrihari Sathe’s subtle touches and lead actress Usha Naik’s empathy-inducing performance
Staring caste inequities in a part of rural Maharashtra in the face, Fandry is about a pig-catcher who falls in love with a girl he can never get. But in his youthful enthusiasm, he believes that he stands a chance. The film reflects aspects of the growing-up years of the writer-director Nagraj Manjule.
High points: Stark, hard-hitting and disturbing, the film presents an unflinching portrait of a benighted world that is rarely seen in Indian cinema.
Gabhricha Paus (Marathi, 2009)
Genre: Comedy, Drama Director: Satish Manwar Starring: Sonali Kulkarni, Girish Kulkarni, Jyoti Subhash, Veena Jamkar, Aman Attar Streaming on Disney+hotstar
Gabhricha Paus (The Damned Rain) is set in the drought-hit Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, where an impoverished peasant fights the odds stacked against him but without success. His wife does her best to keep his spirits up, but the situation on the ground militates against his quest for a good crop.
High points: Satish Manwar’s controlled direction and the pivotal performance by Girish Kulkarni
Harishchandrachi Factory (Marathi, 2009)
Genre: Biography, Comedy, Drama Director: Paresh Mokashi Starring: Nandu Madhav, Vibhavari Deshpande Streaming on Netflix
A highly engaging recreation of the circumstances in which Dadasaheb Phalke made Raja Harishchandra,whose release in 1913 officially marks the birth of Indian cinema. It is shot in a style that reflects the way films were made back in those days without any camera movements.
High points: Storytelling at its simplest and most effective. All credit to writer and director Paresh Mokashi
Harud (Urdu/Hindi, 2010)
Genre: Drama Director: Aamir Bashir Starring: Mohammad Amir Naji, Shahnawaz Bhat, Shamim Basharat Streaming on Netflix
Harud (Autumn), an impressive directorial debut by actor Aamir Bashir, is a disquieting tale about a Srinagar youngster grappling with the unexplained disappearance of his elder brother and the impact of the event on his aged parents. Contemplative and melancholic but hard-hitting.
High points: Its realistic, docu-drama feel puts the plight of common people in a conflict zone into sharp relief
Island City (Hindi, 2015)
Genre: Drama Director: Ruchika Oberoi Starring: Vinay Pathak, Tannishtha Chatterjee, Amruta Subhash Streaming on Disney+hotstar
Few Hindi films have captured urban alienation quite as brilliantly. Through an anthology of three separate but linked stories, the film delves into a fast evolving city where means of communication are multiplying but genuine emotions are difficult to articulate. The film is about Mumbai but could be valid for any modern megalopolis.
High points: Outstanding cinematography – each segment has a different texture; fine editing; and impressively calibrated performances
Kakkaa Muttai (Tamil, 2014)
Genre: Comedy, Drama Director: M Manikandan Starring: Vignesh, Ramesh, Aishwarya Rajesh, yogi babu Streaming on Disney+hotstar
In Kakkaa Muttai (Crow’s Egg), two young brothers lose their playground to a new pizza outlet. They now dream of having a bite of a pizza. But there’s a problem: a pizza costs more than what their family earns in a month. An outstanding directorial debut by cinematographer M Manikandan.
High points: Endearing central characters and trenchant social commentary couched in narrative simplicity
Director Dibakar Banerjee’s debut film is a family drama that lays bare the plight of a middle-class Delhi man whose plot of land is encroached upon by a powerful hustler. A small film with big impact, Khosla Ka Ghosla was a magnificent entertainment package.
High points: One of the finest, subtlest comedies made in Mumbai in a long, long time
Manorama Six Feet Under (Hindi, 2007)
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery Director: Navdeep Singh Starring: Abhay Deol, Raima Sen, Gul Panag Streaming on Shemaroome
Director Navdeep Singh’s debut is an engaging and startlingly effective probe into small-town Rajasthan where corruption and crime are rampant. An engineer and struggling novelist turns into an amateur investigator to wrap his head around a web of lies, deceit and murder.
High points: The film’s realistic texture is reinforced by strong, earthy dialogues and superb acting
Debutant director Neeraj Ghaywan, working with a screenplay by Varun Grover, captures the ancient city of Benaras torn between tradition and modernity. Realism and restraint mark the drama about four individuals who struggle to come to terms with pressures brought on by social and emotional upheavals.
High points: High quality acting;insightful study of small-town dynamics in a rapidly changing India
Peepli Live! (Hindi, 2010)
Genre: Satire, Comedy Director: Anusha Rizvi Starring: Omkar Das Manikpuri, Raghubir Yadav, Shalini Vatsa, Malaika Shenoy Streaming on Netflix
In a small village in Madhya Pradesh, a debt-ridden farmer is desperate to save his land and his family. Pushed into a corner, he decides to commit suicide. His announcement sparks off frenzied and wholly misplaced reactions from the media, the politicians and government officials.
High points: A scathing expose of India’s agrarian distress and the ham-handed official response to it
Phoring (Bengali, 2013)
Genre: Drama Director: Indranil Roychowdhury Starring: Akash Adhikari, Sohini Sarkar, Sourav Basak, Sankar Debnath, Senjuti Roy Mukherji Streaming on ZEE5
The protagonist of Phoring is a boy growing up in a remote, sleepy North Bengal town that has survived the closure of a factory. The film is a sharp and sensitive study of an unusual character. The protagonist hears voices in his head. An unconventional teacher begins to expose him to things unknown. One day, she vanishes…
High points: First-time director Indranil Roychowdhury’s self-assured storytelling and characterizations
Kumbalangi Nights (2019), Malayalam
Director: Madhu C. Narayanan Genre: Drama, Romance Starring: Soubin Shahir, Shane Nigam, Sreenath Bhasi Streaming on Amazon Prime
Madhu C. Narayanan’s Malayalam film Kumbalangi Nights, scripted by Syam Puskaran, is the home of four brothers who have no woman in their lives. The siblings are all flawed, scalded individuals until women enter their lives and make them see life and love in a different light.
High Points: The film is an examination of masculinity that turns the entire notion of patriarchy on its head.
The Lunchbox (English/Hindi, 2013)
Genre: Drama, Romance Director: Ritesh Batra Starring: Irrfan Khan, Nimrat Kaur, Nawazuddin Siddiqui Streaming on Netflix
Director Ritesh Batra’s maiden feature found takers virtually all around the world after it garnered unstinted encomiums at the Cannes Film Festival. This unusual love story of a lonely widower and a middle-class woman despairing for her husband’s attention is about Mumbai, food, urban alienation and starting over.
High points: Magnificent scripting, evocative portrayal of a city on the move, and a clutch of super performances
Thithi (Kannada, 2015)
Genre: Drama Director: Raam Reddy Starring: Thammegowda S Channegowda, Abhishek H N, Pooja S M Streaming on Netflix
Thithi is a wryly comic, sharply observant portrait of a small south Indian village where a centenarian dies, sparking off a scramble for his plot of land. In the running are the old man’s octogenarian son and his avaricious, good-for-nothing grandson. Pensive and evocative.
High points: A cast of amateur actors who seem to be playing themselves and striking directorial skills by debutant Raam Reddy
Titli (Hindi, 2015)
Genre: Action, Drama, Thriller Director: Kanu Behl Starring: Ranvir Shorey, Amit Sial, Shashank Arora, Lalit Behl, Shivani Raghuvanshi Streaming on Amazon Prime
Set in a Delhi in the grip of a ‘development’ frenzy, Titli is the story of a dysfunctional lower middle-class family grappling with inter-personal issues that frequently assume the form of brutal violence. The youngest of three siblings has an urge to escape this hellhole. But can he?
High points: Intelligent use of thriller elements to paint a precise socio-economic portrait of people on the fringes of a rapidly expanding megalopolis
Adaminte Makan Abu (Malayalam, 2011)
Genre: Drama Director: Salim Ahamed Starring: Salim Kumar Zarina Wahab Not available for streaming
Adaminte Makan Abu (Abu, Son of Adam) is about a poor perfume seller who has only one aspiration left in life – he wants to visit Mecca. He sets about putting together the resources he needs to make the trip but his mission is not as simple as it seems.
High points: Effortless storytelling;evocative cinematography (Madhu Ambat), a flawless screenplay and a pitch-perfect central performance (Salim Kumar)
Asthamayam Vare (Malayalam, 2014)
Genre: Drama, Suspense Director: Sajin Babu Starring: Prakruthi Dutta Mukheri, Shilpa Kavalam, Sanal Aman, Joseph Mapilacherry, Shakkir Not available for streaming
A debutant director pulls an unusual rabbit out of the hat – a Malayalam film without any background score and minimal dialogue. Two boys are arrested after the death of a choir singer in a seminary. What follows is a fragmented narrative that takes place in an unspecified time and location.
High points: Its abstract but evocative setting and the deep, resonant exploration of man’s relationship with nature
Court (Marathi/Gujarati/Hindi/English, 2014)
Genre: Legal drama Director: Chaitanya Tamhane Starring: Vira Sathidar,Vivek Gomber, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Pradeep Joshi, Usha Bane, Shirish Pawar Not available for streaming
First-time director Chaitanya Tamhane lays bare the ways of the Indian legal system, mirrored in the hapless plight of a folk poet charged with abetting the suicide of a municipal gutter cleaner. Court makes its point with great force and precision without resorting to conventional dramatic devices.
High points: Sure-handed direction, a fine script and convincing characters
Frozen (Hindi, 2007)
Genre: Drama Director: Shivajee Chandrabhushan Starring: Danny Denzongpa, Gauri, Rajendranath Zutshi, Aamir Bashir Not available for streaming
Shivajee Chandrabhushan’s Frozen is an austerely shot black-and-white film set in Ladakh. A sprightly teenage girl lives with her father, an apricot jam-maker, and her kid brother in a remote Himalayan village. Their life is disrupted when the army moves in and sets up camp yards from their home, bringing conflict within sniffing distance.
High points: Low-key, naturalistic filmmaking is backed by aptly restrained acting.
Ma’ama (Moan) (2018), Garo
Director: Dominic Sangma Genre: Drama Starring: Phillip Sangma, Brilliant Marak, Hailin Sangma Not available for streaming
Dominic Sangma, who makes films in the Garo language, is a 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. 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.
High Points: The director’s uncompromising vision lends the film a meditative quality.
Ozhivudivasathe Kali (Malayalam, 2015)
Genre: Drama Director: Sanal Kumar Sasidharan Starring: Nistar Ahamed, Arun Nayar, Pradeep Kumar, Baiju Netto, Reju Pillai, Abhija Sivakala Not available for streaming
A fluidly constructed cautionary tale with a shocking finale, Ozhivudivasthe Kali (An Off-Day Game) peels off the veneer of bonhomie that five friends on a day off in the country project. As the day progresses, they begin to reveal their true colours – they aren’t edifying at all.
High points: With minimum fuss, the director paints a dark, disturbing portrait of caste and class divides in Kerala
Natarang (Marathi, 2010)
Genre: Drama Director: Ravi Jadhav Starring: Starring, Atul Kulkarni, Sonalee Kulkarni, Kishor Kadam, Vibhavari Deshpande, Priya Berde Not available for streaming
Ravi Jadhav’s directorial debut Natarang, set in the world of Maharashtra’s folk theatre, is the story of a working class man who sets up a theatre. Destiny forces him to defy his own masculinity and society’s expectations to don the role of an effeminate character on the stage.
High points: Flawless adaptation of a successful novel and outstanding performances by Atul Kulkarni and Kishor Kadam
Ship of Theseus (Hindi/English, 2013)
Genre: Drama Director: Anand Gandhi Starring: Aida Al-Khashef, Neeraj Kabi, Sohum Shah Not available for streaming
Among the most strikingly original films to come out of India in years, Ship of Theseus tells three interlinked stories about a visually impaired photographer, a terminally ill monk, and a pushy stockbroker. The film questions notions of identity, belief systems and ways of seeing.
High points: Seamless blend of disparate plot elements, outstanding direction and fine performances
He became an actor by chance, but he would have never thought, that he would rule so many hearts with his acting talent. Irrfan Khan, who breathed his last at Mumbai’s Kokilaben Hospital on Wednesday morning as he succumbed to a colon infection, has left a deep void that can never be filled, in the industry. A National Award winner and Padma Shri holder, Irrfan proved his acting mettle not just in Hindi but International cinema too.
Not many know but Irrfan hails from a royal family. His father was late Jagirdar Khan from village Khajuria and his mother late Begum Khan belonged to the Tonk Hakim family.
In his last interview, Irrfan shared how he wanted to live for his family and sons. “I lived this time for my loved ones. The best part of it was that I spent a lot of time with my sons. I saw him growing up. This is a very important time for Teenage. Just like I have a younger son, the elder one is no longer teenage,” said Irrfan.
Talking about his wife, he added, “What can I say about her? She stood for me 24 hours seven days. She took care of me and helped me a lot. If I get a chance to live, I would like to live for her.”
Irrfan, who had been battling the cancer for last few years, in one of films said, “I suppose in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go.” While it is hard for all of his fans to accept that the man with such great craft is no more with us, here are few examples of his excellent work that will always keep him alive in our hearts.
Angrezi Medium (2020)
The film marks the return of Irrfan after he completed his treatment for cancer in the US was released in March this year. However, it had to go off cinemas due to COVID-19 spread. The movie where Irrfan played the role of a dotted father who dreams of fulfilling his daughter’s wishes was then released on Disney+Hotstar. Irrfan won hearts yet again with his acting prowess and the film will always remain close to our hearts as the actor’s last film before he bid goodbye to this world.
Hindi Medium (2017)
The Prequel to Angrezi Medium, the film was another feather to Irrfan’s cap who showed his coming timing this time. The film was a box office success and was loved for the script, direction and Irrfan’s acting. It was this film, after which the actor had to travel to the US as he discovered he was suffering from cancer.
Irrfan Khan, who had made a name in the international cinema too with his work, starred in this big budget American action mystery thriller, where he acted opposite biggies like Tom Hanks, Ben Foster, Omar Sy and more. He played a crucial part in the film that was a sequel to 2006 The Da Vinci Code.
Piku will always be remembered as one of the best film’s of Irrfan’s career where he played an impatient yet resourceful businessman who takes charge of dropping a daughter-father duo, who is obsessed with his bowel movement, to Kolkata from Delhi, by road. The film that traces the road journey was filled with numerous emotional and light-hearted moments that it made audience teary-eyed and joyful at the same time.
Haider, directed by Vishal Bhardwaj, saw Irrfan playing a key role, as he essayed the role of Roohdaar, who reminded Shahid Kapoor’s titular character to avenge the death of his father. Despite Shahid, Tabu and Shraddha Kapoor in the star cast, Irrfan got some of the best lines in the film and made a mark in the film.
The Lunchbox (2013)
Written and directed by Ritesh Batra, the film is one of Irrfan’s highest grossing films. The film that also starred Nimrat Kaur told the story of how lonely people can be in metros.The film was screened at International Critics’ Week at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, and later won the Critics Week Viewers Choice Award also known as Grand Rail d’Or. It was shown at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival. The Lunchbox was nominated for the Best Film Not in the English Language category of the British Academy Film Awards 2015.
Paan Singh Tomar (2012)
The Tigmanshu Dhulia film bagged Irrfan the national award for best actor category. Playing the role of a dacoit, Irrfan proved to his fans and critics his acting mettle yet again. The actor did full justice as he played a dedicated and passionate athlete turning into an angry man who feels betrayed by the system as well as society.
Life of Pi (2012)
The adventure drama based on Yann Martel’s 2001 novel of the same name, was directed by Ang Lee and saw Irrfan playing the key role of Pi (adult part). The film had its worldwide premiere as the opening film of the 51st New York Film Festival. It was nominated for three Golden Globe Awards which included the Best Picture – Drama and the Best Director and won the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score. At the 85th Academy Awards it had eleven nominations, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, and won four (the most for the show) including Best Director for Ang Lee.
Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
The Academy Award winning film saw Irrfan playing the role of a police inspector, a key character in the film’s storyline. It was nominated for ten Academy Awards in 2009 and won eight—the most for any 2008 film—including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It won seven BAFTA Awards including Best Film, five Critics’ Choice Awards and four Golden Globes.After its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival, it was later screened at the Toronto International Film Festival and the London Film Festival.
It was rare when actors made the audience fall in love with him playing a devlish character. But, Irrfan did so with this Vishal Bhardwaj film where he played the titular role of Miyan Maqbool, styled on Shakespeare’s Macbeth.The film was premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and was also screened at the Cannes Film Festival 2004.
The greatest strength of the Film Bazaar, now in its 13th edition, is that it serves as a platform where there is a constant churning of ideas happening, which serves as a booster dose for filmmakers to grasp the nitty-gritty of an evolving world cinema and develop synergies through free exchange of ideas By Saibal Chatterjee
In a globalised world, the value of socio-cultural rootedness is of utmost importance. But nowhere more so than in cinema, where market forces tend to impose saleable and proven templates on individual stories and styles. Nothing could be more counter-productive. Film funds and script labs must necessarily guard against straitjacketing of the medium so that fresh voices bursting through the system and keen to be heard above the din are not forced to fall in line and follow established practice.
THE FILM BAZAAR IS NUMERICALLY DOMINATED BY YOUNGER FILMMAKERS, A LARGE PERCENTAGE OF THEM BEING FIRST TIMERS
As an incubator of new film projects in India and the rest of the subcontinent, the NFDC Film Bazaar, now in its 13th year, has rendered yeoman service by engendering an eco-system that allows originality to thrive while not losing sight of tried and tested ground rules that have proven beneficial.
It isn’t surprising, therefore, that many of the subcontinent’s most applauded and well-travelled contemporary films have taken shape – and wings – on this platform that has made mentoring and networking facilities available to them. Think Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox, Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court, Paobam Paban Kumar’s Loktak Lairem bee and Ashim Ahluwalia’s Miss Lovely and you cannot help but recognise the assistance that these acclaimed Indian films have received at the Film Bazaar where buyers, sellers, festival programmers and producers converge in search of the next lot of support-worthy films.
It isn’t unusual for veteran screenwriters and directors (such as Govind Nihalani and Kamal Swaroop) to turn up in this dynamic marketplace with the intention of exploring co-production possibilities, the Bazaar is numerically dominated by younger filmmakers, a large percentage of them being first-timers.
Film Bazaar is held on the sidelines of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), but it is a hub of activity so intense that it often overshadows the main event. The greatest strength of the Bazaar is the youthful energy that propels it and the range and depth of international participation that the annual event commands. The result is a space where a free exchange of ideas and synergies take place and yields salutary results.
Filmmakers from across the subcontinent have benefitted immensely from the time and energy they have spent in Goa in reaching out to the world and pushing their ideas, films and screenplays. A majority of Indian films that have played in the leading international festivals – The Lunchbox, Miss Lovely, Titli, Chauthi Koot, Thithi, Killa and Ship of Theseus, to name only a few – have participated in Film Bazaar at crucial stages of their development.
Assamese director Bhaskar Hazarika’s Aamis (Ravening), which coincidentally will go into theatrical distribution across the country on the third day of the 50th edition of IFFI, was part of the Film Bazaar’s Co-Production Market in 2017. It returned to the Viewing Room – Film Bazaar Recommends in 2018 and went on to screen in the Tribeca Film Festival in 2019.
Geetu Mohandas’ Moothon (The Elder One), which had its world premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in September, opened in Indian multiplexes in the second week of November. The film had started its journey in Film Bazaar’s Co-Production Market in 2016 (the title back then was Insha’allah).
Moothon was in the Work-in-Progress (WIP) Lab the very next year alongside several other Indian films that got picked by international festivals – Ere Gowda’s Balekempa, Dominic Sangma’s Garo-language Ma’Ama and Ivan Ayr’s Soni.
Mohandas, an actress-turned-filmmaker also owes the rise of her debut film, Liar’s Dice, to Film Bazaar. The film was in the Co-Production Market in 2011. It premiered in the MAMI Mumbai Film Festival in 2013 before being screened in the Sundance Film Festival and 2014. Liar’s Dice was India’s official nomination that year for the Best Foreign Language film Oscar.
Besides a host of films that have come out of the country’s many filmmaking centres, projects conceived and developed in Mumbai have enjoyed a lion’s share of the spoils in Film Bazaar.
THE LUNCHBOX WAS CONCEIVED AND DEVELOPED AT THE FILM BAZAAR. AFTER ITS WORLD PREMIERE IN CANNES CRITICS’ WEEK IN 2013, IT TRAVELLED TO TIFF AND KARLOVY VARY. THE LUNCHBOX WAS DISTRIBUTED IN MORE 50 COUNTRIES – A RECORD FOR AN INDEPENDENT INDIAN FILM
The most notable among them is The Lunchbox. After its world premiere in Cannes Critics’ Week in 2013, it travelled to TIFF and Karlovy Vary. The Lunchbox was distributed in more 50 countries – a record for an independent Indian film.
Ashim Ahluwalia’s Miss Lovely, set in Mumbai’s sexploitation movie industry of the 1980s, was part of the Film Bazaar Works-in-Progress lab in 2011, premiered in Cannes Un Certain Regard in 2012. The film won the Golden Gateway Award of the Mumbai Film Festival and was also in the official selection of TIFF and the International Film Festival of Rotterdam (IFFR).
ASHIM AHLUWALIA’S MISS LOVELY (FILM BAZAAR WORK IN PROGRESS, PREMIERED IN CANNES UN CERTAIN REGARD) DID NOT, HOWEVER, MAKE IT TO THE INDIAN PANORAMA – A SIGN OF THE GROWING DISCONNECTION BETWEEN THE GLOBAL APPETITE FOR CINEMA THAT BREAKS THE RULES AND THE DOMESTIC TENDENCY TO STILL JUDGE CINEMA BY CONVENTIONAL YARDSTICKS
Miss Lovely did not, however, make it to the Indian Panorama – a sign of the growing disconnection between the global appetite for cinema that breaks the rules and the domestic tendency to still judge cinema by conventional yardsticks. The constant churn of ideas that takes place in the Film Bazaar is a huge advantage for filmmakers who pass through the process – they are aided in the process of grasping the directions of world cinema and acknowledging and the need to eschew old habits.
Interestingly, the Film Bazaar has over the past decade and a bit mentored films that have subsequently taken on commercial trappings and gone on a different tangent. Sharat Katariya’s Dum Laga Ke Haisha, starring Ayushmann Khurrana and Bhumi Pednekar, which came to Goa as a work in progress, went mainstream with Yash Raj Films throwing its weight behind the film.
Films such as Shanghai and Nil Battey Sannat, among others, have found similar theatrical outlets. In the case of Alankrita Shrivastava’s Lipstick Under My Burkha, Prakash Jha Productions was involved from the very outset. It was part of Film Bazaar’s WIP Lab in 2015. Completed in 2016 and released in 2017 after a protracted run-in with the censors, the film earned critical accolades and substantial commercial success.
Gitanjali Rao’s animation film Bombay Rose has had the longest gestation of all the titles that have emerged from the Film Bazaar. It was in the Screenwriters’ Lab in 2015, Co-Production Market in 2016 and the WIP Lab in 2017. In 2019, it premiered at the 76th Venice Film Festival and then travelled to TIFF, Busan International Film Festival and BFI London Film Festival. It now scheduled to screen in the Doha Film Institute’s Ajyal Film Festival and Marrakesh International Film Festival.
BOMBAY ROSE HAS HAD THE LONGEST GESTATION OF ALL THE TITLES THAT HAVE EMERGED FROM THE FILM BAZAAR. IT WAS IN THE SCREENWRITERS’ LAB IN 2015, CO-PRODUCTION MARKET IN 2016 AND THE WIP LAB IN 2017. IN 2019, IT PREMIERED AT THE 76TH VENICE FILM FESTIVAL AND THEN TRAVELLED TO TIFF, BUSAN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL AND BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL
Not every film that participates in the Film Bazaar soars into the stratosphere. In fact, a chunk of the entries that have been listed on the Viewing Room roster run into dead-ends. But that does not diminish the significance of the exercise. Over the last decade, almost every film that is regarded as fine specimen of Indian indie cinema – among them Nagraj Manjule’s Fandry, Rahi Anil Barve’s Tumbbad, Kanu Behl’s Titli, Shanker Raman’s Gurgaon,Pushpendra Singh’s Ashwatthama, Amit V. Masurkar’s Newton, Devashish Makhija’sBhonsle, Dipesh Jain’s In the Shadows and Ridham Janve’s The Gold-Laden Sheep & the Sacred Mountain – is a Film Bazaar product. The event helps these filmmakers not only to evolve into outstanding films but also to find a place on the radar of the spotters that are sent out by major festivals.
Two films from the 2018 Film Bazaar, Prateek Vats’ Eeb Allay Ooo! and Kislay’s Aise Hee, are proving to highly popular on the festival circuit. Eeb Allay Ooo! has won the Mumbai Film Festival’s Golden Gateway Award and premiered at the Pingyao International Film Festival. Aise Hee bowed in Busan and, like Eeb Allay Ooo!, was in the India Gold section of the Mumbai Film Festival.
THE GREATEST STRENGTH OF THE BAZAAR IS THE YOUTHFUL ENERGY THAT PROPELS IT AND THE RANGE AND DEPTH OF INTERNATIONAL PARTICIPATION THAT THE ANNUAL EVENT COMMANDS
In a nation that produces more films than any other in the world, Film Bazaar has created a climate in which young filmmakers can dare to attempt transcending geographical boundaries. The Mumbai movie industry in particular is notoriously insular and cannot see beyond box office collections. But filmmakers working outside the pale of the mainstream are compelled to think of the wider world – the Film Bazaar fulfils that needed admirably, helping independent filmmakers engage with the world on an equal footing.
One of the biggest contributions of the Film Bazaar is manifested in the support it has extended to filmmakers from other countries of the subcontinent. Bangladesh’s Mostafa Sarwar Farooki, Rubaiyat Hossain and Golam Rabbany Biplob, Sri Lanka’s Prasanna Vithanage and Prasanna Jayakody, Pakistan’s Mehreen Jabbar and Sabiha Sumar, Nepal’s Deepak Rauniyar, Bhutan’s Khyentse Norbu and Afghanistan’s Siddiq Barmak have been part of the Film Bazaar over the years.
No wonder, for indie filmmakers in this part of the world, all roads lead to Goa come November.
In ‘50 Films That Changed Bollywood, 1995– 2015’, Shubhra Gupta throws light on movies that redefined things in Hindi cinema. From DDLJ and Rangeela to Satya and Dev D to Queen and Bajrangi Bhaijaan, she offers a fascinating glimpse into how these films spoke to their viewers and how the viewers reacted to them. Shubhra Gupta, as film critic with The Indian Express, has been reviewing movies for more than two decades. She is witness to many changes in the industry and experienced the transition first-hand
Every week you have been religiously watching two to three new Hindi movies for over two decades. How tough is to reduce list to “50 Films That Changed Bollywood”?
It seemed like a near impossible task when I sat down to it, because I’ve lost count of the number of films I’ve watched over these decades.
To prune thousands of films over twenty years wasn’t so hard because obviously there is much more dross as compared to the gold.
To get it down from 100 to 50 was extremely difficult, because there were many worthy films which we could have included if the number was doubled.
But I had to stick to the mandated number, sigh.
The add on ‘Game Changer’ section in your book after every review is commendable and has effectively captured the mind of the filmmaker as well as the viewers. What makes a film into the game changer listing?
When a film becomes so influential that its impact is felt over the years, or is instrumental in changing the narrative of not just future movies, but the film industry (after DDLJ, for example, it was impossible to make romances any other way), it becomes iconic. Or it could be a film which catches the zeitgeist just by virtue of coming out at the time it did, perfectly reflecting its times.
Those are the films which I’ve chosen : They are all game changers in their own way.
Bollywood is viewed in various shades across the world and it has become a phenomenon. Bollywood is not Indian cinema — What is Bollywood to you?
Post 1995, Hindi cinema morphed into the creature that is Bollywood today, reaching out not just to those who live in the country and its faithful fans, but to movie-goers around the world.
These movies made primarily in Mumbai ( formerly Bombay) speak to many more people globally. Some of them have broken out of the strictly NRI ( non-resident Indians) audiences which used to be their target : with the success of a film like `The Lunchbox’, for example, the idea of Bollywood has taken a giant global leap– that it is not only song-and-danceand- drama, that it can tell universal tales with economy.
As a passionate film reviewer how do you view yourselves… as a fan of Bollywood or a critic?
I think someone who has been a film critic for a reasonable length of time– and I have done this for over twenty years consistently without a break– has to really love what they do. I’m not sure if I’d call myself a fan, because that word connotes a non-critical view. I try and watch as many films as I possibly can, and appreciate all good cinema, whether it is Bollywood, Hollywood or from any other part of the world.
The difference is, Bollywood is mine!
In the changing face of Bollywood, which period saw rapid changes (1995-2005 or 2005 to 2015)?
I think the last twenty years have seen rapid changes through the country, some of which have been reflected in meaningful mainstream Bollywood cinema. Sometimes we can understand change better if it is shown through the prism of popular culture, and certainly cinema is a great tool in this respect.
The changes have been even more fast-paced in the last five years, with story-telling, styles, and treatment shifting according to audience preference.
And this is a young, impatient audience, with so many demands on their time and attention. If you don’t grab them fast, they are gone.And they stay gone.
Bollywood, like all other art forms, is trying to stay relevant to this growing younger audience across India and the world.
Your list ends in 2015. What would have been your pick (or picks) for 2016?
I have mentioned several movies that came out in 2016 through the course of the book, because the book came out almost at the end of last year . I’ll let them come as a surprise for readers!
Why do film critics appreciate artistic films more than mainstream commercial films? This is common across the world?
Hmm, I’m not sure if that can be an acrossthe- board assessment of what film critics do. As ‘critics’ we are geared to watch and appreciate all kinds of cinema, and we train ourselves to do much of the heavy-lifting a really ‘different’ film demands, which will not serve you its wares in easy-to-digest morsels.
But that’s not to say that I, and I can only talk of myself here, do not enjoy a full-on, full-blown mainstream movie. All I want is that it should be well made, and should talk to me.
I like any film which connects with me, whether it is mainstream or arthouse.
You have not only been reviewing for over two decades, but managed to review continuously for Indian Express? How enjoyable is reviewing?
I love it. Wouldn’t swap lives with anyone. It’s challenging, frustrating, and at the same time, very rewarding!
50 Films That Changed Bollywood, 1995–2015
Dilwale Dulahania Le Jayange
Kuch Kuch Hota Hai
Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai
Gadar; Ek Prem Katha
Munna Bhai M.B.B.S
Bunty Aur Babli
Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi
My Brother,,, Nikhil
Golmaal: Fun Unlimited
Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna
Khosla Ka Ghosla
Rang De Basanti
Chak De! India
Jab We Met
Om Shanti Om
Band Baaja Baaraat
Love, Sex Aur Dhokha
Gangs of Wasseypur
Dum Laga Ke Haisha
FROM THE PUBLISHER :WHAT IS IT ABOUT?
The book provides a snapshot of the way Hindi cinema has progressed in the last 20 years, the years when Hindi cinema actually became Bollywood. It was necessary to document that progress as these two decades have wrought the kind of social, political, economic changes in the country not seen probably in the previous 50. And who better to document that than Shubhra Gupta, arguably India’s best film critic and journalist. The original reviews provide context and also a lookback at Shubhra’s take on a film at the time. And through the game changer section, we get a view of the connects between the films that make them symbolic of the journey Bollywood has made. The book is an important document of contemporary Hindi cinema, which has influenced and been influenced by social/economic changes during the period.