Surprises never cease. At the 57th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin, which concluded last week-end, two practically unknown Indian film-makers were in the awardwinning league.
The more prestigious prize, for the Best Debutant Film at the festival, went to Rajnesh Domalpalli for his maiden feature film, Vanaja. Chennai-born Domalpalli is a B.Tech who graduated in 1984 from IIT, Powai; he worked in the US as a computer engineer for till he was bitten by the film bug.In an abrupt career-change, he enrolled at the film-course in New York’s Columbia University and secured his degree just last year.
Vanaja, his thesis film for the course, was shot in Andhra Pradesh with a cast of raw first timers. Domalpalli, the 45-year-old director, was also the film’s storywriter and editor.
A coming of age story, Vanaja focuses on a 15-year old girl, daughter of a poor fisherman; to pay for her Kuchipudi dance lessons, she works in the local landlady’s house. Things get com plicated when the landlady’s US-based son returns home and is attracted to the girl, with disastrous results. Before Berlin, the film had done the festival rounds and was shown at Toronto and Dubai where it had received good notices.
The other award, a Special Mention by the Youth Jury, went to Tarsem Singh for The Fall, a coproduction credited to India-UKUSA. Tarsem, also 45 years of age, is quite a man of parts: techno whiz, producer, director, writer, and actor. An NRI, he was last seen as an actor in a bit role in Shyam Benegal’s Netaji. He has produced music-videos, and has also made the much discussed The Cell (2000) starring J-Lo, no less.
The Fall, a children’s film meant for adults, tells of a girl with a broken collar-bone being treated in a hospital. Hereshe meets a bed-ridden man who tells her a story As it develops, the fic . tion begins to merge with fact. The two-hour film has a global cast, was inspired by an old Bul garian movie, and was shot in 23 countries. It is Tarsem’s second feature film, and had earlier been shown at the Toronto fest.
Overall, this year’s Berlinale was a triumph for the Asian Cinema. The Golden Bear for the Best Film went to Chinese director, Wang Quan’an’s Tuya’s Marriage, which relates the travails of a Mongolian herdsman caught in the urbanisation of his homeland.
The Best Director’s award went to Israel’s Joseph Cedar for Beaufort. Also in the long prize-list of the festival were Zhang Yang (China), Park Wan-Chook (South Korea), Yasmin Ahmad (Malaysia) and S.Sugurakanam (Thailand).