From Rap to Resistance

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GULLY BOY Zoya Akhtar

The screening of Gully Boy, the story of a rapper from a Mumbai ghetto, will be the film’s world premiere ahead of its release on February 14, while Udita Bhargava’s Dust – set in the  ubcontinent’s heartland against the backdrop of violent political conflict – is the director’s graduation film made at the Film University Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF

By Saibal Chatterjee

It isn’t often that the Berlinale makes space in its official programme for half a dozen entries, besides four restored works from India.

The 69th edition of the premier film festival hosts two Berlinale Specials showcasing two distinct Bollywood streams – Zoya Akhtar’s rap drama Gully Boy, starring Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt and Kalki Koechlin, and Ritesh Batra’s off-mainstream romance Photograph, featuring Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sanya Malhotra and Jim Sarbh.

The screening of Gully Boy, the story of a rapper from a Mumbai ghetto, will be the film’s world premiere ahead of its release on February 14.

PHOTOGRAPH Ritesh Batra

Photograph, revolving around a Mumbai street photographer who, under pressure from his visiting grandmother, to get married requests a stranger to pretend to be his fiancée, arrives in Berlin after playing in the Sundance Film Festival’s Premieres section. One of the three other Indian titles in the Berlin International Film Festival this year – Udita Bhargava’s Dust, set in the subcontinent’s heartland against the backdrop of violent political conflict – is the director’s graduation film made at the Film University Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF.

The film, which features Vinay Pathak in a cast of German and Indian actors, is slated to be unveiled in the Perspektive Deutsches Kino, a section devoted to unearthing new talent in the host country.

DUST Udita Bhargava

Filmed in Madhya Pradesh, Dust is about a German diplomat who travels to central India to look for traces of his dead girlfriend, a photographer who was documenting life in a hideout of leftwing political rebels. He arrives in the city of the woman’s birth and runs into a cynical old doctor who turns out to be a leader of the uprising. Recollections of the past, the realities of the present and visions of the future intersect in a drama about Indians caught in a bitter conflict.

Two Indian films – Rima Das’s Bulbul Can Sing and Prantik Basu’s 27-minute Rang Mahal – will compete for awards at Berlinale 2019, the former in Generation 14plus, designed for children and young adults, and the latter in Berlinale Shorts.

BULBUL CAN SING Rima Das

Bulbul Can Sing, an independent Assamese film about a girl and her friends at odds with a conservative, patriarchal rural society, premiered at the 43rd Toronto International Film Festival last year. The film went on to win the Golden Gateway Award at the Mumbai Film Festival.

Generation 14plus includes Bhutanese filmmaker Tashi Gyeltshen’s Red Phallus, which had its world premiere in Busan last year and also made it to the Dharamshala International Film Festival. The film tells the story of high-school girl caught between her sculptor-father and her married boyfriend in a rural setting where breaking free isn’t easy.

Kolkata-based Prantik Basu, who studied direction and screenplay writing at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, is no stranger to festival recognition. His 2016 short film Sakhisona won the Tiger Award for short films in the 46th International Film Festival of Rotterdam.

RANG MAHAL Prantik Basu

Basu’s latest film, Rang Mahal, a Public Service Broadcasting Trust (PSBT) production, is among 24 titles that will compete for the Golden and Silver Bear in this year’s Berlinale Shorts. This unconventional documentary turns the spotlight on the Santhal tribal community, which does not have a written script of its own. Rang Mahal captures a little-known aspect of the tribe—the fact that Santhals use a colourful chalk-stone hill in Bengal’s Purulia to draw murals on the walls of their houses.

ELEVEN MILES Ruchir Joshi

The Berlin Forum will screen a restored version of writer and filmmaker Ruchir Joshi’s early 1990s documentary Egaro Mile (Eleven Miles), which puts the traditions and lives of several Baul singersunder the spotlight. Besides, Forum Expanded includes Joshi’s 1993 film, Tales from Planet Kolkata, “a personal portrait from the point of view of cinema”, as well restorations of two films by Yugantar, India’s first feminist film collective, which was founded in 1980: one on female factory workers (Tambaku Chaakila Oob Ali, 1982) and the other on domestic violence (Idhi Katha Matramena, 1983).

The Indian participation in Berlin is rounded off by Shadow Circus, an exhibition by the Dharamshala-based filmmaking  duo of Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam. The exhibition, presented in Forum Expanded as a joint project of Savvy Contemporary and Arsenal-Institute of Film and Video Art, will be inaugurated on the opening day of Berlinale 2019 – February 7. It will run until March 10.

The exhibition has its roots in a BBC-commissioned documentary that Sarin and Sonam made in 1998 after researching the Tibetan armed resistance against Chinese occupation and CIA’s involvement in it for many years.

SHADOW CIRCUS Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam

The two filmmakers will be in conversation with Natasha Ginwala and Bonaventure SohBejengNdikung, curators of Shadow Circus, on February 14 on the theme “The Witness as an Agent of Resistance”.

Apart from the wide range of themes that Berlinale 2019’s Indian picks represent, what is most striking is that four of the seven filmmakers in the programme (the Tibet exhibition is by a filmmaking couple) are women – which is in keeping with the spirit of a main 17-film Competition lineup that includes seven helmed by women (see ‘Women to the Fore’ Page number 34…).

Interestingly, two of the three projects from the subcontinent in the EFM Co-Production Market are helmed by women: Megha Ramaswamy’s first feature-length fiction and Dar Gai’s third directorial venture In-Law. The third south Asian film seeking co-production deals in Berlinale 2019 is  Bangladeshi director Imtiaz Bijon Ahmed’s Paradise, a drama woven around the life of a 14-year-old madrasa student on St Martin’s Island off Cox’s Bazar.

In the wider sub-continental context, the tone for this noteworthy distaff domination was set by the year’s first three major film festivals – Palm Springs, Sundance and Rotterdam. Palm Springs International Film Festival (January 3 to 14) had Dar Gai’s Namdev Bhau-In Search of Silenceand Rima Das’ Village Rockstars alongside Anurag Kashyap’s Manmarziyaan, Aijaz Khan’s Hamid and VasanBala’s Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota.

Sundance Film Festival (January 24-February 3) programmed Gurinder Chadha’s Blinded by the Light, British-Indian filmmaker Sandhya Suri’s short fiction The Field and Anamika Haksar’s Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane le Ja Riya Hoon (in the New Frontier section).

The International Film Festival of Rotterdam (January 24-February 4), the Bright Future Competition had Bangalore-born Yashaswini Raghunandan’s That Cloud Never Left along with Ridham Janve’s The Gold-Laden Sheep and the Sacred Mountain.

Rotterdam spread its net wider across the subcontinent to include Sri Lankan director Suba Sivakumaran’s debut film House of My Fathers, which premiered in Busan’s New Currents competition last year. She is the first female director in years to emerge on the world stage from the island nation, where filmmaking has traditionally been a male-dominated enterprise.

Two women – Bangladeshi performance artist Reetu Sattar and Pakistan’s Madiha Aijaz – were in IFFR’s Ammodo Tiger Short Competition fray. Sattar was in contention with Harano Sur (Lost Tune), a filmed audio performance featuring the harmonium (an instrument dying out under the pressure of Islamic strictures), while Aijaz, who works with photographs, film and text, figured in the programme with These Silences Are all the Words, a 15-minute short based on conversations in Karachi’s Bedil Library that probes many themes pertaining to Pakistani history and culture.

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