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India’s women directors make a mark at Toronto film fest

Starring Naseeruddin Shah and Tisca Chopra, The Hungry is a sleek genre drama, and its sophistication belies the minuscule budget the director had to work with. 

entertainment Updated: Sep 19, 2017 07:17 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Director Bornila Chatterjee (center left) and actress Tisca Chopra (center right) with other members of the cast of the film, The Hungry, at its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. Also seen is Cameron Bailey (extreme right), the festival’s artistic director.
Director Bornila Chatterjee (center left) and actress Tisca Chopra (center right) with other members of the cast of the film, The Hungry, at its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. Also seen is Cameron Bailey (extreme right), the festival’s artistic director. (Courtesy TIFF)

Even though the kerfuffle over Priyanka Chopra inserting insurgency into Sikkim may have dominated headlines, the 2017 version of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) was marked by the red carpet treatment given to young, emerging women directors from India.

Three of them made their presence felt at the 42nd edition of the festival: Paakhi Tyrewala, director of Pahuna: The Little Visitors, the film produced by Chopra and which set the stage for those unfortunate remarks, Rima Das with her observational Village Rockstars set in a remote Assamese hamlet, and Bornila Chatterjee’s The Hungry.

“I met Rima and Paakhi the other day. I was super pumped to meet them. I said, ‘I cannot believe there’s three of us’. It’s quite cool,” Chatterjee said in an interview.

The Hungry was the only one that could be described as commercial in the sense of being a thriller of sorts. It may well take its place in the pantheon of the goriest films ever made in India.

The young director, who was born in Los Angeles and splits her time between Kolkata and New York, takes a lesser known William Shakespeare drama and places it in a corporate milieu, where a wedding arranged between the families of tycoons spirals into mayhem.

As TIFF’s artistic director Cameron Bailey wryly observed, “Indian weddings can’t get any more dysfunctional than this.”

A still from the film, The Hungry, which had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival and stars Naseeruddin Shah in the role of the patriarch of a corporate clan. (Courtesy TIFF)

Marrying Shakespeare to the slasher sensibility came about in 2015, as Chatterjee and her producers entered a British competition to celebrate the 400th death anniversary of the Bard the following year. The filmmakers opted for Titus Andronicus, as Chatterjee explained, “Because of its relative obscurity, that’s one of the things that attracted us to do the story and once you read it, it’s thrilling, it’s crazy.”

The filmmakers chose to set the movie in a business environment “because we wanted to portray people that felt like they lived above the law, we wanted to do it in the upper echelons of Indian society, so when the violent bits happen, it’s that much more jarring”, she said.

In fact, she said the film - shot at the Mud Fort in Kuchesar in Uttar Pradesh and New Delhi - isn’t even as macabre as the original text: “Titus Andronicus is one of his bloodiest plays and actually our version is not half as gory and gruesome as the original. The original is a manic sort of dissection of human baseness.”

Starring Naseeruddin Shah and Tisca Chopra, The Hungry is a sleek genre drama, and its sophistication belies the minuscule budget the director had to work with.

Chatterjee joins a cohort of women directors who have had their work showcased at TIFF in recent years, including Konkona Sen Sharma’s directorial debut, A Death In The Gunj, last year, and Khushboo Ranka, Meghna Gulzar and Leena Yadav the year before.

Given that this was the year TIFF also launched its project, Share Her Journey, to promote gender equity in films, this phenomenon ought to continue in the years ahead.