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A varied Paronama

 

The 44th International Film Festival of India’s centerpiece showcase of the best from across the country has cinematic traditions and growing up as notable central themes
SAIBAL CHATTERJEE | Issue Dated: November 24, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : IFFI | International Film Festival of India | Indian Panorama | Aparna Sen |
 

In recent times, the Indian Panorama has found itself somewhat shortchanged. Yet, despite the erratic quality of the films that have made the cut over the years, this section devoted to the best of this country’s cinema is always the centerpiece of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), especially for foreign delegates in search of gems from the world’s most prolific cinema nation.

 

The 44th edition of IFFI, to be held from November 20 to 30 in Goa, the tenth time that the salubrious coastal state is hosting the annual event, is going to be no different. If anything, the Indian Panorama this year is expected to garner more applause than it has done for some time now.

 

Although several big names of India’s non-mainstream regional cinema – Aparna Sen (Goynar Baksho), Goutam Ghose (Shunyo Awnko) and Jahnu Barua (Ajeyo), among others – are missing from the 26-film package, Indian Panorama 2013 has enough on offer for lovers of quality cinema produced outside the confines of Bollywood.

 

One notable theme – that of children negotiating the challenges of unfolding life and politics – is addressed by several of the Indian Panorama films this year. Among them are Indranil Roychowdhury’s Phoring (Dragonfly, Bengali), Sidhartha Siva’s 101 Chodyangal (101 Questions, Malayalam), Laxman Utekar’s Tapaal (Mail, Marathi) and Fandry (Pig, Marathi).

 

All four films are directorial debuts, and each has a beleaguered boy at the centre of its plot. While Phoring homes in on a schoolboy in a small town in North Bengal grappling with the inevitable problems that adolescence brings in its wake, Fandry is the sledgehammer tale of a poor, low-caste youngster seeking to break free from his station in life.

 

 

Completely different from each other in tone and texture, Phoring and Fandry are clearly two of the strongest entries in the Panorama line-up.

 

Fandry, noted Dalit poet and National Award-winning filmmaker Nagraj Manjule’s first fiction film, is a hard-hitting indictment of caste inequities in rural Maharashtra delivered with a direct, raw approach that is both unsettling and revelatory. Indian cinema hasn’t seen anything like this since Goutam Ghose’s Paar.

 

Fandry tells the story of Jambuwant, a boy from the marginalized Kaikadi community who develops a soft corner for a classmate, Shalu, in his village school. The girl is from an upper caste and Jabya’s poverty-stricken family is engaged in trapping pigs for a living.

 

Jabya believes, in his child-like innocence, that he can bridge the chasm that separates him from Shalu. He is unable to comprehend that the harshness of the realities of the society he lives.

 

 

Thwarted hopes are also the underlying thematic thread in Phoring, in which a boy who lives in the Dooars and seeks release from the drudgery of existence in a small town that is trying to tide over the shutdown of an industrial unit.

 

When a new female teacher arrives in his school, things begin to look up for the protagonist. He begins to experience joys that he had not known before. But soon enough, his dreams are shattered – the teacher vanishes and the boy is left looking for the missing anchor in his life.

 

Yet another bunch of Panorama films explore different aspects of Indian cinema, notably Kamleshwar Mukherjee’s Meghe Dhaka Tara (Cloud-Capped Star, Bengali), Kaushik Ganguly’s Apur Panchali (The Song of Apu, Bengali), Kamal’s Celluloid (Malayalam) and K R Manoj’s Kanyaka Talakies (Virgin Talkies, Malayalam).

 

Meghe Dhaka Tara is a black-and-white recreation of the life and times of maverick filmmaker Ritwik Ghatak, who died aged 51 owing to complications caused by alcoholism and bouts of psychological problems.

 

He was a true master of the medium and Kamaleshwar Mukherjee has crafted a tribute that captures the turmoil and creativity of Ghatak’s life through means that are both cinematic and theatrical. The film benefits in particular from a virtuoso performance by Saswata Chatterjee (known among Hindi movie fans for his turn as Bob Biswas in Sujoy Ghosh’s Kahaani).

 

Another top-notch performance is delivered by Malayalam cinema superstar Prithviraj Sukumaran in Kamal’s Celluloid, a biopic about Kerala’s first filmmaker, J C Daniel.

 

The pioneer stakes his all on the making of Vigathakumaran, selling all his assets and casting a low-caste girl as a Nair woman. The latter act lands him in trouble as upper caste members hound him and the actress out of town.

 

Daniel is discovered in an impecunious state many years later by a tenacious journalist, who pieces together the story of the many setbacks of the man’s life.

 

K R Manoj’s debut film, Kanyaka Talkies, experiments with form and substance to narrate the story of a fading movie theatre that gives way to a village church. It explores questions related to the survival of cinema, the appeal of pornography, the pull of religion and the interplay of complex human impulses.

 

Kanyaka Talkies, which has been chosen as the opening film of the Indian Panorama section of the 44th IFFI, is a melancholic and beautifully evocative meditation on life, cinema and devotion juxtaposed in a quirky and challenging narrative tapestry that leaves behind haunting ideas and emotions.

 

Apur Panchali traverses a simpler terrain but is no less affecting. It deals with the personal tribulations of the real-life Subir Banerjee, who as a child played the role of Apu in Satyajit Ray’s epochal Pather Panchali never to be seen on the big screen again.

 

Director Kaushik Ganguly alternates between the present and the past, the current scenario and that which existed in the time of Ray, and black and white and colour and draws a marvellous portrait of a man who played one of the most celebrated child characters in the history of cinema only to disappear in the abyss of oblivion.

 

Apur Panchali is one of two Indian films that will be competing for the festival’s top prize, the Golden Peacock, debutante Veena Bakshi’s The Coffin Maker being the other.

 

The Coffin Maker, set in Goa, features Naseeruddin Shah, Ratna Pathak Shah and Randeep Hooda. A rare high-concept film that deals with death without being dark or depressing, it pits an ageing man weighed down by the pressures of life barely lived against the personification of imminent Death.

 

The latter announces that the coffin maker has only one more month to live and challenges him to a series of chess duels as the only means to escape his fate. Perfectly modulated performances by the principal actors make The Coffin Maker a sheer delight to watch.

 

Visual and narrative experimentation underpins at least two of the Panorama films – Sabyasachi Mohapatra’s Sala Budha (Damned Old Man, Oriya) and Anjan Das’ Ajana Batash (The Mystic Wind, Bengali).

 

Sala Budha, shot entirely in black and white, is a lively retelling of a hoary folk tale. Ajana Batash probes the relationship between a working woman and her beloved uncle who faces neglect back in the family home in a small town not far from Kolkata.

 

The most memorable aspect of Ajana Batash, a film that extends Anjan Das’s continuing engagement with poetry and its visual interpretation, is the central performance by Paoli Dam.

 

Dam also has a key role in Laxmikant Shetgaonkar’s Konkani-language film, Baga Beach, the second Goa-themed feature in the Panorama.

 

One film that will evoke fond memories is Satyanweshi, Rituparno Ghosh’s last film, which he finished shooting two days before his untimely demise earlier this year.

 

Though it is an adaptation of a detective adventure, it has all the hallmarks of a ‘classic’ Rituparno film, thanks to its deep understanding of human relationships.

 

Apart from Tigmanshu Dhulia’s Paan Singh Tomar, which was an automatic selection by virtue of being the Best Film National Award winner, and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and Oh My God, recommended by the Film Federation of India, the Panorama this year includes three Mumbai-made entries. These are Anand Gandhi’s Ship of Theseus, Avinash Kumar Singh’s Listen Amaya and Girish Malik’s Jal.

 

As has often been the case in recent times, the Indian Panorama has something on offer for everyone, but with as many as five regional films by exciting debutants in the mix, audiences in Goa are likely to make some great new discoveries. 

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017