South Asian cinema goes global

Updated: 13 September, 2020 07:19 IST | Meenakshi Shedde | Mumbai

It is about how a devoted student of Hindustani classical music struggles to remain true to his art, amid the challenging pressures of contemporary Mumbai

Illustration/Uday Mohite
Illustration/Uday Mohite

Meenakshi SheddeThe upcoming BFI London Film Festival (LFF) from October 7–18, has a strong programme, including from South Asia/diaspora. A sign of the times: the Bengali film is from Bangladesh, and the Punjabi film is from Pakistan, emphasising the shared culture of the Indian sub-continent. LFF is a 'hybrid festival'—the latest slang for festivals that have partly theatrical screenings (a handful of films, in this case) and partly (mostly, here) online film screenings. The big ticket films include opening film Steve McQueen's Mangrove (on a restaurant in London, site for resistance by the Black community to police brutality and racism, starring Letitia Wright, Malachi Kirby), Francis Lee's Ammonite (Kate Winslet, Saoirse Ronan), Spike Lee's David Byrne's American Utopia, Chloé Zhao's Nomadland (Frances McDormand) and Pete Docter and Kemp Powers' Soul (Disney-Pixar animation).

The South Asian/diaspora films are an impressive line-up. Some have wowed audiences already. Many are a sign, along with others, of persistence in the face of the adversities of COVID-19. The feature films include Chaitanya Tamhane's The Disciple, Bassam Tariq's Mogul Mowgli and Rezwan Shahriar Sumit's Nonajoler Kabbo (The Salt in our Waters, Bengali, Bangladesh). The four shorts include Karishma Dube's Bittu (US-India), Hamza Bangash's Stray Dogs Come Out At Night (Punjabi, Pakistan), Dawinder Bansal's installation Jambo Cinema (UK), and Hardeep Pandhal's experimental short Happy Thuggish Paki (UK).

Many of these films reflect how films by younger generation Indian and South Asian/diaspora filmmakers are increasingly getting a global edge through international co-productions and collaborations—and hopefully, will secure a more global reach. For instance, Tamhane has Oscar-winning Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón as executive producer, and was shot in Mumbai by Polish cinematographer MichaÅ‚ SobociÅ„ski. It premiered at the Venice Film Festival's main competition, and at the Toronto Film Festival's Special Presentations section. It is about how a devoted student of Hindustani classical music struggles to remain true to his art, amid the challenging pressures of contemporary Mumbai.

Bassam Tariq's fiction feature debut, Mogul Mowgli, is an explosively good film, starring, co-written and co-produced by the savagely gifted, charismatic British-Pakistani actor-rapper-writer Riz Ahmed, that opened at the Berlin Film Festival in February. This UK-US coproduction is a partly autobiographical exploration of the life of British-Pakistani rapper Zed who, following a debilitating illness, rediscovers his South Asian roots, also evoked in the hypnotic rap song Toba Tek Singh (see my review of the film at the Berlin Film Festival in Sunday Midday, March 1). Rezwan Shahriar Sumit's Nonajoler Kabbo (The Salt in our Waters) is, in fact, a Bangladesh-France co-production. It examines how a modern sculptor, working on a fishing island in Bangladesh, is blamed for his 'haram' art, when the local hilsa fish catch becomes scanty. An assured, well-crafted debut feature from Bangladesh, its co-producer is French, and it was shot by Chananun Chotrungroj, an LA-based Thai woman cinematographer.

Karishma Dube's Bittu is an accomplished, intensely evoked short about the two village girls in Dehradun, whose friendship is eclipsed by an accidental tragedy. A finalist at the Student Academy Awards 2020, the film was at the Telluride Film Festival, and is Dube's thesis film at New York University. Hamza Bangash's Stray Dogs Come Out At Night is about the dilemma of a maalishwala on the beaches of Karachi, whose illness will affect his family. A Pakistan-UK co-production, it is backed by two women, producer Carol Noronha and executive producer Mina Husain. How cool is that!

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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First Published: 13 September, 2020 07:00 IST

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