India shines at Berlin

Updated: Feb 23, 2020, 08:10 IST | Meenakshi Shedde | Mumbai

The 70th Berlinale edition, headed by Artistic Director Carlo Chatrian, runs from February 20-March 1. I had a highly coveted invitation to the opening night gala, featuring Philippe Falardeau's My Salinger Year.

Illustration/Uday Mohite
Illustration/Uday Mohite

Meenakshi SheddeIt's great to be back at the Berlin Film Festival, even in six degree cold. The 70th Berlinale edition, headed by Artistic Director Carlo Chatrian, runs from February 20-March 1. I had a highly coveted invitation to the opening night gala, featuring Philippe Falardeau's My Salinger Year. It features Sigourney Weaver and Margaret Qualley as staff in the literary agency that represents JD Salinger. On introducing myself to the guest next to me, I discovered a new 'profession'. "What do you do?" I asked. "Seat filler," she replied. "Pardon?" "Oh, I'm a seat filler, filling the seat in case any invitee is unable to come, so the hall looks full." In fact, she's a cultural studies student—but such are the demands of live TV.

It's the 22nd year I've been working with the Berlinale, now as South Asia Delegate, pre-selecting South Asian films. I'm always grateful for the opportunity to do what I love, to help Indian and South Asian films shine on international platforms. It's a matter of pride for India that Assamese director Rima Das is on the Berlinale's Generation 14plus international jury for young adults, among others. Her Bulbul Can Sing had won a Generation 14plus Special Mention in Berlin in 2019. Das looked resplendent in a mekhela chador, and for all her many accomplishments worldwide, remains grounded as ever.

It's a good year for Indian cinema at Berlin, with four films selected in various sections. Pushpendra Singh's Laila aur Satt Geet (The Shepherdess and the Seven Songs) has a world premiere in the new Encounters section. Part-fable, part feminist commentary, this exquisite film is about a Kashmiri woman struggling with "Me Too" experiences, and is inspired by the 14th century Kashmiri mystic Lal Ded. Prateek Vats' Eeb Allay Ooo!, in Panorama, is a black, comic satire on a very Indian subject: a man with a government 'job' to shoo away monkeys, that was at Pingyao, and won the Golden Gateway (India Gold) at the Mumbai Film Festival. Akshay Indikar's Sthalpuran (Chronicle of Space) is in the Generation Kplus section for children. It is a tender film about Dighu, 8, whose family moves from Pune to small-town Konkan, as he is caught in the throes of his parent's separation. Ekta Mitta's Gumnaam Din, in the Berlinale Shorts, evokes a haunting birha, that lonely ache of migrants who move to cities, and their families who miss them.

A remarkable 15 South Asians have also been chosen in the Berlinale Talents, where film talents are offered mentoring and networking opportunities, including seven from India. These are Dominic Sangma (Ma'Ama), Acharya Venu (Ma'Ama), Ivan Ayr (Soni), Geetika Vidya (Soni), Varun Sasindran (his Omarska won a Berlinale Shorts Special Mention in 2019), Prantik Basu (Rang Mahal, Berlinale Shorts, 2019), and Mukul Haloi (Tales from Our Childhood). They have a historic opportunity to network with other South Asian talents from Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal, which may otherwise be difficult back home. Art has always been soft diplomacy that glides over boundaries.

Meenakshi Shedde is India and South Asia Delegate to the Berlin International Film Festival, National Award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist.
Reach her at meenakshi.shedde@mid-day.com

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