It’s a very exciting time for Indian cinema, particularly the independent kind. Regional films with English subtitles are being feted at festivals worldwide. It was an exceptional year with 10 Indian films at the Dubai International Film Festival that is on till December 16. We look at some of them that were shown at the fest.
MISS LOVELY by Ashim Ahluwalia (Hindi)
Ashim Ahluwalia’s evocative film is part art-house, part mainstream thriller, with a generous dose of sex and horror. After being screened at the Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard, it won the Best Indian Film Award at the Mumbai Film Festival.
It is about the rivalry between two film producer brothers (Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Anil George), who churn out sex-and-horror movies in seedy, late ’80s Mumbai. Pinky (Niharika Singh), the seeming ingénue whom Nawazuddin loves, packs a mean punch.
“The film has been sold in most of Europe and many countries in Asia and South America. It will soon have a distributor in the US,” says Ahluwalia. “Amazingly, it’s also going to be in cinemas in countries with no relationship to Indian films, like Taiwan. And yet, India is still one of the hardest markets for a film like this,” he adds.
SHIP OF THESEUS by Anand Gandhi (English, Hindi, Arabic)
Anand Gandhi’s is a very original Indian voice, and his debut feature is intellectually demanding. It explores the philosophical paradox of the Ship Of Theseus, which asks that if every part of a ship were replaced, would it still be the same ship? He extends the metaphor to human beings, raising existential issues.
A dying monk (the superb Neeraj Kabi), refuses Western medicine as it is tested on animals. A blind photographer (Aida El Kashef) gets disoriented after her vision is restored. A stockbroker (Soham Shah) who has a kidney transplant discovers an organ transplant racket.
After showing at the Toronto Film Festival, the film won a Sutherland Award Special Mention at London, Best Artistic Contribution Award at Tokyo and Technical Excellence Award at the Mumbai Film Festival for cinematographer Pankaj Kumar. Aida El Kashef is also an Egyptian filmmaker; and the sound designer Gabor Erdelyi worked in Bela Tarr’s The Turin Horse (2011).
SHAHID by Hansal Mehta (Hindi)
This powerful and compelling drama is based on the true story of human rights activist Shahid Azmi, who successfully fought many legal cases for Muslims jailed on trumped-up charges.
He was shot dead while defending Mumbai bombing accused Faheem Ansari. Azmi, whose family is terrorized during Mumbai’s communal riots in 1993, flees to a jihadi camp. Unconvinced, he deserts them, only to be imprisoned on terrorist charges. Later, he studies law and crusades for justice for those labelled terrorists and anti-nationals.
Mehta elevates a biopic to a tautly told courtroom drama, which also sharply etches his tragic love story. Rajkumar Yadav puts in a first-rate performance, his body language radiating an urgency and controlled nervous energy. It was shown at the Toronto and Dharamshala film festivals and was the runner-up for Best Indian Film at the Mumbai Film Festival.
SHOBDO (Sound) by Kaushik Ganguly (Bengali)
A salute to the anonymous artist, whose behind-the-scenes passion goes into making a film Shobdo explores the fascinating tragedy of a foley artist, who recreates in the studio all the sound effects in a film, from footsteps to crushing newspaper to creating the crackle of fire, shaking of a plastic bottle and the rhythm of a train. But his obsessive commitment to his art means that in real life too, he subconsciously tunes out human voices and hears only ambient sounds, thus, alienating his family and leading to a crisis that nobody — not his wife, colleague or doctor — can prevent.
Ritwick Chakraborty puts in a convincing performance as the obsessed protagonist, while the lovely Raima Sen plays his long-suffering yet loyal wife. Produced by Rose Valley, Shobdo should release in Bengal soon, and hopefully elsewhere too. Ganguly has often sensitively explored sexuality in his earlier films, including Arekti Premer Golpo (Just Another Love Story, starring Rituparno Ghosh, that was at the Berlin Film Festival), Shunyo Ei Bukey, Ushnotar Jonyo and Laptop.
-Meenakshi Shedde is India Consultant to the Berlin and Dubai Film Festivals, and has been curator to festivals worldwide