Indian cinema justly struts the stage at international film festivals. It has been consistently marking its presence at top festivals, including Cannes, Berlin and Venice, as well as at other festivals worldwide, including in Asia. While I watch films from all over the world for work and pleasure, I have a strong affinity for Asian cinema, and am always keen to know how India fares in the Asian context. The majority of firangs — and Indians — equate Indian cinema with Bollywood. So it is fascinating for me to observe Asian film competitions, where tiny and fledgling nations such as Sri Lanka and Iraqi Kurdistan, fare way better than India.
Avinash Arun, director of the film, Killa
I recently returned from Australia, where I was on the Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA) Nominations Council in Brisbane, for the second year. It was an embarras de richesses, as we selected nominees for the best films from 70 Asian nations. Actor, producer and director Rajit Kapur is on the International Jury — which will award films picked from the nominees — while Nira Benegal, children’s book editor and festival consultant, will chair the Youth, Animation, Documentary International Jury. The APSA awards will be given on December 11 in Brisbane, with an APSA film package being the highlight of the Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival, that runs from November 29 to December 14.
Despite a handsome 24 entries at APSA, India was nowhere in any of the main categories of best film, director, cinematographer, screenplay, actor or actress. We did however, earn worthy nominations for Avinash Arun’s superb Killa (The Fort), produced by Alan McAlex, Madhukar R. Musle, Ajay G. Rai, for Best Youth Feature Film, and Surabhi Sharma’s lively Bidesia in Bambai, for Best Documentary Feature Film.
India’s 24 entries is equivalent to the entire annual, national output of Sri Lanka. Yet Sri Lanka was ahead of India, with Prasanna Jayakody’s ‘28’ earning two nominations for Best Screenplay by Jayakody and Best Actor Mahendra Perera. Perera shares best actor nomination with David Gulpilil from Rolf de Heer’s Charlie’s Country, Australia — an aboriginal actor who also won Best Actor at Cannes this year. In fact, Kazakhstan and even turbulent Iraqi Kurdistan, fared better than India. Brilliant Kazakh director Adilkhan Yerzhanov’s The Owners won a nomination for Achievement in Cinematography (the film was at Cannes and Toronto), while Iraqi Kurdistan’s Shawkat Amin Korki’s Memories on Stone earned a nomination for Best Screenplay (it was at the Busan and Abu Dhabi festivals).
The Fort is a moving coming of age story of a boy and his single mum who keeps getting transferred in rural Maharashtra. Bidesia in Bambai offers fascinating insights into the kick-ass Bhojpuri immigrant culture of UP and Bihar in Mumbai — their enterprise, tenacity, and music, that is often jaw-droppingly raunchy, and sometimes lyrical, religious and political. Prasanna Jayakody’s film, 28 is a powerful road movie, told from the viewpoint of the spirit of a woman who was raped and murdered. Mahendra Perera plays her husband, who is called in to identify a body in the morgue and recognises his estranged wife. Adilkhan Yerzhanov’s The Owners is an inventive, cynical portrait of homelessness and corruption, told through a story of three young siblings who are brutalised and murdered by thugs, in their struggle to retain the family home. Shawkat Amin Korki’s Memories on Stone is on the tremendous challenges faced by two friends who, after Saddam’s fall from power, decide to make a film on the Anfal genocide of the 1980s, when over 1,82,000 Kurds were massacred. It asks how much you will risk to make a film.
Last year, too, films from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, Palestine and Iraqi Kurdistan, won APSA nominations for best film and director, which India couldn’t manage, even though it notched four other honourable nominations.
Indians would be greatly enriched if we could regularly see great Asian films in our theatres — as well as our own independent regional films — rather than the limited binary of Bollywood and Hollywood.
Meenakshi Shedde is India Consultant to the Berlin Film Festival, an award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide, and journalist. She can be reached at email@example.com.
The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.