Celebrating the documentary

From films to narratives on raging political issues, there’s something for everyone at MIFF.

Updated - September 23, 2016 11:09 pm IST

Published - January 28, 2016 09:31 am IST

385 films over six days, between January 28 and February 3: for a film buff, the 14th edition of the Mumbai International Festival for Documentary, Short and Animation Films (MIFF), the largest South Asian festival of non-feature films, looks like an embarrassment of riches, a random assortment of diverse cinematic goodies. But look closely and a pattern will emerge to help you choose what to watch and what not to.

What’s most interesting about the programming this year is an entire package of films on cinema itself.

Like Being Bhaijaan , directed by Shabani Hassanwalia and Samreen Farooqui, that explores Salman Khan’s mind-boggling fandom in Chhindwara in MP and in Nagpur through three of his fans: Shan Ghosh, Balram and Bhaskar. In-your-face masculinity and a confused male sexuality: both emerge from the curious Bhaijaan bubble they seem to be consciously living in. In a similar vein, Amsterdam-based filmmaker Rinku Kalsy’s For the Love of a Man documents the legendary cult of Rajinikanth, seeing the superstar through the eyes of his fans.

Shabnam Sukhdev’s The Last Adieu is an attempt by the filmmaker to flesh out the sketchy memory of her father, S Sukhdev, who died when she was just 14. Sukhdev laid the foundation for documentary film movement in the country. Through archival audio-video footage as well as interviews, Shabnam unravels him for the viewers as well as herself. OP Srivastava’s Life in Metaphors is a seemingly unassuming and down to earth piece of filmmaking, quite like its subject, Kannada filmmaker Girish Kasarvalli. Yet, in a textured way, it seeks to understand the complexity and depth of vision of Kasarvalli’s unique, straight and simple story-telling.

Kamal Swaroop’s Tracing Phalke pieces together the life and times of the father of Indian cinema, Dadasaheb Phalke, and, through him, also attempts to retell the history of our cinema. Shivendra Singh Dungarpur’s The Immortals , is a unique take on cinema narrated through varied cinematic objects, artefacts, physical spaces and images, be it Phalke’s car, KL Saigal’s harmonium or Satyajit Ray’s home. A tale of nostalgia as well as neglect, of loss as well as memory.

But if there’s only one film that you can manage to catch at MIFF, then make it My Name is Salt by Farida Pacha. On the salt pan workers of Kutch, it lays bare the rare vocation, their lonely, bleak yet rhythmic life and occupation, without explanatory narration, just using imagery. Stunningly shot, the film captures the workers toiling endlessly to extract salt for eight months of the year, until the salt pans get inundated by the monsoons and turn into a vast sea. All they then can do is wait for the next seasonal cycle to begin. The highlight of the festival is Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence , a companion piece to his much acclaimed and searing The Act of Killing . Like the earlier film, this too is on the 1965-66 Indonesian purge of the communists, but it is told largely through the point of view of a man who confronts his brother’s killers.

Just as politically volatile is Nakul Singh Sahni’s Muzaffarnagar Baaki Hai ( Muzaffarnagar Eventually ) that probes the unholy nexus between politics, economy and communalism in the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013. Abhay Kumar’s Placebo is about politics of another kind: the kind that plays out in the cut-throat, competitive world of India’s most prestigious medical institution, the All India Institute of Medical sciences. Through the personal stories of a handful of students, the film lays bare the surreal, harsh and violent reality behind the seemingly exceptional educational environment. Two films at the festival are all about Indo-Pak collaboration. Mohammed Ali Naqvi and Hemal Trivedi join hands for Among the Believers to dig out the roots of religious extremism in Pakistan. Similarly, Maheen Zia and Miriam Chandy come together for Lyari Notes , about a rock star bringing music into the lives of a group of girls and helping them use it for self-expression.

Besides cinema and politics, MIFF boasts of a couple of films dealing with literary pursuits as well. Author Annie Zaidi’s debut short In Her Words looks at the genre of women’s literature in the country through conversations with writers, editors, publishers. Even Red Can Be Sad by Amit Dutta casts an eye on the work of author and abstract painter Ram Kumar and uses his paintings and text to structure the narrative.

Brief Life of Insects by Tarun Bhartiya documents folk music tradition and history. The filmmaker goes to Umpohwin, a Bhoi village on the Assam-Meghalaya border. As the paddy is pounded in the fields, a rhythm emerges leading on to a song.

The ground-breaking film at MIFF could well be the 26-minute Edpa Kana ( Going Home ) by Niranjan Kumar Kajur, a young filmmaker from Ranchi and an SRFTI Kolkata product. Made in Kudukh language, it focuses on the dilemmas of a young man caught between his orthodox tribal roots and the progressive world he gets exposed to in the city.

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