I cannot forget the image of protesters on the red carpet of the BFI London Film Festival earlier this month. Expressing solidarity with the ongoing anti-hijab agitation in his country, Iranian filmmaker Ali Abbasi had painted his hands and mouth blood red, while the cast and crew of his film, Holy Spider, carried placards with slogans. It was the defining moment of the festival for me. Tickets to the film were sold out.
In comparison, the Busan International Film Festival, also held at the same time, did not have nearly as much drama although Holy Spider was screened there too. Perhaps that is because there isn’t a large expat population from Iran in South Korea. I managed to catch a show, and thought Holy Spider was a powerful statement against misogyny.
Ariyippu is the first of my films to premiere at an international film festival and it has been a memorable experience so far. I have been travelling with the film, right from Locarno — the premiere at the swish Palexpo-Fevi theatre was attended by a 2,000-plus crowd. Then came the London film festival and Busan.
Since the dates of the latter two coincided, I missed the first screening of my film in the ‘A Window on Asian Cinema’ section at Busan. There was a good crowd, the organisers told me. I managed to attend the second and third screenings where the audience came mainly for the Q&A session with the director and I was happy to interact with them.
By the time I reached Busan, directors such as Nandita Das, Rima Das and Arvind Pratap, whose films too were screened in the same category as mine, had left. Ariyippu was the last to be shown in this section.
It was wonderful to catch up with Jaishankar Aryar, director of Kannada film Shivavamma. It won the ‘New Currents’ category award, meant mostly for debutant filmmakers, sharing the honour with Korean film A Wild Roomer by Lee Jeong-hong . I was able to see both films.
Meeting Iranian director Hadi Mohaghegh, whose film Scent of Wind opened Busan and won the Kim Jiseok award, was the high point for me. I first heard of Mohaghegh when he came to Thiruvananthapuram for the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK) in 2015. He has a keen interest in Malayalam cinema, and had seen Ariyippu. We had an insightful discussion about the Iranian influence in my film.
A young crowd
Interestingly, the young audience at this festival was in stark contrast with the more serious crowd at Locarno. At festivals in India, the viewership is mixed, especially at IFFK, which sees people from all walks of life and age groups. The Busan crowd was curious and eager to know more [about the milieu of my films]. Many found it difficult to understand the socio-political situation in Delhi [where Ariyippu is set] and so there were questions about the background of the film.
Mahesh Narayanan’s oeuvre
The protagonist couple, Hareesh and Reshmi, are from Kerala and move to Delhi for work. The audience wanted to know if there was indeed a deep divide, as I have portrayed in the film, between the North and South of India. The depiction of patriarchy as seen in our society and homes also seemed to shock the young Koreans, which in turn came as a surprise to me.
There was a definite language barrier, however, during the Q&A session. From what the interpreter told me, the audience’s questions were detailed and incisive, about Indian society and interpersonal relationships, but I am not sure if the essence of the questions asked or my responses to the same were adequately conveyed.
Young Koreans, I feel, are not fully aware of the influence of Korean cinema on Indian filmmakers. This is where the Masters’ section at film festivals comes in. It is a great opportunity for both filmmakers and movie buffs to watch and learn from the greats of international cinema.
As we moved from one screening venue to another, trying to pack in as many movies as possible, there was an air of excitement around. Much of it could be attributed to K-pop band BTS performing in the city one evening. I did not go for it although the temptation was high. My aim was to watch as many films as I could, and I’m glad I did.
(As told to Saraswathy Nagarajan)
The writer is a Malayalam filmmaker who won the Kerala State Film Award for Best Debut Director in 2017.