Last Wednesday just before the 9 am press screening of the French-Swiss film Sister at Berlin’s large Berlinale Palast theater, I met a young Indian journalist from the UK who writes for a Hindi language newspaper in Indore. She was covering the Berlin International Film Festival for this publication. We chatted about films we had seen and the festival in general. Before the film started, my new friend offered me a homemade til ka ladoo.
|A scene from Gattu, the only Indian
offering at Berlinale
I had many similar experiences during 10 days film festival, especially at the impressive NFDC party where over samosas, pakoras and wine, I ran into quite a few familiar faces from India —filmmakers, producers, journalists and festival programmers. And I met a few first time filmmakers carrying screeners of their new films, hoping to get some coverage or other interest in their work. The same night as over one-thousand mostly German Bollywood fans cheered and screamed, I saw Shahrukh Khan, Priyanka Chopra and Farhan Akhtar on the stage of Berlin's huge Freidrichstadt-Palast theater after the premiere of Don 2.
As India becomes a bigger player in the world economy, Indians are going global, and many are seeking a part of the large pie that represents the international film scene, looking for sales agents, distributors, buyers, financiers or some form of media exposure. There were a lot of Indians — more than in the previous years — at this year’s Berlinale.
But sadly India, despite being the largest film producing country in the world, had not much to show for at the festival. Besides Don 2, that was programmed with the intent to draw Khan’s German followers to the Berlinale, there was only one Indian feature film playing in one of the sections of the festival. That film — director Rajan Khosa’s Gattu, a sweet, charming story about a young boy in Rourkee who lives only to fly kites, attracted a couple of thousand young school kids in its three screenings (This year’s Berlinale also included a short - Panchabhuta by Mohan Kumar Valasala — a young Indian from Kolkata’s Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute).
Khosa set his film in Rourkee, since his co-writer Ankur Tewari grew up there and was familiar with it nuances, the local flavors of the older parts of the city and its kids’ passion of kite flying. Khosa cast Mohammad Shamshad — a charming young resident of the city in the role of street-smart orphan Gattu. The rest of the film’s cast include theater actors and many local residents of Rourkee. Gattu works well, especially in its core idea about the importance of education and Khosa does not preach his message. The film reached its prime audience — kids up to the age of seven years, teachers and parents.
In the recent years Indian indie films had started to attract the attention of film programmers at the top tier international film festivals, including in Toronto, Berlin, Venice and even Cannes. Toronto and Berlin had taken the lead, programming four or five Indian films — Bollywood, Hindi indies and also regional cinema. But that trend seems to be changing.
Some may believe that the timing was not right and that could explain this year's poor showing of Indian films. I believe at least one film — the first part of Anurag Kashyap’s highly anticipated drama, Gangs of Wasseypur is still tied up in post production and so it could not be included in the festival’s line-up. Last month’s Sundance Film Festival featured an Indian American filmmaker Mussa Saeed’s Valley of Saints. The film won the audience award and the Alfred P Sloan Feature Film Prize at Sundance.
But there is an important issue here that is becoming apparent. In large part, very few Indian films are appealing to the international film festival circuits. Berlinale accepted three strong films — Barbara, Home for the Weekend and Mercy from its home country —Germany. Those selections may seem obvious to some, but it is clear that the current crop of Indian films are not up to that mark.
• Go west
Aseem Chhabra’s column last week (PM, Feb 12) reminded me of the time Slumdog Millionaire was released and immediately caught in the eye of a controversial storm. At that time, most Indian critics opined the movie portrayed the country in a bad light by revolving solely around our ‘slum’ menace.
I believe the fact that the embarrassment caused, when the object of our shame was brought out in the open, especially on the global screen, was what caused their wrath rather than the fact that
Hollywood cashed on it. Chhabra’s problem with the West’s narrow viewpoint towards Indian cinema being confined to song-and-dance sounds similar.
- Siddhika Arya
Being an unshakeable fan of old Hindi movies, I couldn't help taking a trip down memory lane when I read Aseem Chhabra’s column last week. Bimal Roy’s Do Bigha Zameen, for instance, did not have a single song, and had a disturbingly negative ending. There were so many movies crafted by Gurudutt and Gulzar, which gave the same song-and-dance sequences extremely tasteful treatment.
- Aruna S Godse