It’s that time of the year again. You sit back, relax, remember the titles, ponder over it and decide what has stayed back with you. I have been thinking about writing a post on Ashim Ahluwala’s Miss Lovely and Anand Gandhi’s Ship Of Theseus for a long time. But something or other came along and it kept on getting postponed. Now that am thinking about year-end posts, these two films stand out completely from the rest. And strangely, both have many things in common, starting from redefining the “indie” cinema space in its truest nature.
The term “indie” has become quite convoluted in India and we have started using the term broadly for any film which isn’t exactly mainstream. Also, because by conventional rule book, bollywood’s studio system used to be quite different till few years ago. Now, these two films – Miss Lovely and Ship Of Theseus, can be called true blue indies. They have been financed and produced independently, not only outside the studio system but even completely outside the bollywood network. Forget being big stars, the lead actors are not even known faces except for Nawazuddin who was nowhere on the cinema map when he shot Miss Lovely. And most importantly, both the films tell “our” stories – rooted and distinct to the core.
Once you have seen both the films, you realise that it’s finally coming of age moment for desi indies which mostly either look tacky because of lack of budget, or at most we end up giving grace marks and credit to them for at least trying something new. These two films stand strong on their own merit and doesn’t want you to give them “indie sympathy” for just trying to making a different film. They deliver it and how! May i add that these two are easily the best desi films of the year i have seen and they stand on par with the world cinema titles of the year.
As most of you know by now that Miss Lovely is set in the underbelly of Bombay where people churn out B-movies full of sex and horror. The story, as evident from its trailer, is about rivalry of two brothers as a new actress joins the industry. But the film is so much more than that. It doesn’t follow the conventional narrative rule book, it’s more of an “atmospheric” film. You can smell the walls and feel claustrophobic because of the mood it manages to create with its visuals. It’s documentation of an era, of a time, of history and culture. It’s indulgent with minimal dialogues and will test your patience too, but i don’t remember seeing something so brilliantly crafted on indian screen in a long time.
Ship Of Theseus is on the other end of the spectrum. It’s verbose but never dull. It’s philosophical but not pretentious. It questions life, death, morality, religion, humanity, existential issues, and if all that makes it sound like a boring and serious film much like its title, then let me assure you that it isn’t. Even though it doesn’t have a known face but Gandhi’s direction is so assured that it keeps you engaged throughout the film. And what impressed me the most was that the filmmaker had so much “empathy” for the characters. That’s quite rare quality in our films.
I have been following Gandhi’s work since his short film, Right Here Right Now which i first saw at a film club in a cafe. He followed it up with brilliant short called Continuum, and i have been hearing about this feature since last 4-5 years. No wonder it took him so long to put it out finally because the film is completely uncompromised, much like Ashim’s film. Gandhi’s producer is one of the actors in the film, and Ashim managed funding through co-production deals in various countries. But unlike their previous generation, these two represents a new breed of filmmakers who are not willing to find a balance between bollywood and the cinema they associate with and want to make. They want to sail in only one boat and am glad that they could find producers who backed them in their vision.
Though Ashim had made the docu John and Jane earlier but Miss Lovely can be counted as a narrative debut of Ashim. And SoT is the first feature of Gandhi. Desi debut film which is ambitious, assured, and shows so much maturity is a rare find. And in a year when we get to see two such films, i think our cinema future is not very bleak.
To quickly check where these two debut films will stand in comparison to others, i tweeted and asked people to name some of the best desi debut films. I got all kind of replies – DCH, KKHH, Udaan, Masoom, Aaranya Kaandam, Makdi, Munnabhai MBBS, Sarfarosh, Socha Na Tha, Salaam Bombay, Ankur, Ishqiya, Khosla Ka Ghosla, Ek Haseena Thi, Black Friday, Ab Tak Chappan, DDLJ, Luck By Chance, Bhavni Bhawai, Hyderabad Blues, Jaane Bhi Do Yaaron, Neecha Nagar, Dharti Ke Laal, Uski Roti, Musafir, Khamoshi, MPK, Pather Panchali, Ghatashraddha, Om dar-ba-dar and many more. This was just a fun exercise for me – if i am saying these two are such great films, would they fit in the company of some of these debut films? I think they will and will stand out too because of their distinct narrative and treatment.
But test of time?
Well, that also depends on what they do next. I keep on hearing from people that both of them sound so cocky in their interviews, and are completely dismissive when it comes to bollywood and other kind of films. I think it’s good to be cocky as long as you can deliver a good film, and especially so when you do it by remaining completely outside the system. Or maybe there’s other way, as a filmmaker once said, it’s a great film but just don’t tell the director for his sanity.
It’s also great that both these films managed to get a good round of fest selections and screenings. Our cinema desperately need to go beyond the corporates obsessed with box office numbers and coke-corn-crap movie going audience. We need to tackle new territories and gain new markets on the world cinema map. But it would be sad if these two films don’t get a release in India. If not this year, am hoping it will happen next year because otherwise the loss will be entirely ours.