The festival-crazy nation of ours has gone bonkers over carousels celebrating books and films in the recent years. Perhaps as an antidote to our Bollywood frenzy, or maybe as a need to vocalise our ‘educated sensibilities’, the country already seems to be saturated with film festivals in Kolkata, Kerala, Pune, Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Patna, Cochin and Dharamashala. The New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF), which kicks in by the end of this month, is a festival that has been trying to stimulate a dialogue between Indian and American cultures, post 9/11.
Aroon Shivadasani, the President and Executive Director of the Festival tells us, “We started in 2001 with a small audience still discovering cinema from India. The festival has grown in stature, in size as well as in reputation over the years. We only screen film premieres; our programming and our niche of independent, diaspora and alternate films allows us to present our films to packed, often overflowing cinephiles representing the melting pot of American culture.”
Why go beyond mainstream?
Interestingly, the expanse of the programme asks many questions that challenge the very notion of mainstream Indian cinema including its characteristics, thereby, dissolving the idea of mainstream itself. Marking the vivid century that Indian cinema completes this year the restored prints of Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, Uday Shankar’s masterpiece Kalpana and MS Sathyu’s Garam Hawa will be screened. Tracing the art house, parallel wave and now oft-used and abused nomenclature — independent cinema, the scheduled features, documentaries and shorts abet introspection.
City-based director Rudradeep Bhattacharjee, who made The Human Factor, shares, “In Gregory Booth’s book, Behind the Curtain: Making Music in Mumbai’s Film Studios, I discovered about the Lord family who have been musicians for over half a century, since the silent films and have produced hits like Howrah Bridge, Aradhna to Dil Toh Pagal Hai and decided to make a film.”
Jaideep Verma, the director of Baavra Mann, attempts to expose the glimmering façade of Bollywood by tracing the journey of ‘parallel wave’ film director Sudhir Mishra. He says, “I find him immensely stimulating as a person and it intrigues why he doesn’t fulfill his potential anymore.
In my opinion, he is the only filmmaker in Mumbai today who has lasted 25 years with expectations of a great film from him still having not extinguished. While making the film, I knew I could also explore a lot of other things — like the environments he had been in, which had failed to fulfill their promise. He was at Sagar University in the 1970s, a great centre of learning then, now in shambles. He was part of the theatre scene in Delhi in the early 1980s, going through its most creative phase — that didn’t last long, too. He was part of the highly influential parallel cinema movement in the mid-1980s, which also has faded away.”
Exposing the underside of wishy-washy romance films of Bollywood, Anandana Kapur and Geetika Narang Abbasi have made a “community film” in Kapur’s words on “India’s official past-time” — marriages and matchmaking. Kapur shares, “All of us have been asked this common question of ‘when will you be getting married’, if already married, the question becomes ‘how did you get married’.” Understanding that filmmaking is all about constructing “truth-value” she prefers “documentaries as a piece of entertainment. Where the audience is entertained enough to be engaged.”
The independent challenge
This 13th annual affair in the Big Apple will also host features including Feroz Abbas Khan’s Dekh Tamasha Dekh, Manav Kaul’s Hansa, Hansal Mehta’s Shahid, Sabal Singh Shekhawat’s Fireflies, Devashish Makhija’s Oonga, and will close with Nitin Kakkar’s Filmistaan. Makhija, through his genre-bending narrative constructs a socio-economic backdrop that blurs the boundary between fantasy and reality through the child-protagonist Oonga. He opines, “We have consciously tried to make a film that seeks to entertain as much as it seeks to provoke thought.
As long as an Indian film can entertain it might find its little spot in the mainstream. With Oonga, we’ve strived to raise questions about today’s India, about its skewed developmental ambitions, and the blood that it’s leaving in its wake. This inclination for the brutal truth might lead some audiences to call our film ‘indie’. But simultaneously, we’ve also shown a little boy’s road adventure packed with music, magic, mythology and thrill. This might lead some other audiences to consider this ‘mainstream’.”
Addressing this precise concern Aseem Chhabra, the festival director says, “India does not have the independent film movement such as the kind that energised the Sundance Film Festival in the US.” He feels wary of tagging films that are being produced by Aamir Khan (Dhobi Ghat, Peepli Live) or Balaji (LSD, Shor in the City). “There are many new films being made in Mumbai and other parts of India, which are independent in their spirit. It’s not a question of how those films are funded, but the passion and the vision behind those. Those films excite and surprise me,” he concludes.
The trailblazer event
NYIFF’s advisory board consists of pioneering personalities such as Shabana Azmi, Salman Rushdie, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Deepa Mehta, Shashi Tharoor and Mira Nair. On THE regional front, the festival will include four Marathi films: Pune 52 and National Award winners – Investment, Anumati and Dhag. Goutam Ghose’s Shunyo Awnko (Bengali) and Dr Biju’s The Color of Sky (Malayalam) are also a part of the programme.
Century-old Indian Cinema
>Echoing the revels of our century-old cinema, India will be the guest country for Cannes this year.
>The Directorate of Film Festivals will be hosting the Delhi Film Festival as a part of the centenary celebrations.