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Life seen through an urban lens

Still from Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane Le Ja Riya Hoon

Still from Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane Le Ja Riya Hoon  

A film festival that breaks the norms in more ways than one

In its very focus, the Urban Lens film festival is a bit of an outlier, featuring as it does films that explore the urban experience. But, as Subasri Krishnan, independent filmmaker and head of the Media Lab at Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), says, there is no defined theme for each edition. Instead, the curation aims at selecting films that speak to each other and about the city, albeit tangentially.

Uniquely, the curation in Urban Lens transcends genres (fiction/ non-fiction) and forms. In its sixth edition, which played out in Bengaluru in September and opens on November 8 in Delhi, Urban Lens features a selection of 21 films, including five student films.

The tribute section features Agnes Varda’s classic Jacquot de Nantes in an ode to the avant-garde filmmaker who passed away early this year. The festival opened with Lalit Vachani’s Recasting Selves, an unusual film that documents the functioning of an institution in Kerala that trains students from backward classes to make them employment ready.

In addition to films, this year’s festival featured a workshop conducted by Samina Mishra on creating visual narratives around the theme ‘The Pursuit Of Happiness’. There was also an audio-visual exhibition using animations, audio, illustrations and photographs that showcased the research work done by IIHS scholars on food vendors in Bengaluru.

A curious feature of this year’s edition was a special section titled ‘Looking Back’, where five older non-fiction films were showcased.

Changing lives

This section featured Kamlabai (1992), an award-winning portrait of one of the first woman actors on the Indian stage and in cinema. There was also Sunder Nagri (City Beautiful, 2003), Rahul Roy’s tale of two working class families faced with the new challenges that globalisation brings. Unlimited Girls (2002), directed by Paromita Vohra, was an incisive quest to understand feminism at the dawn of the new millennium, which brought with it new trends in technology.

And then there were two films that looked at the changing lives of the working class in Mumbai through the prism of poetry and art. Surabhi Sharma’s Jari Mari (2001) is based on the lives of garment workers in a colony close to the Mumbai airport. Sharma, who has an impressive filmography, looks at city lives in transition through the lens of labour, music and migration. The second of these films was by the award-winning duo, Anjali Monteiro and K.P. Jayasankar. Their Saacha (The Loom, 2001) centres around the poet Narayan Surve, the painter Sudhir Patwardhan and the city of Mumbai, where the Indian textile industry was born, and with it an industrial working class.

Another common thread that interlinked many of the films this year was that of memory, labour and home. And, refreshingly, many of them brought forward narratives of and by women. When we think of massive historical tragedies such as the Partition, we hardly ever think of the women who lived through them. Priyanka Chabbra’s film Pichla Varka (The Previous Page, 2018) tries to correct this by attempting to understand the tragedy from the perspective of the women.

Centred around the kitty parties hosted in Chabbra’s grandmother’s house in West Delhi, the film cajoles the women to share their memories of early life in undivided India and in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy. Shot mostly indoors, Pichla Varka uses archival documents, animated sequences, and personal histories intelligently to weave an engaging narrative that lends a new and much-needed perspective on the impact of historical events on the lives of women.

The Student Section featured works of three FTII students, including Ramana Dumpala’s national award-winning documentary Glow Worm in the Jungle and the Ritwik Ghatak Golden award-winning short film Meenalaap by Subarna Senjutee Tushee. The theme of memories and spaces continued with Eshwarya Grover’s Memoirs of Saira & Salim.

Their dreams

The festival closed with the screening of theatre director Anamika Haksar’s magnum opus, Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane Le Ja Riya Hoon, a film that has been featured in many festivals across the world, including in the prestigious Sundance Frontier section. In the post-screening conversation with Rashmi Sawhney, Haksar (this is her debut feature film) talked about how her questionnaire for the residents of Shahjahanabad (Old Delhi) consisted of questions around the type of visual imagery they encounter in their dreams and during the day. There is the daily wage worker who dreams of a ‘Red Revolution’ (early in the film, there is a stunning image of a worker waving a red flag), there is a woman who dreams of flying with a temple while the Ganga is drying up, and there is another who sees cows, oranges and snakes.

The film attempts to weave these images together through the story of a pickpocket, a heritage tour guide and a daily wage worker. The experimental script blends fiction and non-fiction seamlessly, and the cast, led by theatre actors Ravinder Sahu, Lokesh Jain and Raghubir Yadav, adds colour to the hybrid narrative with some splendid performances. The result is an exceptional visual trip — aided admirably by the animations — which leaves the audience spellbound. Haksar spoke of how the unusual approach and script meant that no producers came forward to fund the project. Undeterred, she produced the film herself and is hopeful of a theatrical release soon.

For Krishnan, the main success of Urban Lens has been the fact that over the last six years, it has gained an audience beyond the hyperlocal and the film-making crowd. So much so, that for two years now, an additional viewing room has had to be arranged to accommodate the overflowing crowd.

The Bengaluru-based writer is a theatre artist and documentary filmmaker.

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Printable version | Feb 21, 2020 4:52:14 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/life-seen-through-an-urban-lens/article29853963.ece

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