In celebrating a century of Indian film, DIFF moved beyond popular Bollywood stories and images.
Indian cinema from every angle at DIFF
In celebrating a century of Indian film, DIFF moved beyond popular -Bollywood stories and images, says Malavika Vettath
The Dubai International Film Festival (DIFF) celebrated 100 years of Indian cinema last week, allowing audiences to savour the country’s unique flavours and rich culture with screenings of independent films and a panel discussion about a so-called “new wave” of filmmakers in the country – and Bollywood was conspicuously missing.
The celebration kicked off with Joy Mathew’s debut Malayalam film Shutter, which revolves around a Gulf expatriate, a filmmaker and an auto driver in Calicut, Kerala.
In the story Mathew, who came to Dubai as a migrant worker years ago, highlights the negative image Kerala society has of Malayali expatriates working in the Gulf, even though they sustain the state’s economy. The film stars the veteran actors Lal and Sreenivasan.
Next up was Kaushik Ganguly’s Bengali film Shobdo (Sound), about a foley artist whose life becomes intertwined with the sounds he produces for films.
Whether it is the first sequence that shows how sound effects change a film or the scene in which the protagonist surrenders himself to the roar of a waterfall, Shobdo will change the way you see films or listen to everyday sounds.
“This movie celebrates the unsung technicians of the film industry,” Ganguly said.
Also celebrated at DIFF was last year’s 150th anniversary of the -Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore’s birth with the eminent Indian filmmaker Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Quartet 1, which showcased four sections of his 13-part film Trayodashi. Dasgupta beautifully explores Tagore’s work with abstract, fragmented scenes.
“Since there is no narrative, I have taken my own flight but [remained] faithful to Tagore poems,” Dasgupta said of his work.
The festival also assembled glimpses of new wave Indian cinema, a phenomenon whose existence is still a matter of debate. Among the examples was Ashim Ahluwalia’s bold Miss Lovely, set in Mumbai’s C-grade film industry of the mid-1980s. The sordid tale of betrayal featuring two brothers who produce sex horror films attracted much attention at the Cannes and Toronto film festivals for its lurid art direction and gut-wrenching melodrama.
And Ahluwalia was the first to deny a “new wave”. “There was always independent work in India, only now film festivals are discovering it. There is a lot of non--Bollywood coming out but lumping it together discourages the individuality of filmmakers,” he said at a panel discussion titled New Indian Film -Realities.
Raj Kumar Yadav, the lead actor in Hansal Mehta’s Shahid, which was also screened during the celebration, seemed to agree: “I feel there are more people taking actors like me and not running after stars,” he said when asked about the new wave.
Shahid is based on the true story of the slain criminal lawyer Shahid Azmi, tracing his attempts to become a terrorist to his wrongful imprisonment and his work as a human-rights activist.
Among documentaries screened during the celebration was -Gulabi Gang from the director Nishtha Jain. The disturbing yet heartening film follows the pink-sari-clad vigilante women of India’s northern Uttar Pradesh who travel long distances protecting women against social malpractice, corrupt administrators and abusive husbands.
The award-winning director Sourav Sarangi’s Char tells the -story of two children who take rice to Bangladesh from India by crossing the river that acts as the countries’ border. The river also erodes their home and they settle in Char, an island formed within.
At the panel discussion, Sarangi said India has a variety of subjects to offer documentary filmmakers but noted the lack of “infrastructural support”.
An endearing film not to be left out was Rajan Khosa’s Gattu, for which busloads of schoolchildren streamed into DIFF. A festival -favourite, it tells the story of the colourful world of kite flying and the indomitable spirit of a little boy.
Lush images of Kashmir’s beautiful Dal Lake lit up the screen in Musa Saeed’s Valley of Saints, while Anand Gandhi’s Ship of Theseus explored questions of identity, beauty and death in a story that follows the lives of an ailing monk, a stockbroker and a photographer.
While Bollywood was missing, the fading of the romantic superstar in Hindi films was debated. “Big stars like Aamir Khan, too, increasingly want to do independent films,” said Ahluwalia.
Dorothee Wenner, DIFF’s programme consultant for the subcontinent films, said the large Malayali and Bengali expatriate populations were among the reasons for choosing the Indian film panorama, though they would have loved to have the Tamil superstar Rajinikanth in Dubai for his birthday last Wednesday.