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Will India shine at Rotterdam?

Saibal Chatterjee weighs the chances of Navarasa and Mixed Doubles.

india Updated: Jan 25, 2006 18:00 IST

The 35th International Film Festival of Rotterdam (IFFR), scheduled to kick off in the Dutch port city on January 25, is the sort of event that gives mainstream Bollywood fare a wide berth. But its official programme line-up does include a bunch of stylistically and textually intriguing entries from and about India that could well ensure that a fair bit of the media spotlight remains on the subcontinent all through the 12-day festival.

Two new offbeat and low-budget features – ace cinematographer and director Santosh Sivan’s Navarasa (Nine Emotions) and actor-director Rajat Kapoor’s comedic Mixed Doubles, both produced by Sunil Doshi’s Handmade Films – will be unveiled during the course of this year’s IFFR.

For Mixed Doubles, which, in a light-hearted vein, examines the changing marital mores of urban India through a story of a couple whose relationship has run out of physical steam, the screening in Rotterdam will be a world premiere.

Both the producer and the director will be in attendance to present the film. Besides Rajat Kapoor himself, the cast of Mixed Doubles features Konkona Sensharma, Ranvir Shorey, Koel Purie and Naseeruddin Shah.

SantoshSivan’sNavarasa  and actor-director RajatKapoor’s Mixed Doubleswill represent India at the 35th International Film Festival of Rotterdam.

While Kapoor is known in Europe‘s arthouse circuit for the well-received

Raghu Romeo,

Sivan, too, has a following of his own ever since his 1999 film,

Terrorist,

earned accolades the world over.

Mixed Doubles is scheduled for an all-India theatrical release on February 10.

Navarasa, completed last year, is unlike anything ever made in India: the film deals with a little-known community of eunuchs in Tamil Nadu. Its narrative centres on a rural festival that celebrates their existence. Sivan narrates a contemporary story and links it to its mythic roots even as he intersperses fiction with documentary-style footage.

The Rotterdam event will also screen the restored and colourised print of K Asif’s 1960 blockbuster, Mughal-e-Azam, which seems to have emerged as a favourite of festival organisers around the globe.

But the two India-linked films that are most likely to hog much of the limelight aren’t from India at all. On the Rotterdam bill of fare are a half-hour documentary on north Kolkata by recently deceased American film studies professor and experimental filmmaker Mark LaPore and a politically sensitive expose of the US government’s post-9/11 anti-immigrant policies crafted by two New York-based Indian filmmakers, Sanjna Singh and Pia Sawhney.

LaPore, a resident of Boston and a Rotterdam film festival regular, completed his freewheeling film, Kolkata, last year, months before his untimely death at the age of 53. It is a portrait of the ebb and flow of life on the streets of north Calcutta, a place “at once mediaeval and modern”. The 35th IFFR is hosting the film’s international premiere.

The story behind Sanjna Singh and Pia Sawhney’s trenchant film, Out of Status, is hugely interesting. It premiered in Rotterdam in 2004 as a short 11-minute film that probed the effect that hastily promulgated emergency laws have had on immigrants in the US, especially those from Muslim countries like Egypt and Pakistan.

Two years on, Out of Status is back in Rotterdam as a 65-minute film that follows four families torn apart by the abrupt deportation of and legal proceedings against their sole, male breadwinners. It is not surprising why Singh and Sawhney can empathise with the plight of these people.

As they say on their film’s Web site, “We, the filmmakers, arrived in our teens from India. We cherish the freedom that brought us here.” They then go on to say: “We are honoured to be a making a film where we represent our own immigrant community, and that crafts greater understanding between the immigrants of yesterday and today.”

The undeniable topicality of Out of Status is bound to have a stronger resonance than most other films on view in Rotterdam this year.

First Published: Jan 25, 2006 20:30 IST