Delhi awash with a sea of protesting students. A nation rocked by debates on intolerance and censorship. Women asking for their rightful place in society and speaking out against patriarchy.
In this backdrop, there couldn’t be a more relevant time for a no-holds-barred dialogue on freedoms among the campaigners of independent, issue-based cinema: The I View World International Film Festival.
The opening day of the seven-day event saw most panelists agree on that it is an interesting time to be an actor in the Hindi film industry; others acknowledged growing angst in the society and admitted to being pressurised to be silent on issues that matter the most to them.
The ‘intolerance’ debate
“It was a lot easier earlier to make films around sensitive issues. When My Brother… Nikhil was released about 10 years ago, I not only got a U certificate for it, I got satellite rights, it was distributed by Yashraj productions, and it ran in the theatres for six weeks. As independent filmmakers, it has become extremely difficult today to market your films, to be visible,” said filmmaker Onir, whose film dealt with issues such as AIDS and homosexuality, was widely watched and appreciated.
“I do not think the film would have been the same had it been released today. As a country we have taken a step back. Look at how the censor board treats films these days. And it is not just it. There is an invisible censorship from all quarters which is more difficult to handle. People have become so hostile. It not just on the social media, it is very much real. You can fight the censor board. How do you fight the rest? As a society we are becoming extremely intolerant about dialogue. I am told by studios that they are keen on my films but do not want ‘those’ kind of subjects. What is ‘those’?” he questioned.
Watch the trailer of My Brother Nikhil here
Shweta Tripathi, who played an upper-caste girl in love with a lower-caste boy in Neeraj Ghaywan’s acclaimed 2015 film Masaan, agreed.
“It is just a small section of the society that participates or appreciates dialogue. You will be surprised to know how even my friends react to things like beef ban or stand-up comedy. It is really sad,” she said.
Actor Radhika Apte, who has dabbled with it all - short films, television series, YouTube videos and full-length feature films - says the content mattered to her and not the medium. “Access to content has become so much easier with smartphones. As actors, we all want challenging roles and a wider reach. If a short film does it then so be it,” she, who recently acted in Sujoy Ghosh’s shot film Ahalya, said.
Watch Ahalya here
Tripathi felt fortunate to have come at a time when films like Masaan are being made. “It is a really exciting time to work with actors who do not just look great but are known for their work and talent. Commercial cinema is important but there should be a balance. There are so many stories waiting to be told,” she said.
For actor Monica Dogra, who made her Bollywood debut with the 2011 film Dhobi Ghat, her identity as an American or an Indian became irrelevant when she acted. “When you act, you are your character and nothing else. People in India might think of me as an American and those in the US as an Indian, but when I am in front of the camera, I am just an actor and nothing else,” she said.
“You need to demand that space where you are respected for who you are. I have been asked to colour my hair and lighten my skin. I would do it but only if my character demands it. That would be the character I play and not me. You cannot ask me to be a certain way,” said Tannishtha Chatterjee, who acted in the 2007 British film Brick Lane.
Watch the trailer of Brick Lane here
Veteran Bollywood actor Sharmila Tagore thought society and the Indian cinema changed slowly but surely in the way it looked at women.
“In my times, women were expected to play the damsel in distress. There would be a lot of hand-wringing and tear-shedding. But today you have Piku, an independent woman looking after her father. What was unthinkable then has been so very well accepted today. And it is not just Piku, there are so many other examples,” she said.
‘I View World International Film Festival’ is being organised at the British Council and the American Center till March 8.
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