Archive for March, 2014

Rajat Kapoor’s new film Ankhon Dekhi opened with rave reviews. Though it has been a limited release, if you still haven’t seen it, do watch. It’s easily one of the finest films of the year. And if you have seen it, here’s Fatema Kagalawala on what worked and what didn’t. Read on to see if you agree or not.

“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” ― Henry David Thoreau, Walden

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Are stories set in a real-life world created with an unimaginable honesty, enough? Remember this line as you read along.

There are films that are character-centric, there are films that are character-driven, there are plot-driven films and there are those where the idea looms large enough to swipe everything under its shadow. Ankhon Dekhi is one of those films. Truth is your inner truth, your own truth, what you can see and feel and experience. Can a theme get more universal and personal at the same time than that? Can a theme get more exciting, thirsting to be explored threadbare than that?

“There are only two days that are important in life; the day you were born and the day you realise why.” – Mark Twain

Bauji has an eiphany one day and he must follow it because suddenly he has realised why he was born. He must follow his own truth and his own truth will only be that which he has experienced. Soon, the meaning of his entire life changes. He leaves his job as a travel agent because he hasn’t seen any of the places he regularly recommends and hence it is a false existence, something he cannot allow in his life anymore. “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth”, Bauji could easily have been Thoreau. Or Maya Angelou who when asked what is right simply said, “Truth is.” His loving wife and daughter indulge him, his younger brother, tired of hauling material responsibilities leaves him, his loyal fans follow him blindly and we have a picture of life as we all have seen unfolding in our own worlds.

Creating a world to touch and feel

Every film is rooted in its own ideology and born of it, whether it likes it or not, whether it is conscious of it or not. Rajat Kapoor’s cinema seeks to question consciously and that is the joy of watching his films. In Mixed Doubles he questioned the idea of monogamous relationships, in Mithya and Fatso identity and truth, in Ankhon Dekhi truth again. There is something very honest, at an intrinsic level, in his searching and nudging set beliefs. That draws you in and makes you take it seriously, keen to know if the journeys of his characters will somehow make your own easier and enlightened.

It does but not in the philosophical proddings. It does in the earthy, rustic (and inspired) casting of Sanjay Mishra, Seema Pahwa and others. It does in the lovely, early morning winter mist-like songs written by Varun Grover used beautifully. It does in the very common-sounding but carefully written dialogues. It does in the loving relationships we see functioning in what we see as a very average, very ordinary family. We smile when we see Seema Pahwa’s Amma, nagging but warm and soft-hearted wife and mother because we know her, maybe in our own mothers, wives, mother-in-laws, aunts, grandmothers or neighbours. Even if we don’t she seems familiar. Because she is real.  There is no artifice in her character or her performance and she appeals to us in a way no hot babe or heartthrob can aspire to. Like most women do, she forms the spine of the family, keeping it together emotionally yet invisibly. (If you disagree, imagine the family without Bauji. Then imagine the family without her). Getting her character right (and getting the brilliant Seema Pahwa to play it) is the first solid brick Rajat Kapoor lays in creating a world we cannot help but fall in love with.

As we gently land into the world we are welcomed by a ruckus over the inappropriateness of the friendship the daughter of the house has with a boy. Bauji protects her as Amma lashes at her. We then see Bauji’s younger brother Rishi (a terribly miscast Rajat Kapoor) step in to play the peace-making voice of sense role with a sigh; a role he has probably been playing for a long time now and is weary of. There is also the no-good younger son (a character that spirals the story even more out of focus in the second half) whom Bauji doesn’t know what to do with and we see that the irregularities of the family are as regular and middle-class as they can get. There is daily bickering, daily endearing moments, gentle warmth and regular disappointments as ordinary yet interesting for it, as the patchwork quilt the family cosily shrouds themselves in, in the cold nights of this North Indian town.

“The truth is out there!”

Bauji would like to believe so but there is a strong corollary to that. Only that truth is truth that is true to your experience. And hence begins a journey of a family dragged into this search of truth by the man of the house who now begins to appear a little senile to our eyes shrouded by practical concerns. We, as an audience become the family and Bauji the lone crusader trying to put out what he has discovered.

I tripped out on the promise of the premise completely.

“In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” ― George Orwell

Truth does revolutionise Bauji’s life. The search for truth comes with a price, from Gandhi to Satyapriya, they all knew it. The price Bauji pays is to see his joint family breaking up. Rishi chooses to live separately with his family and the graceful Bauji lets him be. We sense there is a parallel search for one’s own truth unfolding elsewhere. Practical and material concerns do not provide us the middle-class luxury to indulge in fancy philosophical journeys; no, that’s for the elite. And hence the entire family rises up in arms against Bauji’s new avatar. Philosophy is costly but we forget that in merely surviving we let go of living. Subtly deceiving ourselves that this is what life is meant to be after all. For Bauji, surviving suddenly becomes an ugly word.

Sadly, his discovery does not become an expansive, life-affirming philosophical journey or a guiding light. Neither does it elevate itself to a deep, cinematic exploration of its theme. Like Matrix did for example.

Instead, we have a situation with little sub-text to the real theme, of his younger brother’s separation from the joint family. Animosity grows between the brothers, one that is treated gently and with love but does it contribute anything to the central conceit of the film? Yes, the younger brother is following his own truth but the film seems to be saying little about his journey, treating it with realist-humanist sympathy alone with no philosophical implications. A mere by-product of the mess Bauji has invited in his life by choosing what he has. That a sub-plot that crucial has little bearing to the theme than being a mere outcome seemed to me to be disservice to everyone included.

“Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.” ― Winston Churchill

The tender-hearted Bauji suddenly becomes a braveheart in our eyes because he finds in himself the courage to face the truth he has found. It isn’t easy, such conviction, but neither is it difficult because when you have an epiphany, when the clouds clear for that insoluble moment of time and the sun shines brighter than it ever has, all shadows fall away, and the truth stands alone, refusing to be blind-sided, refusing to be hidden by rationalisations yet again. With such truth such courage comes as default. One has no other way. Yet, Bauji’s truth does not become ours nor egg us to seek ours. It gets lost in the whimsy of card-playing popularity, fan-following herds, and placard-holding eccentricities. None of which are organic or dynamic. They remain interesting plot points, the ‘coulds’ one writes on the margins of a script when at crossroads of plot development.

It’s almost like Rajat Kapoor himself stumbled over the truth, picked himself up and hurried off as if nothing happened.

And that killed the film for me. A theme as rich as that I found aimlessly tossed around, especially one with a very honest intent and one that is completely devoid of posturing. I know what became of Bauji but was it an organic growth or a cop-out? To me it seemed like the latter. Not that I know, but the alleys of truth must be convoluting, without easy answers, especially since so many of us know so little about it. The end of Bauji’s search seemed very easy. And his journey very unmindful as well. For a man who has found the reason of his existence, one which has been turned 360 degrees, he seemed to be acting more from whim than a focussed intent. Because whim is superficial but intent helps you delve deeper. If Bauji’s character had truly delved deeper he wouldn’t be going on trips to the zoo very late in the second half to establish a point he had painstakingly established very early on. If his character hadn’t taken an eccentric turn he wouldn’t suddenly become the lucky charm of a small-time Mafioso. His character seemed to be truly seeking and struggling, breaking free and revolutionising all that we know of an average man’s search for truth (notice the paradox in the statement) when he took to standing on the chowk holding confounding placards embarrassing his family. But suddenly, there was no movement in this journey. And a brilliant plot point became a mere set piece contributing nothing to anything.

 “The more I see, the less I know for sure.” ― John Lennon

Is this why Bauji ends up the way he does? We don’t know, however we are led to believe that he has come to a fructifying end to his journey. With the end as he chooses for Bauji, Rajat Kapoor seems to want to put an existential spin in the narrative which is as exciting a thought as his original theme. But there are no questions raised before we are led to this resolution. Nor is there an indication of a journey that seeks a proper close. The end comes and goes, just like Bauji’s epiphany, leaving us cold when it should have ideally left us shivering with goose bumps. Maybe inches closer to our own spiritual or intellectual thirst. That is because we did not see enough. Deep enough. Of Bauji and his thirst, his angst of marrying his new reality with his old, or a trajectory that led to his resolution that seemed to satisfy him. The film is linear and not episodic, however treating his journey as episodic fails the entire structure of the film and the audience, who by the middle are expecting more. Not answers, no one has them nor they can give anyone (Your truth is your own, remember?). Nor was it the intent of the film to provide ready ones. It was the experience of the search, the pain, angst, growth, questions, answers, trials and peace. Logically, all of this exists in the film but tattered and scattered, making little sense, not feeding off each other as it should and hence coming across as an under-played game of TT where no one wins.

Aldous Huxley once wrote, “Experience isn’t what happens to a man, it’s what a man does with what happens to him.”

I think that just about sums up, at many levels, what I feel about the film.

– Fatema Kagalwala

 

Mumbai Mantra Sundance Institute Screewriters LabMumbai Mantra, the media and entertainment division of the Mahindra Group, in collaboration with Sundance Institute, has selected eight Indian Screenwriters and their feature film projects for the third annual Mumbai Mantra | Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab, to be held from March 16-21 at the Club Mahindra Resort in Tungi.

– This year’s Screenwriting Fellows, selected from submissions from India and the Indian diaspora around the world, are: Navneet Behal (Experiments with Truth); Ashvin Kumar (Noor); Bornila Chatterjee (Nuclear Hearts); Gaurav Madan (Shaktipur Crude); Deepanjali B Sarkar (Svadharma); Dylan Mohan Gray (The Last Day of Winter); Sanjay Talreja (The River Murder); and Neeraj Ghaywan and Varun Grover (Ud Jayega / Fly Away Solo).

– Creative Advisors include: Naomi Foner (Running on Empty, The Bee Season), Michael Handelman (The Ex, Night At The Museum), Dante Harper (The Delicate Art of the Rifle), James V Hart (Contact, August Rush, Dracula, Tuck Everlasting), Malia Scotch Marmo (Hook, Madeline), Anjum Rajabali (The Legend of Bhagat Singh, Raajneeti), Elena Soarez (City of Men, House of Sand), Rose Troche (Go Fish, The Safety of Objects) and Sooni Taraporevala (Salaam Bombay!, Mississippi Masala, The Namesake).

– Mumbai Mantra received over 500 applications for the Lab from Indian screenwriters across the globe. After a rigorous deliberation and consultation with Sundance Institute, the final eight projects were chosen.

– The Selection Advisory Committee included Advaita Kala, Anjum Rajabali, Deven Khote, K. Hariharan, Kanika Luthra, Mahesh Samat, Meenakshi Shedde, Neeru Nanda, Prakash Kovelamudi, Ram Madhvani, Ravina Kohli, Uma Da Cunha and Vikramaditya Motwane.

PROJECTS AND SCREENWRITERS SELECTED

EXPERIMENTS WITH TRUTH

LOGLINE: Following three children over the course of eighteen years, Experiments With Truth explores a recent history of state-sponsored violence.

Writer/director: Navneet Behal

While pursuing his Masters in Film at the New York Institute of Technology, Navneet Behal started work in New York as a camera operator. Upon his return to India, Navneet worked as Associate Director on a Hindi feature film, produced by Wild Elephant Motion Pictures. He is currently directing his first feature film, produced by M.A.S Universal Fin & Intra, due for release in 2015.

NOOR

LOGLINE: A six year-old girl sets out to find her missing father and stumbles upon mass graves, implicating the Indian army and putting herself in danger.

Writer/director: Ashvin Kumar

Ashvin Kumar is the youngest Indian filmmaker to be nominated for an Academy Award, for Little Terrorist, which played at 130 film festivals, winning 25 awards, including Honourable Mention at BAFTA/LA and a nomination by the European Film Academy. In 2012, his documentary Inshallah Football was awarded the National Award, India’s highest honor for cinema. Its sequel Inshallah, Kashmir won the National Award for best investigative film in 2013. His other work includes Dazed in Doon and The Forest.

NUCLEAR HEARTS

LOGLINE: A Bengali lounge singer who becomes involved with two French expats living in Calcutta, India.

Writer/director: Bornila Chatterjee

Bornila Chatterjee graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts with a BFA in Film and TV in 2008. Her debut feature film, Let’s Be Out, The Sun Is Shining, premiered at the 2012 New York Indian Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award and received a Best Actress nomination for lead Lipica Shah. Bornila was previously Managing Director of Stone Street Studios, a screen acting school and advanced conservatory in the Department of Drama at Tisch. Bornila is a curator and essayist for Vyer Films, a Brooklyn-based film streaming service, and a writer for Overdose Art Pvt. Ltd, a progressive art platform and production company in Calcutta, India.

SHAKTIPUR CRUDE

LOGLINE: When oil is discovered, a small village at Indo-China border suddenly becomes the most important place in the country and changes the lives of its people forever.

Writer/director: Gaurav Madan

Gaurav Madan grew up in a small town in Haryana. He received his Masters in Communications from University of Pune. He has won several awards for his commercial work, and owns an advertising production company based in Mumbai. His first screenplay was 3 nights 4 days, which was completed in 2009.

SVADHARMA

LOGLINE: The true story of an army officer who is betrayed by his government and sentenced to eight years of solitary confinement.

Writer/director: Deepanjali B Sarkar

Deepanjali B Sarkar is a digital media content specialist with experience ranging from internet and telecom content to corporate communications. She has worked with ITC, Indiatimes.com and Mobifusion. An alumnus of Presidency College Kolkata and Jadavpur University, she blogs regularly at http://filmandbookclub.blogspot.com/.

THE LAST DAY OF WINTER

LOGLINE: Condemned by a thuggish political regime as the son of a traitor, a 15-year-old boy faces a torturous set of choices as he reluctantly leaves childhood behind.

Writer/director: Dylan Mohan Gray

Dylan Mohan Gray is an award-winning producer, writer and director. His documentary Fire in the Blood was presented at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and set a record for the longest theatrical run by a non-fiction feature film in Indian history. Fire in the Blood has won major awards in Washington, Hamburg and Vancouver and also received the award for Best Debut Film at the 2014 Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF). Trained as a historian, Dylan founded the production company Sparkwater India in 2005 and has worked in various capacities on feature films, including collaborations with directors Fatih Akin, Peter Greenaway, Paul Greengrass, Deepa Mehta and Mira Nair.

THE RIVER MURDER

LOGLINE: A small town cop investigates whether a body found floating on the river is one of four missing local men.

Writer/director: Sanjay Talreja

Sanjay Talreja is an award-winning writer, director and editor of narrative features and documentaries, whose work has appeared on television and at film festivals. He most recently wrote and directed the feature film Surkhaab, which won Best Director, Foreign Language Feature at the 2013 London International Film Festival. Sanjay also teaches at various colleges and universities in Canada, the US and India. He has a MFA in Film.

UD JAYEGA (FLY AWAY SOLO)

LOGLINE: Four lives intersect along the Ganges river, each yearning to escape the constrictions of a small town.

Writers-director: Neeraj Ghaywan / Varun Grover (co-writer)

Neeraj Ghaywan worked with Anurag Kashyap on the veteran director’s two-part opus Gangs of Wasseypur and as second unit director on Ugly. His short films as writer-director include Shor and The Epiphany. Shor won the grand jury prize at three International film festivals.

Varun Grover grew up in Dehradun and Lucknow. He has written stand-up comedy for various TV shows and currently performs stand-up comedy at the biggest venues in India, writes fiction and graphic series for children in Chakmak (published from Bhopal, by Eklavya), and has written lyrics for Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur (2012), Vasan Bala’s Peddlers (2012), Rajat Kapoor’s Aankhon Dekhi (2013), and Fahad Mustafa/Deepti Kakkar’s Katiyabaaz (2013).

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As we have said before, it’s a great time for desi documentaries. And while this one is not an Indian production, it does have a desi connection. Amma & Appa is a personal documentary about the cross-cultural marriage of director Franziska Schoenenberger and her fiancé and co-director Jayakrishnan Subramaniam. It was warmly received when it showed recently at the Berlin Film Fest in the Perspektive Deutsches Kino section. Check out the trailer and synopsis below:

Franziska comes from Bavaria and is in love with Jayakrishnan from southern India. When the couple decide that their love should lead to marriage and a life in Germany, both sets of in-laws find that cultural customs they took for granted are now suddenly subjected to scrutiny.

Whilst Franziska’s parents chose to marry of their own free will, the marriage of Jayakrishnan’s parents was arranged within their own caste, as is customary in Caddalore in southern India. As far as they are concerned, their son’s intention not only to marry a foreigner but to marry for love represents a cruel act of revenge on the part of the gods, since the match calls into question their whole traditional way of life.

Hoping to overcome cultural barriers, the parents of the Bavarian bride-to-be decide to travel to India to visit their future son-in-law’s parents. Interspersed with delicate animation sequences, Amma & Appa is a personal documentary which tells the story of one intercultural union — and in doing so humorously explores the familiar in the unfamiliar, and the unfamiliar in the familiar.

For more info on the film, check out the FB page or the website.

First, came this (on Highway). Then, we read this (on Nebraska). And now, this new post – another film, another personal connect, and another journey. This time it’s about Vikas Bahl’s Queen and why Svetlana Naudiyal could find a personal resonance with it. As the saying goes, Not all those who wander are lost. Read on.

I don’t remember being so happy after watching a Hindi film in a long time. It’s as though I am few beers down. I saw it yesterday, and the smile refuses to leave my face.

Her cardigan, her fading Mehndi, her awkward dance moves…the flashbacks…the dancing like crazy but carefully tucking the cardigan in her handbag…the gradual changes in body language…the Alice in Wonderland pullover…Golgappe, Salt and Pepper, Hostel, irrelevance of languages…the list can go on. The several little things, and the lovely whole.

Life needn’t always be particularly traumatizing. You might not have a rich, cold, cruel family; you might never have a heartbreak that turns into Rockstar-dom. It’s easier to tell the black to white story of a somewhat melodramatically traumatized/damaged character, and difficult to go wrong there. But some films still do. It’s not that easy to tell the story of a very ordinary girl from your neighborhood, it’s not easy to catch the greys. There’s a doting happy family, a comfortable life, and you know for a fact that the heartbreak can soon be forgotten. Eventually a new proposal will step in, and the bygones will be bygones, like it happens in real life. Queen’s situation is barely a speck in the universe of the so called Emotional Crises of the International Concern. Internal conflicts of the unconscious mind, particularly those of an unremarkable, ordinary person, are the least appetizing of all stories.

For telling the story of the internal misgivings, and telling it so well – seemingly insignificant, seemingly simple, a king-sized hat tip to Queen!

I am nobody like her but there’s so much of me, and many others I know, in her story. What do we call it – The unsaid understanding of the lone travelers?

For the last few hours, I’ve been sifting through my own photos, scribbles, email drafts from the trips. If there’s any poetry or meaning in life, it’s traveling. That’s it.

——————-

Salinas Drive, Cebu, Philippines. I was inhabited by the chaos of that street. And I loved it. In that chaos, all my noisy selves came to the fore, talking, asserting their presence. Nothing under the sun could stop them anymore.

For very long, of the several people I was and I could be, I was just being this one person. I was clueless, lacked confidence, suffered from low self-esteem, sought approval from everyone but myself, and to top it up – I was confused (which is an alright state to be in otherwise but not in combination with the aforementioned symptoms). I was stuck in a Mangrove swamp and had no strength to realize and admit that I was. All this when all my life, prior to this particular phase, I had been a strong, independent person.

To put it simply – my brain was a mess. I was not even the protagonist of my own life. I didn’t like myself and instead of acknowledging it, I would go overboard with pretending to be fine, sorted and in complete control of what I was doing. I believe staying away from home teaches you that – ‘How to pretend that everything is alright or will be alright soon’. Folks call and you tell them everything is good. (It’s been a decade away from home and I must admit that at this kind of lying, I can quite often defy the mommy sensor!)

Friends could see the mess, but my pretense confused them as well and in turn no one raised an alarm or even a question for that matter.

It was nothing short of a miracle that Philippines happened, and saved me. Through some odd coincidences, I got a freelance assignment at a first time documentary festival in a city called Cebu, that required me to be there for 6 weeks.

I can confess this now, perhaps. And I hope my parents won’t be reading this. Until I reached Cebu, I had no clue what the job entailed. Broadly speaking, and this was the story I told everyone, including my parents – I was supposed to help set up the festival, programme and also take a short course on organizing/setting-up festivals with a batch of film-making students. I didn’t even know if I was appropriate for the job but for once in life, I gathered all my selfishness and jumped at the opportunity headlong.

The organizer person I was interacting with seemed shady, neurotic and hyper, which I later discovered wasn’t an exactly incorrect observation. Her ex-associate on the project – an Indian, was shadier – she had conceived and subsequently abandoned the project, was constantly unavailable or lying about her whereabouts, her work. The organizer inviting me was facing allegations of intellectual infringement on the event concept. Google told me all this and i didn’t even bother to crosscheck with the organizer. My travel, stay, food was on them, and I thought that was enough. I was also promised an alright remuneration too, which was never paid on arrival. And well, not even on departure.

Just a month before leaving, I landed myself a nice job which would eventually entail travel. So actually, there was no urgent need to go to a far flung third world country for a something-fishy assignment. Of course, I didn’t think twice, I was already too much into the plan. Well, actually, in a corner of my mind, I think I told myself – “when you can, for no substantial reason, have faith in some really assholish people, why not take the chance of having faith in humanity”

I don’t know if some friends would remember this. I called up people to say, “bye, I’m leaving for so and so thing in a few days..” I made it point to call everyone I could recall, people I was fond of or cared for. Because I honestly thought what if this job is really some shady thing, what if I do get into some kind of trouble and never return!

(Work there is another story, maybe for another time)

Being removed from your context is an inexplicable relief. Like some plants that find a sudden rush for life in unfamiliar soil. Some adorable new people, a few very discomforting ones. I was as much a stranger to all of them, as I was to me. We were even.

Looking back, I wish I was more disconnected from the world I belonged to. Some transformations would perhaps been faster. There are way too many connecting roads – Whatsapp, Viber, Twitter, Facebook, Skype.. I wish I had some clue, how switching off would/could help me. But again, back then, I hadn’t even acknowledged that I was messed up.

In the sifting, came across something I scribbled back then. Like it happens in movies, everything makes sense in flashback.

“I feel like a familiar stranger to me. There is this sudden feeling of being in love and I don’t even know with what….There’s very little money that I have and that’s depleting quite steadily. I am slightly clueless if this organization is going to pay me at all. And I am barely worried about being absolutely broke when I return. I keep claiming that I am worried but deep inside I’m not. I amble around religiously even though the streets aren’t particularly safe. I tell myself, I’m from India, it’s as bad there. There’s this very silly and surprising joy in being an outsider, a foreigner. I stare at the books, at web-pages, flip through films but it’s walking unfamiliar streets that feels like reading poems. I am engulfed by a comforting loneliness, wordlessness, even the occasional footsteps feel silent. There’s no sun in sight, yet there’s a lingering feeling that the haze will vanish…eventually… hopefully…”

Towards the end of my stay at Cebu, I took a dive safari trip. It was living with a group of strangers on a boat and scuba diving that brought out a little-bit of the person I once used to be – someone who wasn’t awkward or uncomfortable with herself. Overcame my fear of water bodies, forgot that I didn’t know how to swim and let a dive instructor be the master of my life. Picked a bikini and soaked up the sun. It didn’t even cross my mind that how flabby my tummy was, or that the love handles were on display. It was the long-forgotten-least-bothered me, back in form, again! Of course, I figured this out only in hindsight. I didn’t give a damn, nobody gave a damn. There’s a strange freedom from yourself, when you’re not a ‘body’ for people around. Thin, fit, flabby? Nobody cares.

The strength to reclaim my own life, didn’t come back that easily upon return. All I had was a vague blueprint of what I wanted to fix, with a little hopscotch here and there, and somehow managed to do it, eventually.

Friends heaved a collective sigh of relief. So did I.

Post that, it took two more trips and lone-time in different cities, where I went for work, that finally got my head (with self-esteem and sense) back in place. While limping around with a broken foot, in a fast paced first world city. In striking a friendship over ducks & parables, the old-fashioned way, where you meet people in real life first. In a long heart to heart chitchat with a German cabbie who could only speak, what he said was small-English, and I could only speak small-German.

With sharing this, I leave my story on the wall, at least one of the several circles has finally come full circle.

———-

Almost a year after my return from Philippines, I got paid by the organizers. That too without asking for it. #Win!

———-

p.s. I think, I can safely say that through primary, secondary and tertiary experiences, I have a PhD in the Vijay types, by now. Dear Women, for the love of yourself, recognize the ones in your lives, if any, (there are way too many in the world and they needn’t always appear as boyfriends)…take a lone trip to somewhere or not, but run run run, run far away from those.

p.p.s. Oh, and I love you Kangana! Hug!

@svetlana25

What’s the Global Dialogues contest all about?
Global Dialogues invites you to come up with an original idea for a short film about HIV/AIDS, sexuality, violence against women, or alcohol, drugs & sex. The best ideas will be turned into films by some of world’s greatest directors and young cinema talents. The Global Dialogues films, each proudly displaying the young authors’ names, are viewed by millions of people every year on TV and on the Internet. You can see the films they’ve produced so far at http://www.youtube.com/globaldialogues

Who can participate?
The Global Dialogues contest is open to all young people worldwide who will be under the age of 25 on 31 March 2014. (If you are older than that, you may participate by working in a team led by someone who is under 25.)

When’s the deadline?
All entries must be submitted by midnight GMT on 31 March 2014.

What are the contest prizes?
The contest entries will be examined by a series of juries. There will be 20 winners of the international contest. Each of these winners or winning teams will receive a cash prize of US$125, as well as the possibility of having a film based on their idea made and shown on TV and the Web. In addition, the top 3 winners or winning teams will receive special cash prizes:

Grand Prize: US$2,500
Second Place: US$1,250
Third Place: US$625

Winners of the international contest will receive their prizes on or before 31 July 2014 at the address they give on their Participant Questionnaire. Only one prize will be given to each winning team.

How to participate?

Topics: Your idea can be about any topic related to HIV/AIDS, sexuality, violence against women, or alcohol, drugs & sex. On the next page, you’ll find a list of suggested topics that you can use if you wish.

Story form and language: It’s up to you to decide what form your idea will take. Most participants in Global Dialogues contests write short stories, but you can also send in a video, a theatre play, a comic strip, a song, a poem.… Anything is possible as long as the text is in one of the official Global Dialogues languages: English, French, German, Hindi, Bahasa Indonesia, Kiswahili, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian or Spanish. Length. If you write a story, it may be up to 10 pages long (maximum). Recorded songs or videos may not be longer than 10 minutes.

Resources: As you create your idea, please talk to organisations or individuals in your community who can provide you with good information on the contest issues, or visit credible sources of information online. You can take part alone or in a team.

For more info, get in touch with the Global Dialogues team on Twitter, Facebook or on their Official Website.

Some of us had the privilege of watching Nisha Pahuja’s critically-acclaimed, controversial and undoubtedly brilliant documentary “The World Before Her” last year, and had nothing but praise for it. In fact, we even wrote about it at length and put it on our Must Watch film recco list. We’re now delighted to announce that after having a theatrical release in US and Canada, and winning accolades and top awards in the prestigious International film festivals, the film will get a release in India via PVR Director’s Rare in 6 cities — Bombay, Delhi, Kolkata, Pune, Ahmedabad and Bangalore — on April 25. More about the film below.

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Synopsis

The World Before Her tells the story of girls competing in the Miss India Pageant and those taking part in the VHP’s Durga Vahini camps. It is a tale of two Indias. In one, Ruhi Singh is a small-town girl competing in Bombay to win the Miss India pageant—a ticket to stardom in a country wild about beauty contests. In the other India, Prachi Trivedi is the young, militant leader of a fundamentalist Hindu camp for girls run by Durga Vahini, where she preaches violent resistance to Western culture, Christianity, and Islam. Moving between these divergent realities, the film creates a lively, provocative portrait of the world’s largest democracy at a critical transitional moment—and of two women who hope to shape its future. The film also features former Miss India Pooja Chopra who was a near victim of female infanticide. Watch the trailer below:

The writer and the director of the film, Nisha Pahuja who is the first filmmaker to get inside a Durga Vahini camp says,

“I am thrilled to finally present the film to audiences in India!  Although we’ve had a great run with it abroad, I’ve always felt that it needs to be seen in India because it is first and foremost an Indian story.  And sharing it now is key since women’s rights has become an issue that is front and centre in the public consciousness.”

The award winning film is shot by the ace cinematographer and FTII graduate, Mrinal Desai and Derek Rogers.

Apart from the theatrical release, the film will be screened in various cities, villages, schools and colleges across the nation as a part of its ambitious nation-wide campaign. The film is being shown at the prestigious educational institutes including Symbiosis,  IIT and IIM institutes across the country. Joining the campaign are women’s rights activist and some of the incredible women featured in the film including the former beauty queen Pooja Chopra.

Awards and Accolades

The award winning film which premiered at Tribeca Film Festival in 2012 has been screened in more than 125 film festivals across the world and has won over 19 awards including best documentary feature at the Tribeca Film Festival 2012, best Canadian Feature, 2012 Hot Docs Film FestivaL, best Foreign Film, 2012 Traverse City Film FestivaL, best Canadian Documentary, 2012 Vancouver Film Critics Circle Awards. It was recently featured in the ‘Film Forward’ program of the prestigious Sundance film festival and was part of Indiana University Cinema program where Pahuja was invited to present and speak about the film along with other speakers including Meryl Streep, Abbas Kirostami and Roger Corman.

About the director

Nisha Pahuja is a freelance filmmaker, writer, producer, and researcher who was born in India, but grew up in Toronto. Her third film, The World Before Her won the World Documentary Competition Award at Tribeca Film Festival, where it premiered. Though she grew up in Toronto, this is her second film focusing on India. She makes films that deal with social and political issues and are driven by character and narrative.

For further information on the film please log onto the website.

Who wakes up at 5:30 am on a monday morning? We do. Why? Because to rephrase Godfather’s opening line, we believe in America Scorsese. So we will have faith in anything as long as Scorsese has respect for it.

It might be Foreign Awards for Hollywood films but it also attracts some of the best talents from across the world. Look at the two top filmmakers this year – Mexican Alfonso Cuaron and Brit director Steve McQueen. And its great fun to see some of your favourite directos, writers, DoPs, actors, singers all at one place, and sometimes they do some really ridiculous stuff which makes it great fun.

So what made this monday morning fun? Well, you know the winners by now. All the usual suspects, more or less. Click here for the full list. And if you are still wondering why are we so serious about it, well, scroll down to Cate Blanchett’s acceptance speech. The answer is in the second line.

If you were not mad enough to wake up so early, here’s the list of our Top Six Monday-Morning-Madness-Moments which made the show great fun.

1. Benedict Cumberbatch photobombs U2 on red carpet. Ovaries blast for Cumber-bitches.

BC

2. Ellen goes for the selfie of the year/decade

And the result was this

3. Brad Pitt handing out plates for Pizza. You are not going to see this sight in a long long time

4. Cate Blanchett’s perfect Oscar acceptance speech making all the valid points with grace and humour

 

5. What do you do when you make a film after 7 years and win 2 Oscars at one go? You first test them for Gravity.

Alfonso Cuaron

5. And, finally, the jump of the year – Steve McQueen. After 12 Years A Slave bagged the Oscar for the Best film

Steve McQueen

So what was your favourite madness moment? Do post in the comments section.

Today morning, we were discussing reviews versus blogs. It started with a personal and candid post (Dad, We’re In Nebraska) by Rahul Desai. If you have seen Nebraska, do read it. It’s a strange feeling when you can identify your life with a film. And sometimes, it’s liberating in more ways than one. Today evening, we received another personal piece by @kuhukuro. This one is about Highway. An honest, brave, and candid open letter to the filmmaker whose film had an impact on her as it mirrors her life. Do read.

 Alia-Bhatt-and-Imtiaz-Ali-on-location-shooting-for-Highway-in-Punjab28.03.2013

Dear Imtiaz,

I am not a film critic, nor can I boast of being very cinema-savvy. But I have been insane enough to source my philosophies from cinematic moments. Films have been thriving territories for epiphanies. Highway comes at a point in my life when I am delving in the art of being ruthlessly honest to my feelings, of asserting myself, and of exploring a newer version of myself. This one is a film that resonates with me for various reasons.

For starters, I was also sexually abused as a child, and the perpetrator was a close relative. I could relate to the lingering and stealthy effect of the trauma depicted on screen. I also disclosed this fact to my family after entering adulthood. The film’s portrayal of the family’s reaction mirrored my situation. Watching Veera intrepidly telling it like it is and being unapologetically ‘herself’ in the last scene was heart-wrenching yet therapeutic for me.  I have not allowed myself that outburst though. Not yet.

Last year, my father succumbed to his mental illness and committed suicide. I know what you mean when you say that Bhaati’s death was the ultimate liberation for Veera. My dad’s death had a similar effect on me. I faced one of my worst fears. Nothing really terrifies me anymore. It incidentally also happened to be the year when I confronted the reality of my troubled marriage. Two trips that followed set me free in many ways. The salt pan scene in the film set against the ‘Tu Kuja’ soundtrack echoed my sense of self-inquiry.  After watching this film, I was even more convinced that a journey from which you don’t completely return was exactly what I needed. Unlikely confidants, unlikely confidences, and accidental yet gratifying connections were a part of my journey as well.

The journey in ‘Highway’ unfolds like a map of tragedies that exist in us, unfurls.  It was a catharsis to observe the metaphorical ride from fragility to strength to nerve. I was nodding my head vigorously in agreement while watching the moments on screen where the lines between terror and wonder blurred for Veera. I noticed that Veera climbed many rocks in the film – big and small. I am assuming it metaphorically indicated overcoming obstacles and the joy of small victories. Many people couldn’t fathom Veera’s behavior – laughing interspersed with crying, and then questioning herself aloud like she was having an out-of-body experience. According to my reading, her emotional reactions were a part of the process of shedding the repressed parts of herself, and, embarking on the confusing yet exhilarating expedition of letting her real feelings come to the fore.  Liberation is a strange and an idiosyncratic process.

The silent scenes in the film aptly mirrored the way a meditative stillness seizes our inner world, when we travel. Then you stumble upon moments that break you before they make you. They unshackle. They teach you to trust your gut. It is important for life to whirl you around and turn your world upside down oftentimes.

Memory is not something that fades in my case. It looms large and I crouch in its towering shadow. This time I have decided to soar higher than this menacing force. Patakha Gudi has egged me on to unleash that spirit, which was hitherto tucked away and silenced.

I have just begun the task of developing my own vocabulary to express who I am. Thanks to Highway, I am propelling myself further in the direction of dismantling norms that don’t serve me.

Before I sound like a gushing obsessive fanatic, I should wrap it up. Your film will be a part of the trajectory that is turning me into a functional, healthy, and a fulfilled woman. Thank-you Imtiaz, Thank-you Highway. I know I will get there soon. Along the way, I will live like I mean it.

@kuhukuro

gulabi

It’s a great time for desi documentaries. In the recent past we have seen some pretty terrific ones- Malegaon Ka Superman, The World Before Her and Katiyabaaz to name just a few. Which is why it’s a pity that Nishtha Jain’s powerful documentary Gulabi Gang hasn’t quite got the audience it deserves- yet.

Perhaps the makers ought to have employed the Gulabi Gang themselves to whack our lazy, torrent-savvy audiences into theaters. 😉   The film is now running in its second week in a select few theaters/cities with ticket rates further slashed. There’s no good excuse to miss this one, really.

Anyway, here we have an interesting post by Prashant Parvatneni on Gulabi Gang and how genres usually associated with (fiction) cinema can find their way into the documentary format as well. Over to him:

Gulabi Gang by Nishtha Jain is undoubtedly a rigorous study of a women’s movement in the deep interiors of Bundelkhand where a group of women networked between several villages have formed a ‘gang’ to fight against the oppression of women and dalits. They drape themselves in Pink sarees and carry pink lathis that becomes an image of the identity that binds these women. There are complex issues that these women are dealing with and fighting. Young brides are being burnt, dalit activists murdered and certain high-caste Choudharies have concentrated all power in their hands suppressing any and every dissent using gun and muscle power. It is this nexus of power and oppression that the Gulabi Gang is trying to tear apart under their feisty leader Sampat Pal.

Sampat Pal inevitably becomes the ‘hero’ of this film, her infectious zest and fearlessness naturally grabs the attention and it’s hard not to root for her like we would for the angry underdog taking on the system in a Bollywood film. It only helps that Jain adopts a form of narrative that is simple in structure but quite inventive. It follows 2-3 cases that Gulabi Gang encounters and as it does so, quite curiously these cases turn to a kind of whodunit with the Gang acting as detectives trying to uncover the truth behind the violence inflicted on women.

pink

Like in one of the cases, a young wife is found burnt inside the house. When Sampat reaches the spot, the in laws of the woman claim that she got burnt while making rotis but Sampat in true detective spirit, deduces that it cannot be a mere mishap. There wasn’t any stove at the spot, nor was any other part of the house burnt or even charred. Sitting in the audience even we also could start the process of knitting the clues together and deducing while also being acutely aware of entire machinery which includes the panchayat and the police trying to push this crime under the carpet. Sampat Pal’s own relative burns his wife but she wants the truth to come out. When the director’s voice asks her will you fight against your kin as well, she replies inspiringly ‘I just want to find out the truth’. Quite fittingly then, Anand Gandhi (director, Ship of Theseus) called this film a ‘reinvention of detective genre’.

This is a welcome change as the problem with most documentary films dealing with social evils, people’s movements, subaltern issues etc. is that they have sort of reached a saturation of form. While they do deal with a variety of issues, they follow the same old form – interview of key players, a bit of commentary, a bit of field action all merged seamlessly to ‘illustrate’ and ‘explain’ and thereby ‘document’ the problem. Such a form has turned even more uninteresting with its derivatives populating news channels through their ‘human stories’.

Thankfully the film doesn’t stop short of also pointing towards the limits of such genres that evidently end with a resolution a climax arrived at through carefully plotted series of events. Unlike in a detective genre film, we do not get to know whether the culprit was caught or not. Often the battles are lost and the guilty gets away. But like the truest of detective stories, the importance lies in questioning what one gets on face value rather than solving the puzzle and Gulabi Gang does point our attention towards the need to inquire and shakes up the static status quo.

Instead of a gradual convergence towards a resolution of problem, the film starts to spread in and out of such inquiries of cases and looks at the varied other forms of struggle that a people’s movement engages in – organization, activism, mobilization, planning etc. One of the most charming and equally thought provoking sequences involves the meetings and the practice sessions of the Gulabi Gang. As a ritual Gulabi Gang practices lathi fights with a playful zest as two women take on each other while others on the periphery cheer and clap. It quite casually points towards a ritual- even a ritual of violence (though more for protection in this case) that is involved in any people’s movement.

The entire movement also resembles a theatrical performance. There is backstage practice and rituals and there are costumes and props – the pink sarees and pink lathis juxtaposed against the dry, arid brown and gray landscape is an image that gives tremendous gravitas to the Gang and binds them into a community. In fact the saree and the lathi are the first things that are given to the women who join Gulabi Gang and they have to change into the ‘costume’ right away. There is a slightly comic cut in the film where we see Sampat Pal encouraging the mother of the burnt bride to fight her case and in the next shot the frail creature of the mother is draped in bright new pink saree as she is on her way to the court with the Gang. It’s a terrific reminder of how a bit of theatre and performance is a part of every movement or revolution. It also reminds us how such performativity can be appropriated for contradictory causes – for assertion of justice or for religious or political fanaticism.

Gulabi Gang ends with tragic human drama as the documentary manages to trace a character arc of sorts of one of the Gang’s members – Husna. Husna, a hardworking and passionate activist and member of Gulabi Gang takes a position completely contradictory to the movement when her own brother kills her sister for marrying out of love. When she supports him instead of condemning in the name of culture and tradition, one is hit by the extent to which such fundamental, patriarchal ideas can deride compassion and human justice and what a difficult battle Gulabi Gang is fighting – not just externally but internally. For me, the film was special because it shows how certain genres – like detective, political, social drama, human drama genres – can seep into documentary also; in-fact they come from the reality that the documentary often deals with. But, it also shows how cinema can avoid using genre as a trope and move in an out of genres to question the complexity instead of using such genre games to manipulate sentiment and to take an easy position of a sympathizer. The last sequence shows Gulabi Gang members waiting for a train on the platform and few men looking at these women clad in Pink Sarees with contemptuous humor. For them they look nothing short of fancy dress. One of the men asks the man who moves around with the Gang – ‘kuch milta hai issse’. The director shows amazing empathy here as she cuts to the image of Sampat Pal staring into the camera or perhaps into the far horizon, sitting amidst other women with eyes filled with acceptance of difficulty but shining with a rare honest hope. All the contempt of the scene just washes away and we are filled not with sentiment but with emotion – an unsaid but urgently felt hope and a desire at least to think.

 

(This post was originally published here.)

Since the time we saw Nagraj Manjule’s debut feature ‘Fandry’, we have been shouting out from rooftop that it’s a terrific debut and a must watch. Click here to read our recco post. This week, Fandry is releasing outside Maharashtra, and with English subtites.

The show details – Date: February 28 to March 6

Delhi NCR
PVR MGF Mall 9:10 PM
DT Cinemas Vasant Kunj: 3: 30 PM

Indore
PVR Indore 5:00 PM

After the film’s release and the acclaim it got all over, Nagraj wrote a piece for Maharashtra Times. Much thanks to @Shankasur who came up with the idea to translate it in English for wider reach, took the permission, and did it for us. Do watch the film if you haven’t seen it yet. And then read it.

Nagraj-Manjule-photo

Remembering   Fandry

Now that Fandry has been released, I am reminiscing all the memories that are linked with it. These memories have accumulated over a long period of time. The very moment someone mentions Fandry, I am reminded of experiences from
childhood and that of growing. I grew up with a strange sense of fear and a realisation that I was born into an under-privileged life. I was made aware of my limits since my childhood. I would go to watch Ramayana and everybody’s seats were fixed. While watching King Ram from a corner, the invisible “No Entry” signage that was in my mind was getting bold and clear. The surrounding social setup was up in arms that constantly kept reminding me of my deprived social status.

I don’t exactly remember when my innocent courage took a backseat and I became aware of my caste limitations at every step. I never realised when this impotent maturity became a part of my life. Whenever I uttered my or my mother’s name, or even make a reference to my caste while filling forms in school, the class would break into a faint yet violent laughter. To avoid these embarrassments, I would walk up to the teacher and whisper my name and caste into his ears. I made this into a habit since I was in primary school. When one’s identity becomes the reason behind his inferiority complex, he has nothing more to say. I don’t remember since when I feared telling my own name to others. All I carried along was a sense of fear that it would be criminal of me to do so.

When my father would address my friends as “saheb”, “sarkar”, my expectations for friendship, equality would seem unreasonable. If someone loosened the noose around our neck, we would celebrate that as our freedom. But that didn’t stop me from dreaming. Even in this gated social setup, dreams would find their own little ways. A simple jean pant, a sweet dish during a festival, electricity connection at home, a new pair of footwear would seem like dreams that could come true. The system I was living in would stack up these little wishes and desires and make them appear as dreams that were out of my reach. But dreams don’t have labels of caste and religion. They express their desire to be realised in most innocent manner which gives rise to a chaotic struggle between these dreams and our own inferiority complexes. Sadly, the later always wins over the former.

When I entered college, the old nightmare was in front of me all over again. I had expected that at least in college, I would be treated with some dignity. In my first year, we had a story by S. M. Matey in which the protagonist curses the villian as “Hey Kalyaa Wadaaraa!” (Wadar is a denotified tribe (DNT), while Kalyaa refers to a dark skinned man. It’s difficult to translate the heinous undertone of this phrase). I had this habit of reading through all the lessons and stories before the course starts.
When I came across this sentence in Matey’s story, I decided to remain absent in the class the day when this story will be taken for discussion. I bunked classes for a week and thought that the professor must’ve finished discussing this story. To my worst surprise, the professor started with the story the same day I chose to remain present again to the classes. Not to mention, when sir recited those lines, everyone looked at me, trying hard to control their laughter. I felt an immediate need to miraculously disappear from where I was sitting, like a god.

A man starts expecting such miracles to happen at times of these depressing encounters with life. Fandry reminds me of these episodes. It reminds of the haunting space called school. It reminds of those innocent dreams; reminds me of the dreams that were squashed and crushed by the might of my underprivileged caste identity I carried throughout.

“Fandry means what?” is a question that I’ve been asked numerous times. And I’ve refrained telling its meaning in one simple word. Fandry is a word used by a tribe, that lives around us, in their dialect. We do not know of this dialect nor about the tribe. We are unaware of their lives, their dreams, the pleasures and perils of their existence. When you will come searching for the meaning to the word Fandry and spare a moment to understand about lives of these people, I would consider my attempt to keep its meaning a secret a ssuccess.

Fandry is not a secret but an invitation for all of you. Please accept it and face the ugly truth that we always prefer to ignore. A truth that we’ve always been hiding like an epidemic. But when a vaccine to this epidemic would be discovered, we will have to accept that we are struck by it. It is only then I can dream of a clean and compassionate dawn in history of mankind.

– Nagraj Manjule

(Translated by Kaustubh Naik aka @shankasur)