It may well be an Indian winter in Dubai this year. In the city State where Indians form the largest expat community, driving the region’s economy and helping it to flourish, the coming Dubai International Film Festival will celebrate Indian cinema. The eight-day event, to run from December 12, has lined up several Indian movies, that seem to be quite representative of the nation’s diversely beautiful culture and heritage.In an important way, Aparna Sen’s Iti Mrinalini (The Unfinished Letter), to feature at Dubai, describes and comments on Bengal’s film scene, the State where the director hails from. Sen shot into limelight when India’s iconic Satyajit Ray cast her in Teen Kanya (Three Daughters, 1961), and she was barely 16. But Ray’s genius must have had a telling
Twenty years later, after having acted in memorable movies, including those from the Merchant Ivory stable, Sen changed positions to step behind the camera. Her debut work, 36 Chowringhee Lane, was set in Kolkata, where a street by that name really exists. (In fact, a very good friend of mine from school days used to live there.) And what a film it was. With Jennifer Kendal playing a lonely Anglo-Indian teacher, Violet Stoneham, it was almost poetic.
Sen did make many more movies, but her latest, Iti Mrinalini -- which once again tackles loneliness, this time in an aging film star -- captures a kind of magic not often seen in contemporary Indian cinema. Sen herself essays Mrinalini, the actress, hounded by the media and abandoned by the man she loves. A lot of it is autobiographical, and for one like me who grew up in Job Charnock’s defining mid-day halt, Iti Mrinalini, appears so familiar.
Two movies from the south of India may well be a remarkable canvas of imagery and ideas. Shyamaprasad’s (Agnisakshi and Ore Kadal) new drama, Elektra, takes us into an aristocratic household in Central Kerala to plot a narrative that has been inspired by Greek mythology. Prakash Raj, Nayanthara and Bollywood actress Manisha Koirala will form the main cast.
Tamil Nadu’s Mynaa by Prabusolomon did remind me of Ameer Sultan’s Paruthiveeran, a kind of cult film that has been inspiring several young directors. Mynaa could well be the story of Romeo and Juliet, though it takes places far away from Shakespeare’s Italy, in the hilly region of Theni. Mynaa and Suruli are childhood sweethearts who find money playing a deadly spoilsport. Arrested for beating up Mynaa’s mother, who fixes up her daughter’s marriage with a rich groom, Suruli escapes from jail. Two policemen chase him on a Diwali day, and the movie rolls through hills and forests to narrate how the relationship between the convict and the policemen eventually changes from one of hostility to one of endearment. Bold enough to set his work in a remote rural region, Prabusolomon depicts realism through a romance in which the lovers are not costumed and painted silly.
Aamir Bashir’s Harud (Autumn) takes us into the tragic world of Kashmir militancy, where a photographer’s family has to come to terms with his disappearance, but not before his younger brother tries being a rebel himself. Two decades of volatility in Kashmir come alive on screen to shake us out of our slumber and smugness.
Finally, we have Shor (Noise), a satire on Mumbai’s madness. The movie follows three men as they live through a series of disturbing incidents during a festival. One is harassed by gangsters. A bootlegger finds a bag of explosives while a cricketer is told that he can be in the team only if he pays.
In the days to come, I am told that there could additions to the basket of Indian movies.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran will be covering the Dubai International Film Festival this year)