Debutantes shine through

Indian panorama

Debutantes shine through

WEAKER LINKS:  Meera Jasmine in M S Sathyu’s Kannada film ‘Ijjodu’.

But over the years, Indian Panorama, despite still being the most respected platform for Indian films seeking international focus in an Indian festival, has slightly lost its sheen. This has more to do with several other film festivals assuming important proportions within India — Kolkata, Kerala, Mumbai (MAMI) for example — than to any diminishing of the Panorama’s importance. More pertinently, with Kolkata and MAMI happening before IFFI, quite a few of the new Indian films get shown in these festivals before taking their bow at IFFI.

This year too, at the 40th IFFI, the Indian Panorama presented a kaleidoscopic view of the country’s fiction cinema in all its riches as also warts. In fact, this year’s Panorama section presented a highly-uneven mixture of some fine cinema, some mediocre work and a few which show the country’s film movement in a not-so-positive light. Of course, finally it is for the jury — this time chaired by filmmaker Muzaffar Ali — to decide which films to include in the section, but then the selection also reflects on the jury itself. This year it was especially so as a member (Gautaman Bhaskaran) publicly questioned the jury’s decisions and alleged that two of his colleagues — Ali and producer Bobby Bedi — had not only remained absent during a large part of the selection screenings but also insisted on inclusion of specific films.

The best of this year’s lot comprised of some gems from Marathi cinema — the industry, always in the shadow of the glamourous Hindi film industry in Mumbai, has in recent years thrown up quite a few excellent movies, along with some excellent works particularly in Konkani, Bengali and Hindi. The Panorama comprised 26 films, including five picked from a shortlist of commercial fare sent in by the Film Federation of India, a practice started since last year after the abolition of the Indian Mainstream section.
The best of the lot this year, without doubt, was Laxmikant Shetgaonkar’s Konkani film Paltadcho Manis (The Man Beyond the Bridge), an almost meditative film which has proved that the young filmmaker is a major hope for Indian cinema, provided he can live up to the promise he has shown in this film. Set in the thick forests of Karnataka-Goa border, the story takes one into the life of Vinayak, a lonely forest guard and his relationship with a mentally-unsound woman. Through the story, the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC)-produced film raises questions regarding morality and ethics as practised by the society as well as its sense of responsibility towards the hapless.

If this gave the perfect start to the Indian Panorama as the opening film of the section, the package shone through several other efforts, all by first-time directors. Satish Manwar’s Gabhricha Paus (The Damned Rain) in Marathi and Atanu Ghosh’s Angshumaner Chhobi (A Film Made by Angshuman) in Bengali, both India’s entries to the IFFI’s competition section, along with Paresh Mokashi’s Harishchandrachi Factory in Marathi, were definitely the top of the lot in the section where there were films by 11 first-time directors.

Manwar’s film marks the emergence of another powerful voice in the already-shining Marathi film industry, as it uses black humour to tell the story of farmers’ suicides, the biggest tragedy to hit many parts of rural India, and more particularly of the Vidarbha region in Maharashtra, in recent years. A powerful portrayal of our times, it also serves up as a strong contrast to the mainstream cinema which has almost forgotten to depict rural India barring stray exceptions, and does that in a way which is neither didactic nor preachy.

On the other hand, Ghosh’s film takes one into the complex world of the human mind through the story of a young filmmaker who wants to make a film with a retired actor and a recalcitrant actress despite their reluctance to come on screen. Mokashi’s film, on the other hand, recreates the story of how Dada Saheb Phalke had made India’s first film, Raja Harishchandra.

The other first-timers who impressed with their work are Sona Jain, whose For Real, starring Sarita Choudhury of Mira Nair’s Kama Sutra fame, explores how young minds are impacted by disharmony among adults at home, and Aijaz Khan, whose The White Elephant (Hindi), despite the awkwardness of using Malayalam words for the authenticity-effect, pleases one to a great extent through its a fable-like story set in Kerala and starring Tannishtha Chatterjee and Prroshanth Narayanan.

But the weaker links in this year’s Panorama, unfortunately came from the veterans. Be it M S Sathyu’s Ijjodu (Kannada) or Shaji N Karun’s Kutty Srank (Malayalam), viewers were left asking if they are from the same masters who gave us classics like Garam Hawa and Piravi but now have given us meandering executions of interesting premises.
A few of the mainstream “quota” entries, usually the weakest links in the package, this year provided a window to fresh ideas at work in the Hindi industry — be it Dev D, Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye! or Kaminey.

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