From the frontline

In the course of six days, starting Saturday, 224 acclaimed animation, short and documentary films will be screened at the Mumbai International Film Festival at the NCPA. We pick a few must-watch films from two regions -- Afghanistan and Northeast India

Playing The Taar

In Roya Sadat's 35 minute-long Playing The Taar, a 17 year-old girl named Ay Nabaat who belongs to an ethnic minority in Afghanistan, is forced to marry a man with three wives. When Nabaat gets pregnant, her husband claims that the child is illegitimate, wanting to avenge her father's hostilities towards him. According to Reena Mohan, jury member at MIFF 2012 and curator of the package of Afghanistan films, there is much to admire both in the film and the filmmaker. Now considered to be one of Afghanistan's best filmmakers, Sadat was able to attend school under the Taliban regime, and studied filmmaking on her own by reading books and watching DVDs. Mohan says, "Perhaps it is because the region is so close to Iran, that much of its filmmaking sensibilities seem so close to those seen in Iranian films. Even in Playing The Taar, there is so much symbolism and the film is so visually poetic. The long shots of the red colour of the wool and those of the carpets, as she weaves them, are used repeatedly to suggest the underlying violence in the lives of the characters."
At: 4.45 pm, Feb 7, Experimental Theatre, NCPA


In Mohsen Hosaini's six minute-long animation film Shelter, a homeless child who lives in a cart befriends a bird. Soon war breaks out and threatens to change their lives. According to Mohan, the film's beauty is its simplicity. "This is not a grand Hollywood animation film. The illustrations are simple, yet the story is so poignant and heartwarming. When war breaks out, the child returns to find both the cart and the tree (where the child and bird live respectively) burnt. The child himself has lost a leg and thinks that the bird is dead too. But the film ends on a note of hope, when it is revealed that the bird has also survived the war," she says. 
At: 4.45 pm, Feb 7, Experimental Theatre, NCPA

Half Value Life

Half Value Life is another film with a female protagonist and made by a woman director (Alka Sadat). This one, however, is a 30-minute documentary about the country's first female public prosecutor Marya Bashir, who works for elimination of violence against women. By actively supporting mistreated women, Bashir has often put her life in danger. On one occasion, as seen in the film, she returns to her house from work, to find that it has been bombed. "It's a fantastic story of a woman with so much determination. At the end of the day, it is also one of immense hope, where one woman is standing up and fighting against injustice," Mohan says.
At: 4.45 pm, Feb 8, Experimental Theatre

Addicted in Afghanistan

The award-winning documentary Addicted In Afghanistan (78 minutes long) by Jawed Taiman is an intimate and uncompromising portrayal of the day-to-day struggles of two boys addicted to heroin. While it is estimated that 95 per cent of all heroin in Europe's streets come from Afghanistan, very few talk about the drugs that stay within the country and its devastating effects on children. Over a million people reportedly suffer from some sort of drug abuse in Afghanistan. The film follows Jabar and Zahir, two 15 year-old drug addicts living in Kabul for the course of a year, documenting their attempts to break away from the addiction. "Jawed Taiman now divides his time between London and Afghanistan, holding filmmaking workshops with Afghani youths. The documentary is not just a great one, you can also see the filmmaker's involvement in the film's subject and characters. In one scene, when on of the youths tries to beat his mother, Jawed hands the camera to someone else and restrains the youngster."
At: 4.45 pm, Feb 7, Experimental Theatre

The Iron Lady's poetry

Imphal-based journalist Borun Thokchom's The Silent Poet is based on Irom Sharmila, the Iron Lady of Manipur, who has been on a hunger strike since 2000. He, however, focuses on a little-known aspect of Sharmila -- her poetry. It shows how inside a highly guarded hospital prison in Manipur, she continues to scribble in her notebook. Out of the many poems she has written, she narrates "O Desi", which mirrors the amalgamation of events happening in Manipur and Northeast India. The film is composed of footage that Thokchom never used for his TV station. Some of them reportedly date back to 2006.
At: 7 pm, Feb 8, Tata Theatre

Mr India

If Irom Sharmila is Manipur's 'Iron Lady', Khundrakpam Pradip Kumar Singh is its Mr India. This heart-warming and National Award-winning documentary by Haobam Paban Kumar tells the story of Singh, who despite being infected by HIV became a bodybuilding champion and won the Mr Manipur title in 2007, and the following year, the runners-up in India. He was reportedly a drug abuser and got infected after sharing syringes with other individuals. After he was diagnosed with the infection in 2000, he took to bodybuilding, defying doctors' and relatives' warnings about how his body would not be able to undergo the rigours of bodybuilding.
At: 11 am, Feb 8, Godrej Theatre

An animated journey to Nagaland

In Aditi Chitre's animated film Journey to Nagaland, the ghost of a woman in a red shawl haunts a girl from Mumbai. Through a dream state and guided by a ubiquitous eagle that turns out to be the carrier of the woman's spirit, she travels to Nagaland, where the mystery of the apparition is solved. Woven into the fiction are some Ao Naga folk songs, practices and beliefs, which have continued even after the tribe adopted Christianity. Chitre reportedly spent two and a half years to complete this film.

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