Habitat Film Festival: A celebration of regional cinema

  • Namita Kohli, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: May 07, 2016 11:30 IST
A still from the film Angry Indian Goddesses by Pan Nalin, that celebrates female bonding . The film will be screened at the Habitat Film Festival this week.

If, as art critic John Berger once said, in the sky of cinema, people learn what they might have been, and discover what belongs to them apart from their single lives, the coming week has a lot to offer for those seeking that experience.

A Punjabi film that captures the fear and paranoia during the Khalistan movement in the 1980s, an Odiya film that chronicles the changing life of tribals, a Bengali film exhibitor’s quest to save his single -screen theatre, and a Sanskrit film that has been in the middle of a controversy allegedly for “promoting Hindutva ideology” -- these are just a few picks from the upcoming Habitat Film Festival , one of the few of its kind that the city hosts.

Over the course of the week, 37 films (including documentaries and short films) will be screened. The annual event that has been running for a decade now, focuses on Indian cinema, “beyond the mainstream Bollywood” fare. However, Vidyun Singh, director, Habitat Programmes, clarifies that the festival has chosen to open with Bollywood, albeit a “non-formulaic” film such as Bajirao Mastani. “There’s good work happening in Bollywood too; the lines between what classifies as mainstream and what does not, are blurring,” Singh insists.

Regional cinema, though, remains the core. This year, films address issues of displacement, migration, caste and corruption. The festival is also expanding the scope of “regional cinema” to include six films from the north-east. “We are hoping that the festival will have a trickle-down effect in popularizing regional cinema. So even if audiences are not able to watch all the films, the names will stick around in their minds,” says Singh.

10 films to watch out for at the festival

1.Pahada La Ruha, 2015

A still from Pahada Ra Luha, that captures the life of the adivasis in Orissa.

Directed by Sabyasachi Mohapatra, this National Award winner is based on the life of the Paraja tribes of Koraput district in Orissa, and the effects of industrialization and the displacement on them. The film has been in the making for about 25 years, and won the National Award for the best feature film in Oriya last year.

2. Cinemawala, 2015

A still from Cinemawala, that is about the life of a retired film exhibitor.

Directed by Kaushik Ganguly, the Bengali film revolves around the life of a retired film exhibitor from a small town, who is forced to let go off his movie theatre as digital technology takes over. The film won the won the UNESCO Fellini Medal at IFFI in 2015.

3. Chauthi Koot, 2015

A still from Chauthi Koot, a film that captures the fear and paranoia in Punjab in the 1980s.

The film is based on the political crisis in Punjab during the 1980s when Sikh separatists were engaged in an armed conflict with the Indian state. The film depicts the fear and paranoia in Punjab, and how the Punjabi Hindus and Sikhs survived the bloody conflict by supporting each other. Directed by Gurvinder Singh, the film was screened at Cannes last year, and also won the Golden Gateway of Indian Trophy at the MAMI Film Festival in Bombay.

Read: National Awards are complete farce this year, says director of Chauthi Koot

4. Aligarh, 2016

(Manoj Bajpayee in a still from the film Aligarh)

Hansal Mehta’s film Aligarh, based on the life of Professor Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras, who was suspended from his job because of his sexual orientation, was critically acclaimed for the sensitive portrayal of the Siras’ story.

Read: Aligarh review

5.Priyamanasam (2015)

A still from the Sanskrit film Priyamanasam

Directed by Vinod Mankara, the Sanskrit film Priyamanasam, is about the 17th century poet-scholar, Unnayi Warrier, and is the third Sanskrit film in the world.The period drama revolves around the mental conflicts and agonies experienced by the poet while he was writing his magnum opus. The film was mired in controversy after it got rejected by the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) for allegedly “promoting Hindutva ideology”. It was later the film that opened the panorama section of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in 2015.

6.Ennu Ninte Moideen ( 2015)

A still from the film Ennu Ninte Moideen

Set in the 1960s and 70s in Mukkam, Kerala, this Malayalam film tells the tragic love story of Moideen who belongs to a renowned Muslim family and Kanchana Mala who is the daughter of a Hindu aristocratic landlord. Since inter-religious marriages were a taboo then, the couple had to part ways as their families objected to their love affair.

Read: When content triumphed over star power in south cinema

7. Arunoday (2016)

A still from the film Arunoday.

This Marathi film is about Inspector Joshi, a grieving father searching for his daughter Aruna, kidnapped years ago at the age of six. In his despair, life converges with a recurring dream in which Joshi pursues a shadowy figure who leads him to ‘Paradise’, a night-club where teenage girls dance to a leering crowd. He is convinced he will find Aruna there and vows to bring her back to Leela, his broken wife.

8.Naanu Avanalla...Avalu (2015)

A still from the film Nanu Avanalla..Avalu.

Directed by B. S. Lingadevaru, this Kannada film is based on the life of Living Smile Vidya, a transgender, who, grows up as a boy and cherishes her feminine characteristics. She begins living as a female, Vidya, and depicts the appalling life of the transgender community in the Indian society.

9. Kothanodi (2015)

A still from the film Kothanodi, which is a dark and macabre version of four Assamese folk tales

Bhaskar Hazarika’s debut feature revisits Assamese folk tales. The Assamese film is dark, and Hazarika has done away with the happy endings. Kothanodi just won the National Award, and has been screened at various international film festivals.

10. Visanarai ( 2015)

A still from the Tamil film Visanarai, that won the National Award this year.

Directed By Vetrimaraan, this Tamil film is about a group of immigrants who are detained by the local state police and forced to admit a crime that they have no clue of. A local policeman comes to their rescue, but asks for a favour in return. The film won the National Award this year.

Read: Vetrimaaran shows realism at its harshest best

A Slice Of The North East

A still from the film Dau Huduni Methai, which tells the story of Bodoland through the eyes of a young rape victim

How often will you get a chance to watch a Khasi film, where the female protagonist sets out to “find herself” in a remote village in the Khasi hills? Or, a dark and macabre movie that is set in Assam, and is an adaptation of four different folk tales from the state? Incidentally, the Assamese film, Kothanodi, that stars Adil Hussain and Seema Biswas, among others, was conceived in Delhi, and director Bhaskar Hazarika feels that the screening at Habitat is a “homecoming of sorts”.

Both the films — Kothanodi and the Khasi film Onaatah, have won National Awards this year, and are part of a special package of six films from the north east.Another must-watch is Manju Borah’s Dau Huduni Methai, a Bodo language film that tells the powerful story of the effects of insurgency and counter-insurgency in Assam’s Bodoland area, through the eyes of a young rape victim.

The festival will be held from May 7-May 15 at the India Habitat Centre, Lodi Road, New Delhi. Entry is free. For details of the schedule and passes, log on to www.habitatfilmclub.com.

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