This autumn, the sands of Arabia will come alive with the mesmeric moods and scintillating sounds of Indian cinema. Nine movies, some of them eternal treasures by master makers, will add a canvas of sheer colours to the 7th edition of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, opening on October 24.
As an announcement said on October 1 during a press conference of the Festival in Abu Dhabi, "One of the world’s most prolific and beloved cinemas commemorates its centenary this year. To join the celebration we have chosen a handful of the country’s most admired movies by some of its treasured helmers. All of the films (five of them) are milestones in more ways than one. All have made important contributions to the creation of new movie sensibilities and cinematic language even as they reflect socio-economic, political and cultural realities. But above all, they are intense cinematic experiences marked by artistic daring trying to make sense of the difficult birth of the Indian nation and its aftermath: the trauma of partition alongside the euphoria of independence, the unrealised dreams of an equal society and the ongoing loss of idealism and corruption of values presented in stories that are bound to stimulate".
The treasures include Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa, a powerful critique of fame, stardom and money and how these undervalue human relationships and belittle talent. In many ways, Pyaasa is biographical, running close to what Dutt himself saw and suffered.
Two films -- probably the very best on the subject -- deal with the sorrow and trauma of India’s Partition in 1947, said to be one of the largest displacement of human settlement anywhere in the world. While Ritwick Ghatak (often considered a mad genius and whose work, some believe, is miles ahead of Satyajit Ray’s) analyses how the Partition impacts a Hindu family in a refugee camp, devastating the members, M.S. Sathyu’s Garam Hawa looks at the dilemma of a Muslim family which chooses to stay back in India (and not cross over to Pakistan) and endures discriminatory humiliation. Both works show the eventual disintegration of the family, and how it is forced to seek a compromise.
Duvidha, from the brilliant but abstract director, Mani Kaul, is essentially a supernatural story, where a ghost impersonates a husband away on work, striking a relationship with his newly married wife. Halodhia Choraye Baodhan Khai by Jahnu Barua plots consumerist greed through the tragic life of a farmer exploited by a rich and powerful landlord.
Outside the classics, Richie Mehta’s Venice sidebar player, Siddharth, about a boy who disappears, will be part of the Festival’s Narrative Competition, while Qissa (by Anup Singh), also a tale of Partition where Irrfan plays the protagonist who decides to take on "fate" when he is driven to despair, will compete in the New Horizons Competition. Qissa was screened at Toronto and will have the excellent Irrfan essaying a Sikh for the first time in Singh’s debut effort.
Aparna Sen’s (best remembered for her 36 Chowringhee Lane and Mr & Mrs Iyer) Goynarbaksho and Nagraj Manjule’s Fandry will figure in Showcase. Sen narrates a horror comedy through the eyes of three women from three different generations. And Fandry is an adolescent love story in Marathi.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran will cover the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, October 24-November 2)