“In these times, we are not asking ‘Are you ok?’ enough,” says director Padmakumar Narsimhamurthy, whose films deal with wounds we live with and find ways to heal. His film Max, Min & Meowzaki, Parth Saurab’s Pokhar Ke Dunu Paar, and Siddharth Chauhan’s Amar Colony are the highlight of the ongoing Haibtat Film Festival which deals with issues of gender disparity in love, isolation, and prejudices. The three young filmmakers have handled the themes with a light touch to make their films rise above the label of festival films.
Hailing from Darbhanga, Parth returns to his hometown in Bihar to tell the story of gender disparity in small towns. Marked by evocative shots where moonlight blends into street light to create magic, Pokhar Ke Dunu Paar is the tale of a couple who have returned to Darbhanga during the pandemic after eloping to Delhi. A product of IIT Kanpur, Parth says he wanted to explore “how for the same activity, the boy is almost being welcomed while the girl is maligned and ridiculed. Not every couple gets killed for love; some survive and struggle to keep the romance alive.” he says. In the film, Priyanka wants to take charge of the financial situation but Sumit, rendered jobless by the pandemic, is caught between nursing a bruised male ego and seeking a mother in his wife. The free-wheeling interaction between him and his friends over illicitly acquired liquor in a State practising prohibition is not only a hoot but also provides a window to the mindset of boys in small towns.
Parth has placed the girl in the dilapidated building of the Communist Party of India, which he describes as a symbol of liberalism. “My father and uncle have been associated with the Party, so it was a part of my growing up years. But the larger meaning is that even in the liberal space, she faces problems. ” Priyanka tells her friend who is suffocating in an arranged marriage that her frayed freedom is better than the friend’s jailed existence. Presented by Anurag Kashyap, there are multiple metaphors that create ripples long after the credits roll.
Like Parth, debutant Siddharth finds inspiration in the crumbling and complex structure of Amar Colony in his hometown Shimla. The confined urban space becomes a symbol of repressed desires and pent-up feelings of the three families that inhabit the space and what binds them .
“I made a short film Papa in 2016 around a pigeon and a wheel-chair bound lady. When I chanced upon the building and explored its interiors, I fell in love with the space and added two more stories ,” says Siddharth.
Wheel-chair bound Devki lives with her son and finds herself lonely and feels the pigeon holds the soul of her deceased husband and calls it Papa. Then there is pregnant Meera who is waiting for her absent husband. Then there is Durga and her husband who are forced to become guardians of their grandson after the death of their son and daughter-in-law. “The film suggests how repressed emotions, confinement, and loneliness lead to frustration and depravity,” he says and wonders.
“Like the pigeon is in a cage, the residents are in a bigger cage,” says Siddharth.
If Siddharth employs Papa, Padmakumar puts a cat into the mix in Max, Min & Meowzaki, to tell us what accommodation means in society and relationships. Max is allergic to cats but puts up with it because his girlfriend Minara loves it and names it after the Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. But his father Mahesh, a lovable bigot played by Adil Hussain, can’t come to terms that his son is living with a Muslim and his father, a celebrated Carnatic musician sings, in mosques and churches. Struggling to come to terms with the death of his wife, he tells the therapist that he wants to ‘own’ her but fears her spirit and confidence. “There is a tax on love but hate is tax-free...There is a lot of hurt and I don’t know where the healing is going to come from,” says Padmakumar, adding, “If the art is not chronicling the times we live in, we are really missing the point of being artists.”
HFF 2023 is on till May 14 at India Habitat Centre , New Delhi