Asian film in rude health

Published: Sep 29, 2019, 05:44 IST | Meenakshi Shedde |

All in all, despite the political and economic turmoil in Asia, mainly independent Asian cinema, at least, appeared to be in rude health

Illustration/Uday Mohite
Illustration/Uday Mohite

Meenakshi SheddeIt is always a pleasure to come to Australia. I've travelled to atmospheric cities Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, and said hello to kangaroos, koalas, penguins and pelicans. Restaurant menus include raw kangaroo meat, ugh, and shops sell kangaroo balls keychains ("genuine kangaroo scrotum"), double ugh. Kuch bhi!

I've been invited since 2013 on the International Nominations Council or Feature Films Selection Committee of the Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA, Brisbane, Australia) to select nominees for the awards, given to the best Asian and Pacific films from 70 nations. My fellow Council members this year included Hong-Joon Kim (Korea), Maxine Williamson (Australia), Kiki Fung (Hong Kong), Kirill Razlogov (Russia), Delphine Garde-Mroueh (France) and U-Wei Bin HajiSaari (Malaysia). I've also been Script Mentor on the Asia Pacific Screen Lab, mentoring emerging Asian filmmakers from Singapore, Iraq, Jordan and Australia/Vietnam, including Yeo Siew Hua's A Land Imagined, which won the Golden Leopard at the Locarno Film Festival.

This year, there were a substantial 19 Indian films in the APSA Features Competition. The APSA winners' roster in previous years has included diverse Indian talents, including Anurag Kashyap's Gangs of Wasseypur 1 and 2 and Ritesh Batra's Lunchbox. Best Actor winners include Nawazuddin Siddiqui (Manto), Manoj Bajpayee (Aligarh) and Rajkummar Rao (Newton). Best Screenplay winners include Ritesh Batra (Lunchbox), and Mayank Tewari and Amit V Masurkar (Newton).

It is a particular pleasure to see Indian films in the context of the best of Asian cinema. In fact, these opportunities build on my decades-long passion for Asian cinema. The average Indian film lover knows squillions of Bollywood films, dozens of Hollywood films, maybe a few French or Iranian films. But rarely would he/she know masterpieces from our own Asian/Arab neighbourhood, say Kazakhstan, Palestine or Korea, let alone modern classics from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh or Nepal—a number of which are way ahead of the average Indian film. In our unquestioning, America-centric worldview—that includes much of life, not just film—we ignore great film talent from all over Asia. So, seeing the best of Asian cinema for APSA year after year, has been a privilege and education.

What was thrilling this year, is that a number of Asian films—including Indian films—dared to question the status quo, often putting the filmmaker's life and liberty at risk (the films are confidential). One film observed the decline of democracy through a devastating metaphor; a second film was a savage satire on class conflict, while a few films addressed the inhuman treatment of migrants, a universal challenge today. A fourth film mounted a frontal attack on poisoned colonial legacies; a fifth relentlessly explored incest, while a sixth observed the sexual exploitation of women serving in the army. Many debuts stood out: one was a finely observed, coming of age story of a young schoolgirl, yet no one 'dismissed' it as a children's film. Another debut, set amid austere mountainscapes, nestled in philosophical realms. All in all, despite the political and economic turmoil in Asia, mainly independent Asian cinema, at least, appeared to be in rude health.

Meenakshi Shedde is India and South Asia Delegate to the Berlin International Film Festival, National Award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. She can be reached on meenakshi.shedde@mid-day.com

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