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Maqbool, Bokshu make a mark

Some young Indian directors are using IFFI to make cinematic statements that could make the difference between obscurity and international recognition, says Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: Oct 18, 2003 16:56 IST

Amid the gloom of an event that refuses to rise above its constant tepidity, a handful of young Indian filmmakers are using the 34th International Film Festival of India to make forceful cinematic statements that could, with a little bit of luck, make the difference for them between long-term obscurity and instant international recognition.

But even as they seek to up the stakes, the deeply entrenched apathy of the domestic distribution network continues to dog some of them. Says the Chicago-based Satish Menon, whose debut feature, Bhavum (Malayalam), a part of this year's Indian Panorama, has garnered positive notices: "The film has been picked up by three US distributors but in my home state of Kerala I am yet to find takers. People are dismissing it as an art film. I think they are giving Bhavum too much respect."

Another relative newcomer who might find the road ahead undeservedly tough is the gifted Shyamaprasad, who burst on the scene a few years ago with the exceptionally mature Agnisakshi. His third directorial vehicle, the English-language Bokshu - The Myth, is an ambitious Indo-US co-production made by a cast and crew consisting of a mix of Americans, Europeans and Indians.

Produced by a non-resident Indian, Bokshu is being lined up for an international release by the end of the year. "It is," says Shyamaprasad, "an adventure mystery based on a Hindi novel about the Himalayan legend of the Bokshu, a man who turns into a tiger and must kill in order to continue living. It had to be an international co-production because of its scale."

Into his well structured, competently told tale Shyamaprasad weaves numerous strands - myth, religion, fantasy, sensuality and human drama - to come up with a film that bears the stamp of a skilled craftsman. If nothing else, Bokshu - The Myth could easily take its place among the handful of films of international class that have emerged from India in the past decade.

The same cannot, however, be said of Rajiv Anchal's simplistic Beyond the Soul, a film that seeks to establish the efficacy of Ayurveda through the trite story of an American doctor who heads for Kerala in search of a cure for a patient back home.

What the White medicine man finds In God's Own Country instead is a generous dose of philosophy and moral platitudes. Beyond the Soul doesn't work either as an advertisement for India - surely our filmmakers can achieve greater narrative depth and complexity - or as a tourism DIY kit for Kerala.

No such problems for Vishal Bhardwaj's second film as director, Maqbool. He dares to "reinterpret" William Shakespeare's Macbeth against the backdrop of the contemporary Mumbai underworld scenario and manages to pull it off with aplomb, helped no doubt by an ensemble cast of some of the finest Indian screen actors. "Such is the power of Macbeth that it can be located in any setting," says Bhardwaj.

The film's lead actor, Irfan Khan, corroborates the director's viewpoint. "The story is so powerful that the actors could effortlessly underplay their parts. That is what I have done."

Therese Hayes, programmer of Indian films for the Palm Springs International Film Festival, has zeroed in on Maqbool as a likely entry for PSIFF as well as an event in Bangkok, which she additionally represents. "I am sure audiences back in the US will love Maqbool," she says. Hayes has already conveyed her opinion about the film to the director and Maqbool is more than certain to travel to both Palm Springs and Bangkok next January.

And these are the little long-distance connections that make IFFI worthwhile for Indian filmmakers, especially the younger ones, who are only just embarking upon the onerous task of striving for global attention.

First Published: Oct 15, 2003 11:38 IST