From ‘Gully Boy’ to ‘Delhi Crime Story’, a bunch of gritty films are all set for the winter festival circuitJanuary 25, 2019 16:30 IST
There are debuts and sophomore outings, young and veterans alike
In Delhi Crime Story, Shefali Shah plays the lead role of a cop investigating the 2012 Nirbhaya rape case. Shah tells me about the sensitivity, honesty and responsibility with which she had to approach the real-life character in this seven-episode, independent TV series by Indo-Canadian filmmaker Richie Mehta. “I couldn’t mess with the facts or goof up with the material and had to approach the situation, incident and people with respect.”
Mehta, she says, invested much time to research the facts, and kept it gritty and real. Shah felt more like a collaborator than just an actor. “He told me that it had been written by a man and he needed a woman’s voice in it.”
The brutality and unbearable horror of the Nirbhaya case shook people, not just in India but the world over.
“It hit all of us in our gut,” says Shah. But “I couldn’t react as Shefali but as the cop in charge of the investigation, who had hunted down the rapists in 72 hours,” she says.
Mehta met the cops, researched and went through reams of material. “Nothing has been fabricated out of nothing,” Mehta tells us on a call from London. The material available was so vast that he calls Delhi Crime Story an eight-hour independent film that has been serialised into seven episodes.
The series looks at law and order and justice and at how, not just punishment, but something greater is needed while dealing with such heinous crimes. “Why do they [criminals] think the way they do” is a question he wants to leave the viewers with.
The show’s ensemble cast includes Adil Hussain, Denzil Smith, Rasika Dugal, Rajesh Tailang and Yashaswini Dayama, and it will be the first Indian series to have its world premiere at Sundance Film Festival in the Indie Episodic section on January 29. Mehta hopes that the series “affects someone”, who can, in turn, “effect change in this age of apathy”.
Debuts and sophomores
As the winter film festivals roll on, a bunch of Indian films are set to travel internationally. Besides the biggies — Zoya Akhtar’s Gully Boy at Berlinale and Ritesh Batra’s Photograph that features both at Sundance and Berlinale — there are debuts and sophomore outings, young and veterans alike.
In Rima Das’s Bulbul Can Sing , which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last year, themes of feminism, gender and sexual identity go hand in hand. It won the Golden Gateway award in the India Gold section at the Mumbai Film Festival, and now features at Berlinale. Prantik Basu’s 27-minute Rang Mahal will premiere in the Shorts section at Berlinale.
Meanwhile, at Sundance, the New Frontier section showcases acclaimed theatreperson Anamika Haksar’s directorial debut Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane Le Jaa Riya Hoon (Taking the Horse to Eat Jalebis ), an experimental take on Old Delhi’s syncretic migrant culture.
Devashish Makhija’s Bhonsle, which plays in the Voices segment of the International Film Festival of Rotterdam (IFFR) also deals with migrant politics. But the story of depression and decay in the life of a retired 60-year-old cop (played by Manoj Bajpayee) is a very “personal film,” says Makhija. It emerged from his relationship with his father, “a failed businessman,” who worked in a sari shop in Kolkata and was ousted one day after 57 years of service. It’s about the “decay of his soul” after his wife’s death, being unemployed, and about the ravages of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s; it’s also about Makhija coming to terms with “not being there for his father”.
Praveen Morchhale’s Widow of Silence , about a Muslim ‘half-widow’ in Kashmir,who struggles to get the death certificate of her missing husband from the government, also plays in the same section at IFFR.
The Indian highlight at IFFR, however, is the international premiere of Ridham Janve’s The Gold-Laden Sheep And The Sacred Mountain. It competes with 20 films from over the world in the Bright Future Competition section, and is a rare film set in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh in the midst of the Gaddi community of shepherds.
What lies beyond
A graduate of the National Institute of Design and a resident of Goa, Janve has been a regular visitor to the mountains, and the idea of the film came from one of his treks there. Set around an elderly shepherd who goes looking for the pilot of a crashed plane, The Gold-Laden Sheep… is a fascinating mix of mythology, mysticism, folklore and ethnography. “What lies beyond the misty mountain,” is the underlying question.
Shot with local resources and facilities, the film has a cast of non-professional actors, the local Gaddi community itself filling in for various roles; five of them came for the premiere at the Mumbai Film Festival. The lead role is played by Arjun Pant. “He can’t read or write but is an encyclopedia on mountain culture,” says Janve.
If Delhi Crime Story raises questions about the mind of a criminal, Kanu Behl’s Binnu Ka Sapna tries to understand the roots of anger. It will premiere at the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival 2019, the world’s largest dedicated to shorts. Of 78 films, Binnu Ka Sapna is the only Indian one competing this year.
Behl says an individual has a public and a private life, as well as a secret one that they don’t reveal to anyone. He tries “to dive into the head,” “understand the vortex” so to speak. He admits that “it was a thin line to walk. We were not trying to justify his [violent] act.”
The voice-over, the use of still frames, the slideshow of images — all bring alive the theme, the condition, the suffocation and anxiety in Binnu’s mind. “His vision is myopic. He has blinkers on, constantly seeing through the same lens,” says Behl. The still frames were used to universalise his story. Binnu’s warped mind harks back to the past. It is like a cup of tea, a strong metaphor in the film. Much as his anger is against the world around him, like the recurring cup of tea, the anger is also an inheritance he can’t break away from.