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OCFF: A platform for new voices

It's an ideal place for experimental efforts, writes Saibal Chatterjee.
By WIDE ANGLE | Saibal Chatterjee | PTI, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON JUL 20, 2005 05:00 PM IST

The mainstream film distribution network in India has little room for experimental cinematic efforts, especially those attempted by unknown newcomers. In that situation, the film festival space does indeed become a legitimate alternative platform for filmmakers struggling to get their voices across amid the clutter of commercially oriented potboilers that dominate the marketplace.

The 7th Osian’s-Cinefan Film Festival (OCFF) has always furthered the cause of small, offbeat Indian cinema even as it has sought to provide an avenue to the established non-mainstream auteurs of the land. This year, the rapidly growing festival has gone a step ahead by throwing the net far wider than it has ever done before.

Nearly 30 Indian films, many of them strikingly original debut efforts, are on show at this year’s OCFF. Admittedly, the quality on offer is rather uneven: it ranges from the exquisite to the slipshod, the interesting to the pedestrian. But, all said and done, these films do provide us a fair sense of how wide the range of filmic expressions can be if young directors are allowed to do their own thing.

Of the two Indian films in the Asian Competition section of the 7th OCFF, one (Ruchi Narain’s Kal – Yesterday and Tomorrow) is a debut feature. The other domestic Asian Competition entry, Bappaditya Bandopadhyay’s Bengali-language Kantatar (Barbed Wire), is only the second film of the director. Interestingly, Narain and Bandopadhyay are protégés of two of India’s most accomplished cinematic craftsmen, Sudhir Mishra and Buddhadeb Dasgupta respectively.

 
A still from Ruchi Narain’s Kal – Yesterday and Tomorrow

Six of the 12 films in the Indian Competition section are also by first-timers. These films are in competition with the likes of Santosh Sivan’s experimental

Navarasa

, Kundan Shah’s disturbing

Teen Behnein

, Jayaraj’s

Daivanamathil 

(In the Name of God) and Sandip Ray’s

Nishijapon 

(After the Night… Dawn).

Among the more interesting of the entries in the Indian Competition is Ek Mutho Chhobi (A Fistful of Films), a five-in-one Bengali film that explores the vices of lust, anger, greed, obsession and jealousy through a clutch of gripping, well acted stories.

Produced by actress Roopa Ganguly, the five short films, which run for two hours in all, are directed by five different directors, three of them new to the big screen format. Only actor-singer-songwriter-musician-filmmaker Anjan Dutt is a veteran of sorts, having helmed two feature films in the past.

One of these directors, Kaushik Ganguly, has another film in competition – Shunyo E Bukey (Empty Canvas), which examines the ramifications of the male fallacy of judging feminine beauty at the physical level alone.

The other Bengali-language debut film in the fray is Jahar Kanungo’s Nisshabd, an Indo-French co-production. Nisshabd also deals with a rather unusual theme – the impact of sound pollution on a sensitive denizen of Delhi. The man retreats to his village in Bengal in the hope of peace, but his craving for complete silence persists and assumes neurotic proportions.

The other maiden Indian films vying for an award at the 7th OCFF are all in the Hindi language although none of them can be described as typical Bollywood fare. The film that comes closest to that tag is Shoojit Sircar’s Yahaan, but its authentic Kashmir Valley setting and its sensitive handling of the relationship between an Indian Army captain and a local girl sets it apart from the run of the mill.

Interestingly, the scion of a mainstream Mumbai cinema family, Kamal Sadanah (son of the late Brij Sadanah, who made such commercially successful films as Victoria No 203 and Ek Se Badhkar Ek), has come up with the unconventional Karkash, which addresses the issue of the exploitation of the weaker sex in rural India through the story of a newly married woman and her violent, abusive husband.

The Indian hinterland is also the space that the narrative of Rajkumar Bhan’s Darpan ke Peeche, which revolves around a little boy’s awakening, occupies. The film, somewhat in the manner of Nisshabd, establishes the contrast between the stress of urban existence and the peace and repose of life in a village.

Perhaps the most intriguing of the Hindi-language debuts in the Indian Competition section is Kanika Verma’s Dansh, the first-ever Mumbai-produced film set entirely in the north-eastern state of Mizoram. It poses a pertinent question in the form of a riveting human drama: can a former insurgent ever unshackle himself from the past?

The impressively wide array of themes handled by these films is proof that a section of younger Indian filmmakers, even in market-driven Mumbai, are beginning to shake off the fetters of old habits. With OCFF providing them a much-needed outlet, there might be reason to believe that this trend is only going to grow stronger in the coming years.    

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