I’ve been on my annual pilgrimage to the Berlin Film Festival (Feb 5-15), that I have been making since I started working with the festival as India, and now South Asia, Consultant, 18 years ago. The cold can be so biting, sometimes dropping to -6 °C at night. You have to pretty much be a film fanatic to schlep it here.
Film-wise, it’s a relatively low-key year for India, with three films — Nagesh Kukunoor’s Dhanak (Rainbow) in the Generation section for children and young adults, and Amit Dutta’s Chitrashala (House of Paintings) and Satinder Singh Bedi’s Kamakshi in the Berlinale Shorts. Last year, India had an astounding 12 films selected in Berlin — so there’s no telling when it comes to art.
A still from Nagesh Kukunoor’s film Dhanak that was screened at Berlinale
Nonetheless, India has a substantial representation in the festival. Madhusree Dutta is on the International Short Film Jury; Ritesh Batra’s Photograph and Avinash Arun’s Sway with Me have been selected in the Berlinale Co-Production Market and Berlinale Directors’ Projects respectively, where they had meetings lined up with producers worldwide, who were interested in producing their films. There were nine Indians in the Berlinale Talents, aimed at honing the cinema skills of young talents in various aspects of filmmaking, including production, direction, acting, distribution and criticism.
And there were 52 Indians at the European Film Market, the market section of the Berlin Film Festival.
In India, children’s films are usually treated like country cousins. But at the Berlin festival— unlike in Cannes or Venice — the Generation section is part of the official selection. The Berlinale is far ahead of the game in understanding that you must catch ’em young and encourage children to enjoy and appreciate cinema, in order to build the audiences of tomorrow. Established way back in 1978, Generation has developed the K Plus section (for children below 14) and 14 Plus (14-18 years).
It was exhilarating to be present at the screening of Nagesh Kukunoor’s Dhanak at the Zoo Palast, an enormous, elegantly refurbished theatre next to the zoo. The film is a disarming fable about a young girl who is determined that sight is restored to her blind brother before his ninth birthday. As it was a Generation screening, the hall was bursting with children (and adults). A roar of applause went up when the film was finished, and the director and producer Manish Mundra invited on stage, along with the crew—Elahe Hiptoola, Vipin Bhati and Tapas Relia. Children queued up on both sides of the theatre, eager to ask questions.
Was the boy really blind? How did you shoot in the sandstorm in the desert? How many hours did you shoot in a day with the children? (At the Q/A for Avinash Arun’s Killa (The Fort) —which won the Crystal Bear for Best Children’s Film last year, one kid demanded to know, ‘Why is there no doggie?’). The efforts the festival took to make the films accessible to youngsters (and adults) in an international, but largely German, audience, were amazing.
Dhanak, for instance, is in Hindi. There were English subtitles on the print. Then there was German dubbing that you could hear on the soundtrack. You also had the option of using headphones that cancelled out the German dubbing and allowed you to hear the film only in the original Hindi language. My mind boggled at this artful juggling of three languages. Above all, I was dazzled by the lady who did the German dubbing. She spoke for the voices of over a dozen characters, constantly changing her tone to suit the circumstance, and investing her voice with feeling. The dubbing was a crucial connect, especially for the young audience, greatly enhancing their appreciation of the film.
This year, Generation presented 66 films from 35 countries. It receives 60,000 viewers — and there’s a well-established market for children’s films worldwide. The best Generation films win Crystal Bears — presented by children’s and teenagers’ juries, as well as Prizes of the (adult) International Juries. The children’s juries’ remarks are an eye-opener for anyone who didn’t think it was worth taking children’s films seriously.
Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia 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.