The MAMI and Diwali season has just blown over (apologise for the lateness of the article, one can understand how swept away we can get during the season) and the season of Film Festivals will continue till the end of the year in India. MAMI like every year showcases the work of the regular directors, the newbies, the shorts, the internationals with a dose of panel discussions. So how did this year fare?
Firstly, it was evident that the industry has recently been blown over with the #metoo movement in with a lot prominent names from the industry being named and shamed. Due to the movement, quite possibly many not wanting to be questioned about their colleagues or make a statement which can be taken in the wrong context, many industry people stayed away this year.
Many mentioned that was a ‘quiet’ MAMI this year with not very many arrivals and the occurring cancellations from the industry people, the movement certainly had made a difference. Panel Discussions were held as usual, with one consistent topic, take a guess – #metoo. The entire schedule was covered with discussions of the #metoo movement with the power women in the industry such as Kiran Rao, Anupama Chopra, Swara Bhaskar etc. Only one gentleman made it present – Kabir Khan, which was maturely and respectfully handled.
The movement even began to find space in a big majority of the Q & A discussions of almost every film even if your film had nothing to do with the movement. If your casting director by chance was a Mukesh Chhabra, you were by certain going to get the question bullet. Quite obviously, the question was dodged by the director, producer, team etc in the Q & A as you would expect. I mean, come on delegates, were you expecting a clear cut answer?
A good thing that did take place in India was the dismissal of Section 377 which pleased very many filmmakers of the LGBTQ community. Very many films in the selection this year gave the platform to the filmmakers and who can openly expose their creativity a little more openly this year around. Many films had brought the issues a little more upfront to be broadened for discussion.
There was also a tribute to actors Shashi Kapoor and Sridevi who had recently parted us in the past year. Shyam Benegal’s films were also digitally restored and showcased for the first time at this year’s event.
How about the audience? Well the audience rejoiced. The price dropped to Rs.500 marking the cheapest yet it’s been in years, which of course lead to almost, every show having 70% plus occupancy. Rejoiced the audience, and the filmmakers will rejoice at a housefull auditorium.
So how was for it for myself? Sadly due to the scheduling conflicts, I could not see all the films from my last article, nevertheless. Attempting to keep it to the Indian region, there were a lot interesting films out this year and wow, some which have blown my mind. So below is my little insight and a small little review of each film I saw at this year Mumbai festival.
Devashish Makhija (of Ajji fame) returns to MAMI this year with his yet another dark venture about a recent retired police constable (played by Manoj Bajpayee) who begins to witness the growth of problems is his chawl between the Maharashtrians and Biharis during the festival of Ganpati. Leading him to make a decision of dealing with the problem either with or without an uniform. Bhonsle represents the honourable and thankless constables of Mumbai who acknowledge and cleanse the lanes and corners of the city.
Makhija, quite honestly has made a very thoughtful yet dusky tale which is shot incredibly well portraying the dangers of claustrophobic areas of suburban Mumbai. Manoj Bajpayee, with hardly any dialogues aces as the 60 year old tired yet loyal to the force broken old man. The film rides high on a superbly thought provoking driven narrative with an extensive tight canvas behind a dark light silent Bhonsle.
Verdict: Makhija’s sober attempt at the handicaps and accuracy of the lone common man in a large city with grave-digged voice. Don’t expect an Ajji, because it goes beyond that.
An Essay of the Rain (Short – Marathi)
Based in a small Maharashtrian Village, a school boy and his sister are told to write an essay on rain – not knowing that their day will lead to a saga itself when their drunk father and helpless mother lose an entire day battling with the severe weather conditions in the village, leading for the child maturing and becoming the adult of the family.
Nagraj Popatrao Manjule of Sairat fame, returns with this grounded yet sweet short film about the conditions of rain and its effect on the less fortunate, mentally and physically. The short holds the attention throughout, mixing emotions of helpless, destruction and a slight comic release. Something to keep out for sure.
Verdict: A nice, short sweet story of the forces of nature and its consequences with circumstances of poverty.
Ashleel Udhyog Mitra Mandal (Marathi)
During the growing years of a teenager and peak of his puberty, a boy goes through a lot physical changes, attempting to explore experiences and the mind begins to ask questions through the overdrive of his hormones. Ashleel… is film that tries to speak about the division of natural changes and vulgarity. The film’s protagonist speaks to his complexities through an imaginary ‘Savita Bhabhi’ (played by Sai Tamhankar).
Director Alok Rajwade making his debut certainly had a lot of ‘Kashyapism’ influence in his film, the film begins with an innovative idea certainly dealing with a tricky subject but sadly the film loses its track in the second half where it seems that the director has lost track on what he had begun with. The second half tries to lead to the standard commercial viable cinema that it didn’t start out to be.
Verdict: Weak. Possibly the weakest film I saw in the entire festival. A promising venture that eventually falls flat on its face. (P.S this is was the only Q & A I had walked out of!)
Jaao Kahan Bata Aa Dil (Hindi) (Winner: Young Critics Choice Award)
A story of a couple roaming around the streets of Mumbai on a Saturday after finishing work, starting from Marine Drive their journey begins travelling the city but also taking a turn in their relationship. The couple discuss their future, politics, the country, Hindi Cinema, sex and the concept of marriage. Eventually leading their relationship turning a little soar and puts them in a situation that changes their lives forever.
Two actors, a Steadicam, one sound recordist and a director calling the shots. This is all what went behind the film and proves, director Aadish Keluskar told such a simple story in such a phenomenal manner with each scene becoming 15-20 minutes long without an cuts. Keluskar uses the unpretentious daily conversation as the crux of the film simultaneously playing with around with the emotions of the audience like a Rubik’s cube, questioning such issues as hope, faith and the concept of monogamy.
Verdict: A revolution. Possibly one of the best films to come out India in recent years with such an impact through the subconscious, playing with minds physiological on a small scale. The film proves we have some damn great talents in India yet to explore. (P.S people who live or come from Mumbai will definitely connect with the film on larger scale)
Mehsampur (Punjabi/Hindi) (Winner: Grand Jury Prize)
Punjabi folk singer Amar Singh Chamkila, who was attempted to be silenced for years because of controversial lyrics was assassinated in 1988. For years in Punjab, as apart of the culture people do not include him in their conversations or play his music. Mehsampur (film is named after the village he was assassinated in) is about a filmmaker’s struggle to make his independent documentary on Chamkila but then a big film crew arrives in the area to make a commercial biopic on the singer, leading to the filmmaker’s attempts to get violent and forceful.
The idea of a film being a film in a film is what draws the attention to the film dark voyage, panelling lines between fiction and non-fiction, good and bad. Mehsampur shows the dark underbelly of Punjab in a realm of it being in the past, present or even a possible future. Kabir Singh Chaudhary’s efforts of building an aura around the singer which sounds almost non-existent, has not even opened chapters to the singer’s life yet leading chapters of a possible doom for the future of the unemployed of the state.
Verdict: Do not expect a bio pic, documentary, exploration on the singer because it’s neither of these. In fact, one cannot say what Mehsampur actually is…? But beauty of the film lies in its Avant-garde film making style. A complete new game changer and possibly the most original concepts coming from India.
Bulbul Can Sing (Assamese) (Winner: Golden Gateway Award)
About a teenage Bulbul (meaning Nightingale) and her two friends, Bonnie and Sumu, growing up in rural Assam in which about them discovering their sexual identity at the age of 15. The film tells the journey of these three on the edge of innocence and growing up to face the harsh realities of the big wide world. Before they find inner-peace, tragedy strikes leading to the lives of three never being the same again.
Rima Das, the one woman army, who leads almost every department single handed, makes an innocent portrayal of innocent lives despite her technical imperfections which add to the beauty of the film, she succeeds in delivering a tale of purity being lost in a harsh world.
Verdict: Do not expect a Village Rockstars but certainly does deserve the one time watch without the baggage.
The LGBTQ Movement
Exploring the life and tussles of a tribal transgender, Udalazham tells the story of Raju who was born and brought up in Theekkadi tribal settlement located deep inside the Nilambur valley forests. A member of Aranadan aborigine community, Raju’s life was a constant battle against humiliation and abuse by a parochial racist society.
The film is an extreme in-your face of the severe conditions a transgender has in the tribal areas of India and the escape to a ‘non-existent’ place of respect and love. The film also deals with issues such as adultery, racism and oppression of the lower caste.
Verdict: A sincere attempt, by a new-age film making team of discovering an unknown area of India and dark reality.
A Monsoon Date (Short – Hindi)
Konkana Sen Sharma haunted by her past rejected relationships, tries to make one more attempt at being honest with her current partner. A secret which she has held throughout her life, now feels she has to clear the air once again. Only this time, she is stuck in the traffic of Mumbai during the evening of the monsoon period where the traffic hardly moves. Delaying the process, her mind begins to play games with her.
Tanuja Chandra tackles a bold and brave subject in such a blossom manner, a subject waiting to be told of an issue that should be normalised in current society, a tricky subject with a known name is indeed tricky and Chandra handles it quite well making Konkana completely fit in the role.
Verdict: Do give you 30 mins to this beautiful narrative with an offbeat topic film. A story that should be seen, told and heard.
Ninety-year-old Philip Sangma begins a quest for answers about his past, reconciliation with his memory of Anna, his late first wife and the inevitability of death. On the quest, he is confronted by various questions about his own life and dedication towards god, making him doubt his efforts as a father and a husband. Later he is confronted with the uncomfortable truth about his wife’s life before her death.
Apart of last year’s Work-In-Progress at NFDC’s Film Bazaar, young filmmaker from Meghalaya, Dominic Sangma directs this documentary-yet-feature like film with several scripted and unscripted moments about his father and the mystery about his mother, which he does not have recollection of. Ma.Ama is a complete universal one, where one can relate to the filmmakers emotions on his family through the lens of the camera.
Verdict: Conventional, different, emotional and new curve to use of the camera. Dominic Sangma’s effort truly hits the right notes.
Jonaki, or firefly in Bengali, is inspired by Sengupta’s grandmother. Lolita Chatterjee plays the octogenarian. The film is about Sengupta’s ode to his late grandma and his feelings and memories about her during her life and the dreams he had post her death. Jonaki tells the story of the life of his Grandmother through his eyes, meaning the characters including his Grandmother neither age or artificially look younger throughout the narrative, it’s a sparkle of his imagination with only set source of vision in a world of his dreams.
We could say Jonaki is basically Tim Burton and Guillermo Del Toro get together for a drink before having dinner with Rituparno Ghosh. The film is as bizzare as bizzare can get, the entire auditorium was left speechless with yet confusion but spellbound by the production design. Jonaki is a mind bender, Sengupta claiming it being a simple story but the film lies between his own dream world and a strange voyage.
Verdict: Take up at your own risk. You will either really like it or simply….well fall asleep.
Salute to Shashi Kapoor
My first viewing of this film which I got in by fluke because of the overcrowd of another screening, but thank god that happened. Got the chance to see Shyam Benegal’s classic film newly restored version which won the National Award for Best Film in 1980. Set in 1857 during the British Raj, about Javed Khan (played by Shashi Kapoor; also Producer of the film) the chief of the Pathan Nawab heritage takes capture of the last three remaining Britishers of the area, a grandmother, mother and the young daughter. Things take a toll when the Nawab begins an obsession for the young daughter desiring to marry her, which causes conflict and questions who is the ruler and who is the oppressed.
One is reminded in the current era of the recent Padmaavat, a Muslim ruler and his obsession for a princess behind enemy lines and his quest of taking her at any cost. One can say that Shyam Benegal’s direction and narrative, especially when a full house auditorium react to the film, its certain that its still relevant even today, possibly more than Bhansali’s narrative. One can certainly Benegal’s reversal of the stereotype of the British being the victim and the barbaric ways of the Nawab’s is surely one of its kind.
Verdict: Classic. Remains a relevant today even, and thank god I caught the restored version. Do catch this one as soon as you can, if the genre does not appeal, do it as a tribute to Shashi Kapoor.
Rajma Chawal (Hindi)
A boy leaves his world and settles with his Dad (played by Rishi Kapoor) in Old Delhi which he cannot stand. After weeks of his isolation, his Dad attempts the idea of connecting through to his son with a fake Facebook profile, only catch is, faking himself as a girl (played by Amyra Dastur) but things get a little tricky for the father and son when the girl is noticed running around Delhi, being protected by her over-possessive boyfriend (played by Aparshakti Khurana)
Leena Yadav, of Parched fame, returns with a very breezy Delhi flavoured dramedy with the commercial spices and youthful seasonings, Rajma Chawal has a complete comic yet emotional take on the dysfunctional relationship between a father and son without being preachy but being very comfortable with the audience. And of course, nothing like beats being Rishi Kapoor as the orthodox Punjabi father who leaves Twitter for Facebook (I know, bad joke)
Verdict: Enjoyable. Unlike Parched, do not take it seriously but with a pinch of salt. Or Rajma for that matter.
Bornodi Bhotiai (Assamese)
Originally was a play now blown up to the big screen, the film is about the place Majuli in Assam, the world largest river island, and the Majulian people. What leads is the hysterical events about a girl who is ‘jinxed’, her four admirers and her eventual husband. What later unfolds are some wacky incidents such as a sneeze which kills, a useless singer becoming the nation’s pop star, four boys raising a farm for meat and an incurable flu which happens to the form of love. The writing is absolute random, but we can you will fall laughing at the random yet warm humour.
The film is said to be about the life of the people in Majuli, the dying traditions and the aimlessness of the youth. As well as introducing the audience to the landscape, it shows us a detailed route to the life of the people of Maujli. The use and the form Anupam Kaushik Borah of the big screen uses is quite witty yet clever, like the use of the local radio to update the village of the status of the four admirers while chasing the girl of their dreams.
Verdict: Witty, fun, entertaining and definitely will never let you check you phone or watch during its 140 minute run of the film. New wave of Assamese films has definitely arrived.
New Wave Malayalam
Light in the Room (Malayalam)
A woman-hating mountain based engineer marries a young shy girl but his obsession with electronics and mechanics take his attention towards his married life. His only relationship with his wife is abuse by beating and raping her on a regular basis. Relatives at home turning a blind eye and a wife trying to find a cure for the mood changing light in the room, she is left with no choice of taking matters into her own hands.
Director Rahul Riji Nair picks up the subject about the horror of the home, the violence and oppression of powerless behind closed doors with the advantage of the victimiser being proud of his masculinity and power over being the bread winner. Light in the Room is reasonable cut, engaging film with powerful performances by the lead pair broadcasting two sides of so-called mutual marriage.
Verdict: Interesting attempt for a touching subject by first time director. Nair gives a new meaning to the idea of light being a sign of blindness and hopelessness.
Young Kunhambu is fascinated with the local larger than life hero, Chindan Muthapan, his neighbour and the village hero in which he hears tales told by his grandmother and the locals of the village. The boy has an obsession with his English Barrell, showing his status in the village because the weapon, Kunhambu grows up with the obsession and attachment to the gun without learning its basic consequences and its affect to his personal life.
Director Vinu Kolichal speaks a story of how the gun for the young minded becomes a source of development to maturity and masculinity. The protagonist’s attachment to the gun and not letting go till certain age shows, the film deals with the male and defiance over power and letting it go so fast, power in the form of a gun.
Verdict: Debutant Kolichal takes a subtle and slow attempt on the film rather than the subject being such aloud. Kolichal takes its smoothy yet so gracefully in telling a story of such.
Western Appeal – The Closing Film
Steve McQueen (of 12 Years a Slave fame) brings this heist film about four women carrying out a heist job which was left incomplete by their late husbands in order to pay the damage they had caused in the heist that caused their death. What leads is dirty game between politicians, dangerous mobsters, families falling apart, deceives lies etc, you may have already been there.
McQueen brings to life the ITV British Series from the 80s taking its basic premise and adding the little life of slickness to it with Bond-like gadgets, gun down chases and twists that could have been somewhat predictable. The performances and presence of stars like Liam Neeson and Colin Farrell do bring a sense grandness to the film, otherwise it’s a film not to take too seriously and guilt-driven action flick but this time maybe roles are little reversed.
Verdict: The routine Hollywood heist film we have seen time to time before, not exactly a festival film. Purely check it out for entertainment but do not expect anything new…because well….there isn’t.