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Issue No.29/06/2017
A word with you

This is our 29th issue and I agree that there is some delay in releasing it. However better to be late than never.

One important issue that we are all much concerned about is the advent of new technology in making cinema. Gradually we are all experiencing the rapidly changing scenario in all aspects of cinema including the entire process of production, commercial distribution, DVD distribution, and consequently writing on cinema also.

We have observed some of the blockbuster films that are released recently have become runaway success even before anybody from the fraternity of film critics write any review or comments about them. The Economic activity of cinema has achieved gigantic proportion resulting in box office collections amounting to staggering figure of over thousand crores with in a couple of weeks of commercial screenings held both in India and abroad as well.

This is the new trend and it will be quite interesting to see what further innovations in this filed will come. It is quite certain that many astonishing things will happen in the future and we have to absorb it.

H.N.Narahari Rao
Film Review:
Bahubali 2: The Conclusion
MK Raghavendra

SS Rajamouli’s Bahubali 2: The Conclusion is a landmark film in economic terms but, aesthetically and philosophically, it needs closer examination although, despite some detractors, the general consensus is positive. One cannot deny that the film (or, at least its first part) is visually impressive and merits comparison with Zhang Yimou’s Hero (2002), but that film achieved greater heights with less technological assistance. Zhang Yimou’s Chinese film is evidently part inspiration for Bahubali 2 (as suggested by its choreographic and musical elements) but Hero was serious in its mythological evocation of tradition in a way that Rajamouli’s film is not; it followed its own cultural precepts consistently.

Bahubali 2 evidently derives from the Amar Chitra Katha comic books and uses the same kind of aesthetic and it would only be fair to acknowledge the legitimacy of its approach. The purpose of these comic books is to inculcate a sense of India’s tradition in the young by mythologizing India’s cultural past though narratives rendered in an easy comic book form. They derive from the mythological genre in cinema – especially films from South India – and constantly recall a mythical glorious past. Chariots and armour, for instance, are bejewelled and resplendent in gold to show the ‘glory that was ancient India’ although gold would hardly suit an actual war. But the comics are true to the originals in their narratives; philosophical/ethical issues like dharma and karma which constitute the bedrock of traditional Hindu belief are respected. This makes the Amar Chitra Katha comic books a serious cultural undertaking – in the same way as Zhang Yimou’s Hero. Bahubali 2 subscribes to the Amar Chitra Katha aesthetic but, while we should accept it seriously on these terms, we are also entitled to demand seriousness from it when it deals with tradition and at least an Amar Chitra Katha level understanding of the Hindu moral perspective when it deals with notions like dharma.

Bahubali 2 tries to create a sense of India’s glorious past/tradition in the same way that the comic books do and I propose that in order to do it sincerely, it must also respect the complex ethical/ philosophical issues involved. Since it makes references to ‘kshatriya dharma’ (and emphasizes the sacred threads on its protagonists) it must honour the notion and demonstrate that the code of dharma meant something to tradition. Amarendra Bahubali in Bahubali 2 is a hero and he must conduct himself like a hero, not only physically but also morally. The Indian epics are full of good and bad people but the bad people are not like the villains of Bollywood action films, the kind played by Ranjit, Amrish Puri or Ajit. In Telugu and Kannada mythological films Karna, Duryodhana and Ravana are played by stars like NT Rama Rao and Rajkumar. This implies that these characters are not despicable bit players in the drama but are also heroic. Duryodhana and Ravana are perhaps as mindful of dharma as Arjuna and Rama, although they may interpret the notion differently. In fact in the final confrontation between Duryodhana and Bheema, it is Bheema who cheats by striking Duryodhana where the rules prohibit him from striking – his thigh.

Bahubali 2 begins with the imminent ascension of Amarendra Bahubali (Prabhas) to the throne and his rival Bhallala Deva (Rana Daggubati) designated Commander-in-Chief. But before that happens, the Queen Mother Shivagami believes Bahubali should travel incognito to get a measure of the territory he is to rule and the neighbouring kingdoms, and he makes the journey with his trusted general Kattappa. This part includes a segment set in the Kuntala kingdom and Bahubali’s romance with the Kuntala princess, modelled on the Virataparva section in the Mahabharata; it is about a prince incognito being forced to display his valour by a crisis and also introduces a boastful coward (Uttara Kumara in the Virataparva) who later dies courageously. Arjuna, we recollect, marries Princess Chitrangada in the Mahabharata and Babruvahana is their son. In Bahubali 2 the protagonist displays his valour by vanquishing an army of robbers, and this is where our first problems with the film begin.

A ‘hero’ as we understand the term in the epics, is not only someone capable of feats of great prowess. He is also someone confronted by deep moral problems at moments of crisis, problems which need resolution. Arjuna killing a thousand foot soldiers would itself not be a 'heroic' act; he needs to vanquish Karna who is his equal, and he has to decide whether he should kill Karna when a wheel of Karna’s chariot is stuck in the mud. In the first part of Bahubali 2 dharma has no role to play and the protagonist only kills anonymous robbers without straining himself. But if there are no moral dilemmas there might still have been a profound issue to be resolved – since Princess Devasena has been promised to Bhallala Deva by Shivagami. Bahubali would then have needed to obey the Queen’s order to ‘bring Princess Devasena back in chains’. But the film has him making his own promise to Devasena that he will protect her honour, whatever the cost. Bahubali now only has to give up his throne instead of facing a moral dilemma which needs resolution. In the Mahabharata people confront deep moral dilemmas and take harsh decisions which affect them later – like Kunti abandoning her first born son Karna. Making Bahubali give up the throne is a convenient way to avoid such complexity.

Protecting a beloved’s honour may be admirable in the real world, but there are dharmic issues sidestepped in the film. We soon discover that what Rajamouli is doing is to put aside dharma as a notion at his convenience and appealing to contemporary mores like ‘democracy’ and ‘gender parity’ instead. As an instance, Bahubali declares that the dharma of the Kshatriya is to obey the people’s will but the will of the people is only relevant in a democracy where it can be determined through elections. Five hundred extras shouting for Bahubali can hardly be a convincing demonstration of the ‘will of the public’. From being an upholder of dharmic law Bahubali is abruptly transformed to a popular politician of today. Another scene has Bahubali’s replacement (as Commander-in-Chief) groping women, and Devasena duly chopping off his fingers. This may go along with present concerns about female molestation but it has nothing to do with tradition and mythology, to which the film should be true; Dushasana disrobing Draupadi is not ‘molestation’ but also involves dharma. An issue raised by is that since Yudhisthira has lost her as dice her clothes belong to the Kauravas but, as Draupadi asks, since Yudhisthira is himself a slave, has he anything left to gamble? As it is, Bahubali 2 switches constantly from dharma to ‘political correctness’ and back again, doing equal disservice to both. The would-be molester is beheaded by Bahubali and one wonders if the disproportionateness of the punishment can be fair either by the code of dharma or gender parity.

An issue which comes to the fore in the second half has to do with the relationship between the hero and the king. In any epic they stand apart but hierarchical imperatives demand that the hero submit to the king regardless of his own martial prowess. It is for this reason that Arjuna and Karna subordinate themselves to Yudhishtra and Duryodhana’s will respectively. But the king is also compelled by dharma not to be arbitrary and is bound to treat heroes (and other stalwarts) as respectfully as is owing to them. The social code governing everyone insists that no one can act according to whim.

When Bhallala Deva is installed as king in Bahubali’s place (guided by a Shakuni-like character Bijjala Deva played by Nassar) he does not become a noble adversary in Duryodhana’s mould but a contemptible rowdy out of a cheap kind of commercial cinema. Bhallala Deva is guided by no moral principles and, if anything, this reduces our interest in the narrative. He becomes the absolute tyrant and is free from compunctions, with self-advancement as his only goal. His ‘filmy’ wickedness becomes particularly conspicuous when he addresses the noble general Kattappa (Sathiaraj) as ‘mera kutha’. The reader will see how ludicrous this would in an epic: one cannot imagine Duryodhana addressing Dronacharya as ‘kutha’ (‘dog’), though a Bollywood villain usually says such things to his henchmen. Once the villain is made immune to moral/dharmic codes, one cannot take interest in his doings, since there is no wrong that he cannot do. The only thing that can stop him is physical force and that is what Bahubali, expectedly, uses. The last part of Bahubali 2 has therefore the same human interest as a staged WWF fight – in which stopping at nothing cannot prevent the villain’s defeat.

Bahubali 2: The Conclusion is technically competent but degenerates into noisy action bereft of human drama. The high point of its latter half is its showcasing of the fanciful ‘armament technology’ of ancient times, perhaps inspired by a high-tech reading of the epics. If the film is making waves, the next digital film with a bigger budget is still likely to outdo it. But what is most revealing is that in an age in which tradition is being venerated, it holds up such an impoverished moral vision for public consumption and is still widely acclaimed. This is an alarming indication of the tatters in which Hindu tradition (especially its ethical aspects) finds itself in the Indian/Hindu consciousness. The glory of a tradition is perhaps better understood by its ethical codes than by its armament technology.

Previously published in another version in Firstpost

Ken Loach is a British director formally focused on class-based social themes and his new film I, Daniel Blake, is no departure from the same. He is often called a director for the “proletariat” as his faith lies in Marxist dialectics. The film is about an ailing carpenter who confronts odds to stay on welfare; it is a film of moving contemporary relevance.

Ken Loach turned 80 in last June, and worked in films and television for more than 50 years. Says the British Critic: “but with his bone-deep empathy for the desperate and the downtrodden, you may feel that he was almost put on earth to make a dramatic feature about the current economic moment.” I, Daniel Blake is one of Loach’s finest films, a theme of carping devastation that reveals its story with a sure neorealist simplicity that goes right back to the neo-realist purity of Vittorio De Sica.

Daniel Blake (Dave Johns) is a 59-year-old carpenter from Newcastle, who is fighting hard to hold on to his welfare benefits from the Govt., even though his weak heart condition forbids him from working. It narrates how the film dares to resonate across national borders, because it covers areas so much larger than rough bureaucratic cruelty. It may be mentioned that although it is very much about that and touches our raw nerves, it has a Sisyphean resonance and remorse. Ontologically, it captures a world, a grimy universe, where the opportunity to thrive, or even just survive, sinks by the minute. With strong and right handling, the film in a way tries to connect with audiences as many Loach films always do. It’s a work of scalding and topical relevance.

The narrative has it that Daniel has a touch of grizzled pate and washed-out pallor and makes him look much older than he actually is. He has a tendency to bark at folks he doesn’t like, but in fact, he’s the soul of warm friendliness and social fraternity. A widower with no children, he has recently suffered a heart attack and receives an Employment and Support Allowance from the British state. But unfortunately, for no good reason, his benefits are denied illegally: the state wants him to go back to work — even though his physician says he can’t.

The film takes us through the agony and remorse of the appeal-process, which is a haunting nightmare than it sounds like, because all Daniel is trying to win is the right to an appeal. Daniel is forced to jump through hoops and hurdles to hurry up and wait, and some of the demands are so unreasonable. It is shown how he mustn’t just spend 35 hours a week applying for jobs he couldn’t take anyway; he must prove that he did. We get a glimpse of how inescapable conclusion is that the system, as re-jigged by conservative government forces which has engineered to toss people off the welfare rolls. It’s designed, in no quaint part, not to work.

What cuts us quick is that the battle to keep those benefits, without which he’ll literally be out on the street, may look more Sisyphean in Daniel’s case, because as an old-school carpenter with almost no formal education, he’s a lost case in the digital age. Says Daniel: “I’ve never been near a computer”. Ken Loach lambasts the system and scalds that while such confessions bring nothing but nefarious contempt from the clerks in the welfare office, the audience looks at Daniel and, indeed, sees a man — you may have at least one relative like him — who lacks the consciousness to evolve with technology. In chasing mockery, Daniel is forced to take a class in how to draw up a CV, but even then, he writes it out in longhand that inspires the film’s most cutting welfare official who stands like a Kafkaesque version of Jane Lynch, to look at that piece of paper as if it were a scroll of shame. In finality, what Daniel learns in the class is that there are dozens of people applying for every low-wage job with an evasive hope. The film is replete with ludic mockery and lamentation and agonizing ruination of self.

In a parallel axis, in the welfare office, we see Daniel spotting a woman in a similar predicament, and being the good Samaritan he is, he tries to support Katie (Hayley Squires) and her two kids to set up their new flat. Oxymoron in the film is that they’ve been squeezed out of the newly gentrified London with no money and no prospects. With a bizarre situation, the four begin to hang out, because they have nothing much else to do. Yet in their own way, they form a ragtag surrogate family of necessity. She’s a woman who has stopped being something and that she is merely existing with a livid hope. Ken Loach shows Katie literally cutting down on what she eats to have the money to feed her kids. Now when she’s shopping at the government food bank and compulsively tears the top off a can of beans, dripping the syrup into her mouth, it is like a tearful epiphany, a cruel fusion of hunger and degradation.

Peter Bradshow, the British critic, comments “If I, Daniel Blake had been made 20 or 30 years ago, the personalities of those in the welfare office might have been more colorfully villainized. But the film’s despair arises out of its perception that it’s the whole impersonal system that’s to blame. The layers of bureaucracy, which have only been added to with the Internet, are designed to wear people down.” Johns gives a powerful performance as Daniel with a plucky decency; he is made to have a lonely anger underneath that simmers until it needs to explode.” In a jiggered position, Daniel works to give the system every benefit of doubt, until it insults his very being, at which point he has an impromptu “Attica!” moment. But it’s only a moment. The power of I, Daniel Blake lies in a rare political drama of contemporary milieu that touches the soul.

I, Daniel Blake maintains a core and humanist authenticity that elevates it above the garden variety kitchen-sink routine. It's an ideal vehicle for Loach's agenda for hitting the conventional British welfare codes. If Loach seems to be wrapping up, I, Daniel Blake looks a more appropriate vessel for his chief Marxist humanism and smart skill. It's a touching story that would seem altogether familiar if it weren't also loaded with urgency being focused on the weak proletariats, a pet subject for Ken Loach.
The Rings of the Burden of Expression
(on T V Chandran’s Mohavalayam)
G P Ramachandran
What makes TV Chandran’s film Mohavalayam (The Ring of Desires) relevant are the thematic/narrative twists that act in a simple/complex way in the making/unmaking of the male protagonist who is encircled , in a small measure or on a large scale, by the major rings of woman as a body/performance/presence/friendship/relationship/distance/illusion and the minor rings of love/liquor/smoke/migration/memories/experiences/music/sights and sounds/religion/family/separation. May be this act of making/unmaking was the reason why the vast masses of audiences and the award-juries (enlightened by their hidden sacred threads) largely ignored this film. The main title of the film is the same as the last title that appears on the screen where a preview of the film Mohavalayam by the senior film director Jose Sebastian (Joy Mathew) has just been shown.

Jose Sebastian may have faded away as one of the many men who have leapt from the King Fahd Bridge (connecting Saudi to Bahrain), a bridge built between a world of monotony and prohibition to a world of gaiety, to the sea with a magnetic attraction. But, even that is not a certainty. His life/story/film is ended by fixing it in the frame of the many film direction aspirants, who he himself had driven away, when he is readying himself for the leap from the bridge with his hands spread like wings and then placed supplicantly on his head.

The film opens/ends on a close up of the character, who is his alter ego, lying dead and supine on the backwaters near a boat jetty in Kuttanad or somewhere. The crowd assembled around the dead body merely exclaim when it is brought ashore, “From where has he come? Never saw him in these parts before. Must have floated in from somewhere.” Perhaps, if Jose had succeeded in his suicide, the people gathered there would have blurted out the same sympathetically polite words if his body was retrieved. Only the language of communication would have been different. We see that a talented film maker is imprisoned in the middle of individuals and mobs he cannot come to terms with or who cannot understand him. Many aspects are autobiographical in this.

Jose Sebastian is the immediate/alter ego of the director named TV Chandran, whom the Malayali mind is yet to fully grasp, a man who has been struggling to develop and execute expressions of humaneness, democratic culture and sense of art history within the border lines and inside the structures set by people ranging from producers, because they pump in money, to people who don the hat of production controllers/managers/designers pretending to make all arrangements for the shoot.

What is notable is that the viewer is liberated from the burden of distilling the narration or theme from the formal structure which takes form from the realities and illusory realities that are moving or standing still in many ways and in many directions, dissipating at the same time. In short, there is no need to bank on them even though there is a continuity and an inter relationship. The migration of men to Bahrain, an Arabian Gulf country, started around 4000 years ago when the miracle/mirage of drinking water was discovered in the middle of oceans and deserts that hitherto held only salt water.

The people who died there since then must be still lying buried there. Like what Basheer(Siddique), the foreman of the Halwa manufacturing unit, says – those who died 4000 years back and those who die now are part of the same team. Yes, if a team of the dead and a team of the living travel across space and time, won’t we get to meet only two types of humans? (In TV Chandran’s film Bhoomiyude Avakashikal (The Inheritors of the Earth), the interpretation advanced was that there are only two teams in the world, the Known and the Unknown.)

Why then have we, later, manufactured religions, nation states, borders, passports and visas in order to sow partitions, massacres and miseries? TV Chandran raises the philosophical question of whether what is termed as Reformation is not actually the dividing partitions, shut windows, unopened doors, border fences and prison walls that we have built between us. The `migration’ that a Malayali undergoes is not a category that can be identified with or spoken about alongside the scorching historical reality of the exodus of refugees discussed all over the world in which multitudes of men are sacrificed. Though there do exist the common elements of misery, separation, starvation, loss of identity and isolation in both, the migrants from Kerala are not those refugees who are forced to flee their homelands as a result of civil wars, totalitarian regimes and imperialist warfare.

This is the reason why the migration of Malayalis is not discussed in the background of the contradictions between the political and historical righteousnesses and the overt breakdown of the law faced by millions of refugees who flee from Syria, Palestine and Africa to Europe. It is this political boredom that prompts Jose Sebastian to tick off Nanda Kumar Menon (with his newly acquired tail- his caste surname) who asks the Director to make a film on the sexual exploitation of tribal girls and how much he is concerned about it when he himself is a person who had enjoyed the body of his lover, under the garb of love, and had become a rich man after siphoning off all her money. It is because of their unsure politics that we can see even among the migrant Malayalis, just like among the Malayalis of the homeland, the trend to stand close to any celebrity and take selfies and derive much bliss from posting them on social media platforms.

Though the wife (Parvathy) of Jose, who follows him to Bahrain where he is attending the preview of his film and several consequent facilitations, is concerned about his mental and physical health issues, his son cannot adjust with his ways and finds refuge in America without even a normal communication with him. The painful experiences of many talented people that Kerala have seen are codified here in his suffering. But, no moral history or ethical conflicts prevent him from roaming around with his desires in search of liquor to replace his wife and from his interest in the new bar owner woman whom he meets at the bar.

The moral and ethical laws always demand from the individual a control on his body and mind in the name of the building up of the society. But, the individual/s are allowed even to pose the question whether they will ever get the opportunity to express the wild desires, the spontaneity and the self-assertion of his body and mind.

It is this crisis that the Director tries to problematize through the different passages of Mohavalayam. Jose Sebastian extends his Bahrain trip agreeing to the demand of Shanavaz ( Shine Tom Chacko), who sidles up to him as a fan, Ajith (Sudhish) and Ajith’s uncle and story-narrator Radha Mohan ( Ranji Panicker) that he be their advisor to their film production endeavour. It is clear to everyone that it is not in the name of a film project, which does not inspire him, that he is going on this trip and that his only intention is to be away from home for some time and indulge himself in uninterrupted smoking and drinking without the interventions of his wife. That is why no one has any sympathy at the end for the inevitable orphanhood of this man who journeys from self-interests to self-interests, disinterest to disinterest, lustful desires to lustful desires and at the end from disillusionment to detachment.

This absence of sympathy is actually the disinterest/detachment that Malayalis show to all migrants. It is because everyone is aware that Malayali migrations are not born of political compulsions. At the same time, one should not lose sight of the truth that they are unable to venture into such historical investigations that will make them realize that the Malayali migration is also something that imperialism renders inevitable.

Every film maker, like anyone else who expresses through any other art, is someone who changes the history of the medium he is involved with. In order to put forth the viewpoint that any other art expression will be ahistorical, it is most relevant that he displays, in flashes, the clippings of some extra ordinary films that reinvented the perceptions of cinema viewers all over the world, including himself, before the fallacy of the story discussion begins. The clippings that are assembled hurriedly, to remind one of the Cinema’s greatest and most memorable moments, are short scenes from La Dolce Vita (Fellini), Dreams (Kurosawa), Seventh Seal (Bergman), Great Dictator and Modern Times (Charlie Chaplin), Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Bunuel), Aguirre, The Wrath of God ( Herzog) and Amma Ariyaan ( John Abraham). This interjection is also a straight path to reach the non-coincidental reality that Joy Mathew, who did the protagonist role of the angry/suffering youth in Amma Ariyaan, is the one who is portraying the role of the hero/Director in this film, keeping aside the evident fact that he is a busy actor of the main stream cinema now.

The vital question of whether entertainment is the goal of cinema, as in life, resounds throughout this film. What is expanded through this question is the fundamental question of what constitutes entertainment. Mohavalayam also stands testimony to this riddle of entertainment shattering in the face of clichés like one seeking temporary refuge in such minimal entertainment possibilities to escape from the unending chores of day to day life. Some caricatures, which seem to act as tributes to G.Aravindan, also help in making Mohavalayam a part of the archival history of Malayalam Cinema. The Director himself is a caricature. The producer, the fans, the chess players who bash each other up in the bar, Malayalis to Pakistanis who desire the bartender woman, the millionaire who is agonized by the exploitation of tribal girls, the director, within and without the film, who sympathises with the orphanhood of the muslim girls- all of them are caricatures that we can meet frequently and this is one potential of the film Mohavalayam. In that sense, Ring of Desires is also a Crossroad of desires.

The situations in Kerala which make migration to the Gulf inevitable are also detailed time to time in the film. Even that constitutes an inner ring; an Inside ring that makes migration compulsory. Everyone has similar stories like that of Prameela ( Maithili) who was a theatre actress, married an actor Utthaman who sufferered from pangs of jealousy, who then had to migrate to Bahrain to save, discard and protect him and later become a nautch girl in bars, then a bar owner and the mistress of her sponsor. To Jose who takes pride in the conception that his job as a film director is to dream, imagine more dreams and portray them, Prameela says that she is unable to dream because she is hardly able to sleep. When she sleeps, it is a deep sleep. The rest of the time, she is awake as if on a protest against someone. The essence of this is the same when Basheer asks ‘why one should portray life, isn’t it better to live it out?’

What TV Chandran does is to critically analyse the process of film making which he used to follow and is still following by portraying transparently and in simple terms this intercourse between the film maker and the common man like between the film and real life.

(Translated by Ravi Shanker)
(Bengali/2017/103 mins/Aparna Sen)
Cast : Aparna Sen, Shabana Azmi, Lillete Dubey.

SONATA by Aparna Sen surely sparked off in us a huge optimism. But in reality the film with strong presence of women characters acted by Shabana Azmi, Aparna Sen and Lillete Dubey does not go deep below the surface. Three women, looking like soft rebels, miles away from the trappings of mainstream cinema carry the burden of the film with a zest for life. Women are middle aged and have groomed themselves into an alien kind in social climate of ontological anxieties. Given various quaint moods and vibrancy three women, as if cut off from quotidian reality, look like they are not part of our society. Sunk in wine binge, they talk of their life and try to find meaning out of a vacuum they fail to discard.

The film is taken from a stage play, once very popular and hard hitting in erstwhile Bombay, does possess an inch from the impact of Mahesh Elkunchwar’s stage play!!! The screen effect of the stage play is never palpably felt while watching SONATA!!!!! However, SONATA is larded with verbosity and scattered sequences mark it hung-up chamber piece. Aparna Sen of course strives her best to employ cinematic contraption to elevate the impact of the film but not with much success. I, for one, feel Aparna could have offered us more in terms of feminist zest and sharp dramatic nuances. But no!!! SONATA sings but its tune is Greek to us, making is convoluted.

It is claimed it is quite a pesky job to film a play with a third dimension. We can cite some of the best filmed theatres do manage to open up such third dimensions turning the end product a much sought after object of desire. Elia Kazan, Lindsay Anderson, Tony Richardson and Derek Jarman etc made powerful films with preachers’ pulpit!!!! Besides, placing unusual women characters, moody, groovy, alienated in close square-space need a very powerful tackling, steeped in subtle nuances and inner strength of the structured situation!!!.

Each of these women, who went to college together, is clubbed with high optimism to deliver goods which they could not. Herein lies the frailty of SONATA. Characters such as Dolon (Shabana Azmi) is a Rabindra Sangeet-singing-banker who shares the apartment with Aruna (Aparna Sen), a professor and author, struggling with pending chapters: the rest, Subhi aka Subhadra is a journalist, with a complicated personal life marred by mysterious mental movement!!!!However, I cannot discard SONATA as a poxy film but one having potentials not exploited to the hilt!!!!

PS: A film is not a preacher’s pulpit, says filmmaker Aparna Sen
REPLY: A film is often a preacher’s pulpit.
Onaatah: of the Earth
(Meghalaya / Khasi language / 2016 / 108 mins)
Directed by Pradip Kurbah
Aesthetics under Lucidity
Utpal Datta
(Translation from original Assamese Gitali Saikia)
A long shot, night in a town, a huge building of a school or a college or a hospital; shadow and light draws complex pictures, through which a young girl is coming; just a moment; a car passes by, returns again, stops with a roaring sound, and blocks her way; the girl is forcefully taken away. After that there is only pain and darkness. Two years passed amidst darkness in gloom. Through that darkness a voice of a woman is floating---I am tired, always the same question perturbs me, I am surrounded by a circle, how can I forget that night which had changed the course of my life, etc. etc. On the screen a woman’s face appears—exhausted, tired, crushed a sad face. This is the girl who was raped by some lustful men at a night while she was on her way home after pushing an injection to a patient.

Lots of films are made based on the story of a raped woman. In these stories, the climax and conclusion is that the accused is always punished; negligence to a raped woman, insult or to go against such insult is the message of such stories. But, while such elements turn to cliché, in Pradip Kurbah’s1 Khasi film Onaatah, though the accused is punished the victim cannot become happy. The punishment sentenced to the criminal has not changed her life. For last two years she has been fighting for justice, one day that battle has come to an end. After that what happens? Moreover, the journey of that young girl starts, a journey to her heart, which is the shortest and the longest journey and this film is about the story of that journey. While she thinks all this she is sitting in a car, a scene appropriate to her mood and thoughts which has added movement and life to the body of the message.

There is less story, more emotion in the film. Less action, more reaction. As the film gives more importance in the psychic presentation, its narrative also becomes somewhat poetic and suggestive. Instead of direct presentation lots of metaphors prevail. The starting point of the film is the incident of rape which is intelligible through a few images and back ground music. In those images there is a woman body is not shown or no scene of rape is displayed; but the totality of the images make us understand the upcoming incident. The story of the film is simple, heart touching. The story is deepened by the picture of the suffering and agony of a woman, the picture of a search of herself by a frustrated and broken woman. Suggestiveness makes the film heavy, it is thought provoking and can bind the readers with the film. The beauty of the cinematic language transforms it to a rare piece of art. On the one hand, the beauty of the images, on the other hand the ideology hidden behind the story is marvellous. The fusion of all these elements transforms the film to a stirring aesthetic experience.

Legal judgment cannot give answer to Onaatah’s questions. She was betrothed; but the accident broke the betrothal, the passersby ask only one question. They ask her about the event; the same event comes to her again and again like a poisonous arrow. Being depressed she enters a bathroom and wants to take the ultimate decision of her life. But hearing a voice she stops, through the open door of the bathroom her father sees a glass of water upon the basin and a few tablets 2. Her father who is giving her courage realizes what is going to happen and Onaatah to go to her uncle’s house situated in a village to soothe her suffocated mind.

Onaatah goes by a bus and gets down in that hamlet. She wanders alone amidst Nature; she talks with the villagers about those things which she has never talked about. Gradually she has attached herself with the problems of these people unknowingly. A girl strives to commit suicide for love, she consoles her, make her understand the reality; she takes a drunken youth to a rehabilitation centre. Gradually she is acquainted with various forms of life. But still she cannot smile. In that village a young farmer, Duh, feels attracted to her. Though he has not a voice of a singer, he dreams to be a famous singer and to release an album. The director presents this young man with a red shoe, and the contrast between the red in green back ground reveals the beauty and determination of his mind. A smile appears on her face while she returns from the rehabilitation centre with Duh. Both of them became easy with each other; they return in a Sumo on a hilly path, the car is slow, they are talking; a smile appears on her face; she smiles for the first time in the film. For long two years she has been suffering, she has been pricked by the pranks of that agony. She was worried; and the time of the birth and release of this smile is a crucial point in the film. This scene bears the witnesses of her mental change, that the character has got rid of the suffocated atmosphere and her happiness and feelings spread everywhere. To express the change director Pradip Kurbah has chosen the top of a running car, under a blue sky with white portraits and touch of the blowing wind in a green atmosphere. Portrayal of a mental phenomenon through pictures is not an easy task, but colours, environment and movement---with these elements the director exquisitely presents her mental world through the narratives of the film.

Instead of events we have lots of mental sequences. Instead of happenings those feelings which create different feelings in Onaatah’s mind, which have changed her world, and these events makes the search of her path easier.

There is a very meaningful, but less important character, the character of a blind old man. He roams in the village without anybody’s help; he feels the beauty of the village. Onaatah meets him, holding his hand and shutting her eyes she walks along the village. This small sequence is very significant; it brings depth to the film. Every art tries to look at life from different angles. New perspective gives the medium a new dimension and brings honour to its creator. Creating a scene of looking at the world with shutting eyes Kurbah turns the film to a rare piece of art, while Onaatah through this scene finds something to survive. This scene takes the audience to the first scene where amidst darkness the feelings and sufferings of Onataah were expressed, only gloom and groaning, anguish and hopelessness, where Onaatah saw only a bleak future lying before her.

Suddenly the old man dies. On the screen the corpse of the old man is not shown; it is informed through a dialogue, through the reactions of Onataah. As someone says about the dead body Onataah burst into anger, after death a living being turns to a dead body, she says. In this scene audience is puzzled who has died! But for the director only the reactions of Onataah are important. The villagers are not annoyed at her anger, what she speaks they listen. That means either the villagers are agree with her or accept her as one among them. At the same time Duh’s attraction for Onataah continues. Its expression is also symbolic. She understands it, but pretends not to understand his feelings. But once Duh opens his heart. Onataah refuses by telling that she was raped and nobody can accept her. But Onataah is shoked listening to his rely, “Here everybody knows all about you, but does someone ask?”

Suddenly Onataah returns home. Why has she gone back? The answer to those questions is left to the audience. Perhaps she has no reply to Duh, and hence, she wants to run away. But in her own place also she cannot stay. “I did not express thank to the people, I have to go again to express my gratitude”, she says to her father. Sometimes she receives a few phone calls, the person who rings her up does not speak anything. It is not difficult to understand that these calls are from Duh.

Again she arrives at the village. Duh waits in the bus stop. Both of them walk along the green stretching far wide under the blue sky. They are talking. After she has finished talking about herself, Onataah tells Duh, “What about you?” “Very simple, I am awaiting you.” After that their conversation is not heard, no need to hear that, both of them are missing amidst vast green and unending blue. For the audience a question arises, “What is said by Onataah?”

There are lots of such questions, and the answers to those would be given by the audience and the catastrophe of the story would also be drawn by themselves. The questions left towards the audience carol the multi-layered structure of the movie. The simplicity of the first part of the story helps the audience to be intimate with the story as well as the characters. The other layers lying behind this lucidity introduce us with the questions of humanity and life as a whole. In the last layer rests the philosophical profundity expressed through the deeds and thoughts of the characters.

This multi-layered story is lucidly presented by Pradip Kurbah. The actors and actresses are cajoled to submerge themselves in the characters they play which makes the film vibrant. The exuberance of the chief actress Sweety Pala and protagonist, Mulvin Mukhim’s acting is tremendously awesome. Meaningful but short dialogues3 make the actors face a challenge because it is not so easy to express everything through short speeches. The director has successfully overcome the challenge. Moreover, humour enters spontaneously at some situation which adds to the vigour and spirit of the cinema.

Cinemetographer Pradip Daimery captures effervescent beauty and magnificence of Nature, the green shade, the contrast of shadow and light which cannot be described in words. For example, a few night scenes, the scene of the court are tremendously beautiful. Music directed by Anurag Saikia also enriches the imaginary scenes of the director. The orchestra like music played in the outdoor scenes, where a wide shot is used to show the greatness of Nature, the static scenes or the scenes taken upon a trolly or a crane enhances the magnificence of the film. The story is written by Pradip Kurbah and Paulami Sengupta, and Lionel Dattagupta assists them in the script.

The repeatedly shown image of the wheel of a car and the distance between Duh and Onataah while Duh is singing a song for her, and the insertion of the useless footage of a Hindi film, Tarzan, which is annoying, can be removed by the director.
Festival Report:
Cannes Film Festival – The Premier Chronicler of our times
Vidyashankar N. Jois
The 70th edition of the Cannes International Film festival has just concluded. A critical discourse on individual films may not provide as much insight as the overview of the thematic concerns of the significant films in the festival as they give us a panoramic view of the societal configurations and psychological states of the contemporary human situation across the world and also status of evolution of the medium.

The immediacy and the contemporariness of Cinema are its core characteristics. Being the most influential of the modern technology driven visual form, by its sheer popularity, it is suspect in terms of its possibility of varied and subtle nature of exploitation of human emotions. Its capacity to distance us from the concerns of everyday affairs and make us to surrender to the images and stories that play out before us is a matter of intellectual anxiety. Despite its inclusive nature of representation of local realities & cultures and dependency on languages, idioms, sounds and culture specific props cinema by nature is a global product by birth and it plays out the global Politics like no other medium of mass communication on the one side and as a creative art on the other. Phenomenal growth of Cinema dependent Entertainment industry in terms of technology, business practices, Artistic possibilities and behavioral economic theories are indicative of the historical roots of the medium in both the Scientific and Artistic traditions and their philosophies.

Sometimes the cineaste community, more particularly the film critics are piqued at the exuberance displayed by the influential print and electronic media in exploiting the glamour quotient of the Red carpet parade of Film Stars and the disproportionate attention to the commercial Industry activities like production and Marketing of films at the Cannes International Film Festival. Not that they are not aware of the techno economic nature of the cinema medium and the demand on it by the market forces but the skepticism is rooted in the fear for sustenance of the core value of the Film festival which has always stood for independent creative filmmaking. For the discerning, Cannes International Film Festival, one of the oldest forums of cinema to recognize the complexity of the medium and to recognize the various aspects that contribute to its evolution, particularly Art of the cinema is still the Premier forum. The declared spirit of the Festival is always to understand the human situation in the global context and also in exploring the possibility and seeking the answer to the question whether medium can Change the world or at least an individual for better.

The paradigm shift the Cannes festival brought in to the idea of cinema at the crucial time of history with a disastrous war destroying the fragile peace of the whole world and the cinema being abused as a convenient form for propaganda by dominant autocracies, fascist political forces and subversive Economic cartels of the west still remains the most respected democratic model. It was the time new film theories were emerging in France to reinvent the cinema’s artistic possibilities with reference to the “Reality”, to shift constantly between the objective examination of the context of a film and the subjective immersion in the experience it offers. Cinema was discovering the positive role of technology in enhancing the experience of reality at the time it was destroying the existence of communities and redrawing the borders of the countries.

Our time is in a new form of great turmoil almost like in the first half of the previous century . Human situation for the large groups of people is appalling and peace of mind is a casualty even amongst the people of economically stable lifestyles. Dark clouds of internecine wars, religious bigotries of terrorist formations of various hues and beliefs, amoral divisive political and economic agendas, social and familial polarizations and disintegrations have raised their ugly heads in our midst. The dense knowledge faculties have been replaced by loose piles of information and the critical intellect is in a state of despair. How does individuals in different Cultures and civilizations cope up with it and how does a creative artist perceives that response is the bench mark of a democratic festival of Arts. If one were to look at the films and awards at the 2017 Cannes festival in the official and Parallel selections there is no cause for intellectual anxiety as most of them still represent the best of independent expressions. There is no dearth of courage in handling the contemporary themes of family disintegration, political polarizations, ethnic violence, issues of racism and migration despite the strong arm of economic oppressions clouding even the cultural scenarios. It has also shown that Cannes still remains committed to its aim of nurturing quality as well. The huge growth of peripheral activities can only be termed as the extension of a “Village Fair” cultural phenomenon.

The thematic strength of the festival content recognizing the intellectual and human crisis can be gauged by a few representative films in different official and parallel sections. If the disintegration of fidelity to the family and business values is subtly portrayed in the Michel Hanake’s new film “Happy End”, Palm d’Or award winning film “The Square” in the words of its Director Ruben Ostlund, moves between topics such as responsibility and Trust, rich and poor and powerlessness. The growing distrust of the State in media and in Art, the declining belief in the power of the community as a whole is also his concern but confesses that he also as a film aesthete is concerned about his responsibility to provoke and entertain his viewers resulting in usage of rhetorical and elegant visual devices. The Fatih Akin’s film, “In the Fade – Aus Dem Nights” that has brought the best Actor award in the female role to Diane Kruger is a disturbing film of the nature of self destructive configurations the hate politics and societies are heading towards. If the Hungarian film “Jupitor’s Moon – La Lune De Jupiter” sank into fantasy to escape the reality of refugee crisis, the American films “Good Time” by Safdie brothers and “You were never really here” by Lynne Ramsay descends into violence and mayhem only to present the helplessness of the marginalized in the society. Jury Prize winner Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Russian film which according to me is one of the best ones in the competition section, “Loveless - Nelyubov”, is a complex tale about an aggressive, brutal, disconnected couple resulting in the loss of hope and future for a scared, grieving and lost kid alluding to the loss of faith in the resurrection of a future in contemporary Russian families and society, or for that matter in the whole world. The contrast between opulence and ruins resurface in the film time again through abandoned dilapidated constructions, frozen cold natural environs and the modern lifestyles. The psycho sphere is loaded with sexual interludes with a total lack of trust and positive emotions amongst the partners and also the off springs.

Naomi Kawase’s Japanese film “Radiance - Hikari” was one of the films on the brighter side of life with a discourse on word and the image, the subtle crisis of art in terms of the Reality and the imagination and our obsession with Realism in modern visual Arts. A commentary on the film making process itself, the film also deals with the concepts of view point and a vision, literally. The intellectual rigor with which similar discourses were handled in cinema by the rebellious New wave film maker Jean Luc Godard with reference to the political and cultural reality of his post world war Europe was on review in the bio-pic on him by Michel Hazanavicius, “Redoubtable – Le Redoutable” which of course places in context the crisis of intellect of our times as well. It was indeed a nostalgic journey for many cineastes who grew up on the political and cinematic activism of the French New wave and the futility of those community driven democratic processes in our time of individual persuasions. The veteran filmmaker Roman Polanski in his new oeuvre “Based on a True Story – D’Apres une Histoire Vraie” returns to the theme of colonization of mind not of politics but of individual hunger for power over others. This eerie film about a character taking over both the body and the mind of a writer is also a commentary on the blurring distinction in our times between fiction and reality.

The official Un certain regard segment at Cannes festival is always about perspectives. The world view the rigorously selected films generate has been a critical measure of the concerns of the medium and also reality of the world of the time. The year has been a challenging and frustrating period for the creative artists and critics in terms of growth and acceptance of ideologically extreme religious and political positions. The Tunisian film “The Beauty and the dogs – Aala Kaf Ifrit” which horrifyingly presents the existing nature of the relationship of the extremely brutal state authority and gender equality concerns and on the contrary Michel Franco’s film “April’s Daughter” which in an inverted way raises the issue of familial authority and oppression irrespective of gender specifics. If the award winning Iranian film “A man of Integrity – Lerd ” by Mohammad Rasoulof deals with the growing network of corruption in the new economic orders of the world, the German filmmaker Valeska Grisebach in the film “Western” explores the dichotomy of the developmental economic models of creating physical infrastructure at the cost of breaking down the cultural and natural ecosphere. The economic crisis creeping into the individual lives and affecting the quotidian in the politically abandoned zones of the Eastern Europe and in this case Bulgaria is further accentuated by another significant film from Bulgaria itself. “Directions - Posoki” by Stephan Komandarev with its tagline statement “Road movie set in a country which remains optimistic, mainly because all the realists and pessimists have left” is a damning study of the politically abandoned states where individuals even if they are professionals have to struggle to survive. The Director’s note “I live in Bulgaria, where I am raising my two children. When I look at them, I cannot help but wonder what kind of world they will be living in as adults. What do they have to look forward to? And how can we reverse the current decline in societal values and ethics? Will it be possible for us to break from the past and start life anew? I offer this film as a personal prayer for my children, my community and my world.” surmises the human situation of not only Bulgaria but in the entire world and the film is a moving presentation of the life of taxi drivers in Sofia with no clue about the future.

The Quinzaine des Realisateurs (Directors Fortnight) and Semaine de la Critique (Critics Week) forums of parallel competition have been integral part of the Cannes Film Festival for a long time and in fact they have been the stepping stone for many a Directors of repute today. These platforms have shown greater responsibility in recognizing the talent at the very beginning and therefore the films shown under them draws lot of attention. It is challenging and tentative for the critics as well to identify new talents as they are always in doubt of missing out some new creative force in the shadow of already established voices.

An interesting aspect of the new talents in these sections for this year under the full length feature films category is that majority of them are not consciously political activists. They are by choice human story tellers through which they are keen to communicate the social and cultural crisis of our times in specific cultural environs. The growing up theme has been a dominant one in the history of cinema and it continues to do so with Jonas Carpignano film “A Ciambra” in the tradition of French New Wave and a similar attempt is made in the Venezuelan film “La familia”. This story of the underbelly of the urban Venezuelan Capital city of Caracas follows the social realism format of the Neo realists. The growing up story is told in a non rhetoric visual narrative which does not create any heroes or even present the bad elements. The boy indeed grows up from a delinquent character into a normal one through the life experiences which makes him more responsible towards his family and also the society. The non confrontational attitude of the father towards both the society and his son is another defining element of the film. The notion of the paternity as a protective character in deference to the woman as the saviour and caretaker of the family is also an innovative theme of the film.

The relationship of the man and the mountain borders on a metaphysical quest and though the Brazilian film “Gabriel and the Mountain – Gabriel e a montanha”, a true story, ventures into such a search ends up as an African adventure narrative devoid of strong characterisation. Most of the other films like “The Rider”, “Mobile Homes”, “Pure Hearts -Cuori Puri”, “The Dragon’s Defense – La Defensa Del Dragon”, “ava”, “Oh Lucy”, “Los Perros” are about the fragility of human relationships of our times.

The Italian presentation “The Intruder – L’Intrusa” is however a different take on the middle class ethics and social relationships. As the Director Leonardo Di Costazo explains his reformist theme “ What is interesting to me is the underlying value system of being volunteers of change… from a strong personal motivation and that it is in these contexts that an idea of society can be forged or even more, the idea of man”, and goes on to add that “I seem to find there the classical elements of narrative: the hero, the individual, the obstacles in the way of his action, the community, the ethical conflict.” On similar thoughts, though the need for change in the ethical modes of the society, particularly with regard to woman is the concern of the Iranian animation film “Tehran Taboo” the context and the location from which the questions are raised do not sustain the seriousness of the issues involved. Similarly, the socio anthropological nature of the films on Africa, “I am not Witch” and “Makala” dilutes the intellectual authenticity of the empathy it wishes to generate. Lastly, the 3 hours long Portugese film “ The Nothing Factory” by Pedro Pinho, film which won the Critics Forum jury award has an overtly political activist theme in the sense that it deals with job losses, automation issues and global capital movement etc., not with an ideological manifesto but through the experiences of the individuals in our post modern amoral work environments. More emphatically the film recognizes the role of work or lack of it, the manual labor, at the centre of modern crisis in human situation. Cannes Festival raises the unanswerable question “Whether Cinema can change the World”, but at the end of it all, it at least confirms that World needs a Change for the better.
Vidyashankar N. Jois
Freelance Film Critic & Occasional columnist
FIPRESCI member and Jury at Cannes 2017
Artistic Director, Bengaluru International Film Festival, India

Another festival, another venue
Manoj Barpujari
The genesis of film festivals can be traced to the rise of the film society movement that wanted to alert the viewers about the immense possibility of the wonderful medium. The pioneers thought that if the market-oriented pot-boilers and action packed dramas were allowed to rule the outlets, the enlightening power and charisma of cinema would be lost in the vortex of entertainment. If the audience continued to reel under the pressure of the market, then the society itself would be at a loss. Thus, the film festivals started with opening up of the alternative window to see the better creativity that often get lost in the din created by hegemonic popular culture. Even in times of spreading newer communication technology and making access to films wider and easier, the general filmgoer might find it hard to select better films as media hypes kills the genuine and lift the mediocre and the stereotyped. Film festivals strongly address this problem ever since it came into being at Venice in 1932 and in India two decades later.

So when All Lights India International Film Festival (ALIIFF) was started in Kerala, a home itself to film society movement and avant-garde films as well, it attracted fresh interest and enthusiasm. As a part of the greater, all inclusive Indywood Film Carnival, the festival has shown lots of promises to attain its declared goals. The very next year the new born festival shifted to Hyderabad’s Ramoji Film City with active participation and backing of the Government of Telangana. India’s oldest and most prestigious film festival, IFFI, had a fairly long history of being held at major filmmaking cities of the country, finally taking the ultimate decision of making the coastal town of Goa its permanent venue. Perhaps by announcing Ramoji Film City as the venue of the third edition of ALIIFF, to be held by this year-end with renowned film director Shyam Benegal as the festival director, the organizers had given a clear indication that the festival could settle down at “World’s Largest Film Studio”. The sheer vision and hard work, the carnival of film screening, competition, awards, film market, exhibition, product and project launches, talent hunt, investor’s meet, conference and panel discussion, workshop and seminars left a lasting impression on all delegates coming from across the globe.

The highlight of the closing gala was a resounding speech given by the Union Minister of Information & Broadcasting M. Venkaiah Naidu. It was least expected that the political stalwart was so much informed about the film medium. A major development at the carnival was signing of a Euro 12 million Indo-Lithuania Co-project. It was good for Telangana too, as the state found its place among the top 10 states of the country for film tourism – a real pedigree for a two-year-old state! ALIIFF could serve a practical and effective means of spotlighting the state’s assets as a site for film production, both Indian and International. As a participant at the 2nd ALIIFF, in the film critic jury with Anil Zhankar and Madhu Eravankara, I would prefer to say that this festival also provided a perfect counterpoint to existing patterns of film culture. Keeping the core tradition of including both competitive and non-competitive section at the film festivals, ALIIFF also accommodated the variety. In a four-day extravaganza (24-27 September, 2016) of selected films, ALIIFF offered a good number of extraordinary films. The opening film Son of Saul for instance, or the Columbian marvel Embrace of the Serpent, or take the Slovenian wonder The Tree as well as the Israeli mind-blower The Wedding Doll.

                Film : Son of Saul
Hungarian winner of the Best Foreign Film Oscar and Grand Prix at Cannes, Son of Saul (2015) is just too good to be garlanded with common superlatives to be described as a contemporary masterpiece. This is a film of robust inhumanity meted out to fellow humans during the reign of the Nazis. It is a sensible, delicate and unconventional creation from one who was known as an assistant to the master filmmaker Bela Tarr. The film refashioned the Holocaust drama as the director Laszlo Nemes took five months of sound design as human voices in eight languages were recorded and attached to the original recording of the production. The soundwork plays a major role in suggesting what is happening around Saul in Auschwitz and adjacent area, with audiences often forced to rely on the sound to imagine the whole, horrible picture. Special lenses and aspect ratio were adopted to realize shallow focus and a portrait-like narrow field of vision contributing to a memorable viewing experience. Critics termed it an “astonishing debut film” and “a horror movie of extraordinary focus and courage” but without any salt of melodrama. But over and above all the praises showered on the film, even these accolades seem insufficient to appreciate what Nemes has achieved in telling a story in truly effective cinematic vocabulary.

The film chronicles a dramatic episode during the World War II. A numbed looking Jewish prisoner Saul who has only been given a stay of execution because he is part of a Sonderkommando work unit (made up of German Nazi death camp prisoners) comes upon the body of a boy whom he recognizes as his son. He convinces the prison doctor not to perform autopsy on the body as he intends to give the boy a proper Jewish burial. But he fails to convince a Rabbi prisoner to perform it and sets a target to do the last rites himself. Amidst all the ghastly condition at the gas chamber and nearby execution ground, Saul gets associated with an attempt of rebellion and another effort of photographing the atrocities for smuggling them outside to attract attention. Saul retrieves his son's body hidden in a sack at his own barrack and escapes to the woods with an armed group of the futile rebellion. However while they cross a river fleeing the approaching guards, he loses his grasp on the sack and the body floats away. Saul is left with a terrible sense of desolation as he could not even fulfill a timid wish against impending death. When the prisoners arrive at an abandoned shed in the forest chalking out a plan to join the Polish resistance, Saul notices a young peasant boy peeking into the shed. Moments later it is revealed that the innocent looking boy leads the prison guards to the shed as he runs into the deep woods and the sounds of gunfire suggests the eventual burial of the living Jewish in the forest.

          Film : Embrace of the Serpent
A Cannes award winner adventure drama Embrace of the Serpent (2015) is directed by Ciro Guerra and shot in black-and-white. The film was the first Colombian film to be nominated for the 2016 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and won, among other prestigious honours and prizes, the Golden Peacock Award at the IFFI the previous year. Interestingly constructed with two stories in a time gap of three decades, the film follows an Amazonian shaman leading two scientists in their quest for a sacred plant. Visually engrossing, the narrative gives enough exposure to a riverine forest land and ethnographic details which are juxtaposed with dramatic cultural and socio-economic conflicts of bitter colonialism. Karamakate is the last survivor of his tribe who once met a German traveler and revives his life with the magical smoke made out of a native plant leaves, and now he accompanies an American botanist in the latter’s pronounced bid to find the rare, albeit mythical, Yakruna plant. The German is an ethnographer, named Theo, and has already resided in the Amazon for several years, is searching for Yakruna as the only cure for his disease. He is travelling by canoe with his field notes and a westernised local he saved from enslavement on a rubber plantation. Karamakate prolongs his life, blasting white powder called ‘the sun’s semen’ up his nose. They find the sacred Yakruna abused by drunken men and cultivated against local traditions. Karamakate gets furious and destroys the only existing plant in the midst of villagers fleeing an invasion of Columbian soldiers which is actually a dramatic moment taken from a leaf of Amazon rubber boom period.

Many years later the American botanist Evan meets up with a much older Karamakate who has apparently forgotten the customs of his own people. Evan says he is hoping to complete Theo’s quest and Karamakate does assist when Evan declares his devotion to plants, although his hidden agenda is to secure disease-free rubber trees. They discover one Yakruna flower that is on the last plant on a peculiarly shaped rock mountain. The film ends with a transformed Evan remaining enamored by a group of butterflies, as if he attains a feat owned by Karamakate – but not without a preceding discordant friction between them that only signifies the atrocious colonizers’ viewpoint to the native culture and longing. Amidst a praiseworthy black-and-white cinematography and an engaging sound design, the film is not just an ethnographic study – with a serpent appearing as a metaphor – but also delivers a fairly comprehensive critique of the destruction of indigenous cultures at the hands of white invaders. The conflict of interests is represented by outrageous meetings with a Catholic priest and self-styled Messiah in both expeditions.

Yet another debut feature, an impressive entry for the best foreign film Oscar award from Slovenia and winner of several Eastern European film festival awards, The Tree (2014) is directed by Sonja Prosenc. The story element is important in films only when the eventuality is dependent on some incident. As the title of the film suggests, a tree holds centre stage in the storyline and the storytelling is totally unconventional all throughout. Here the viewer is engaged with a widowed mother and her kids. The elder sibling Alek loses his friend from the village in a tragic incident as the latter fells down from the tree in a minor scuffle with the former. The unwanted death occurred to his teenager friend has serious repercussion for the family as the whole village talks of a revenge. It leaves them insecure and their home remains only safe place for them. But at the same time it has turned into a kind of prison, with their stoic endurance often vilified by threatening silence and helpless solitude. The narrative thus gives way to imagination and the audio-visual exploits partake some meaning; and in the process it becomes an intense drama of some friction, may be an outcome of some ethno-centric conflict or a case of individual against the outside forces thing that always remain subdued and unexplained. But there are some hints to it as the family speaks Slovenian among themselves and Albanian when they are outside their home.

                Film : The Tree
Split into three chapters, each dedicated to one of the family members, The Tree is first of all a visual poetry. The director takes recourse to the theme of death, and how it affects a family at various levels. The opening scene itself shows the younger sibling coming upon a dead bird and carefully burying it in the barren campus of the house. The playmate of Alek who met with an unfortunate death is older brother of a village girl with whom Alek is having an affair. The girl is a lively link on which the future of the family may get dependent, only to be cut short by the effects of the incident. The family gets assailed by the villagers and the ensuing atmosphere is craftily created by a grayish tonal cinematography and visual elements like empty road, a tall wall surrounding the house that gives a feel of a prison, as if the small family members live there under house arrest. The revenge on Alek ultimately takes place in a chase-and-kill sequence caught in a long shot. The sluggish pace and unpretentious unfolding of the drama point towards Sonja’s deep and pure involvement with cinematic language. She is indeed a find of the festival circuit of India and elsewhere in the past year or so.

                Film : The Wedding Doll
Among other outstanding films, I was specially moved by The Wedding Doll which is a debut feature directed by an award winning Israeli documentary filmmaker Nitzan Gilady. Powered by stunning cinematography and equally mesmerizing performance by young actress Moran Rosenblatt in the lead role, the film already received three international awards at the prestigious Jerusalem Film Festival and won hearts across the globe. The Wedding Doll (2015) depends on a plot that may be praised for speaking “well of its commitment to a kind of realism” as specifically pointed out by well-known critic Roger Ebert. It tells a story about a mentally disabled beautiful damsel Hagit who works at a toilet paper factory. The young woman has an extraordinary skill of making lovely little dolls using toilet paper rolls. Her passions are as normal as any other girl and epitomized in her dreams of love, marriage and a longing for freedom from the strict guidance of her mother, an overprotective divorcee. Skipping her boss’ vigilant eyes she even enamored with his son Omri. When the boss wants to shut the factory down apparently to halt his son’s love affair on the pretext of the factory not doing well, Omri wants to innovate something as a means to keep his flame of love near to him. However they face a rough weather as Omri’s male friends who are oblivious of his love for Hagit, often called ‘weirdo’ by kids in the housing colony, contemplate a cruel plan about her belief that she is getting married soon. Hagit presents herself in a specially designed wedding gown she made with toilet paper rolls and from a scene of unexpected drama she somehow manages to set herself free, eventually leaving the remote Israeli town with a heavy heart but secured in her mom’s company.

As far as the histrionics is concerned, the film is sincere and compelling to the core, although it avoids the usual pattern where a subject tends to invite. Using the rugged beauty of the desert as its setting, its pictorial quality in widescreen compositions is simply amazing to leave an impact on the viewer. The provincial locale forces its way to the cast to become an inseparable character itself. The screenplay succinctly reveals how the girl’s estranged mother Sara suffers from a sense of guilt and helplessness over certain past events in her daughter’s childhood. The past or the characters’ back-story is not wiped out from her mental state, but never overstated. Sara’s tryst with her frustrated boyfriend is not over-indulged, kudos to the director and the screenplay writer.

There were many other important films in the festival. It is not possible to see every such film in a festival for anybody owing to fixed assignments. It is worth mentioning just a few of those films which have the power of enlightening both the informed and the common viewer. ALIIFF encompassed 135 films from 42 countries in as varied sections as Oscar Selected Foreign Language Films of 2016, Hollywood Picks, Oscar Winning Short Films, Palme d’Or Winning Films, Guest Industry Screenings – Bengali Movies, Blockbuster Indian Movies, Noteworthy Reels of ALIIFF, Trilogy of Akira Kurosawa, Special Screenings, international competitions for Feature Films, Debut Director’s Film, Short Films, Student Short Films, Documentaries, and Competition for Indywood Panorama, all packaged together. Decorating these sections, there were films by contemporary greats like Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Michael Heneke, Goutam Ghose, Clint Eastwood, Tom Hooper, K. N. T. Sastry, I. V. Sasi, Raja Sen, Michael Moore, Cristian Mungiu and so on. Without an iota of doubt, the festival holds lots of promises of becoming a major event in the filmfest circuit of South Asia as of now.

(A slightly different and original version was published in www.alllightsfilmmagazine.com)

The Inner Path Festival of Buddhist Art, Film & Philosophy
By SudhirTandon
Launched in 2012 by ArunaVasudev - together with Suresh Jindal - The Inner Path is the pioneering festival in India of Buddhism, as expressed in film and in the arts along with Discourses and discussions, to open the pathto Buddhist philosophy.

The Inner Path Festival of Buddhist Art, Film & Philosophy [TIP] attempts to take a new resurgence in Buddhist thought to a wider range of urban audiences at a time when violence and strife disrupt the fundamentals of our world. Festival Director ArunaVasudev observes, “as Buddhism takes strides across India and the world, it is becoming clearer by the day that both the message and the practice of Buddhism are entering the consciousness of people. Buddhism can address the growing sense of inadequacy in the face of changes that people find difficult to cope with. Buddhism stands for peace, understanding, and acceptance as it spreads the message of compassion – and happiness.”

It is a festival with a unique format. Each edition presents to its audience around 14films, Discourses by eminent Buddhist practitioners and scholars, a panel discussion between the participating artists and filmmakers, an opening and closing night performance of dance or music related to Buddhism, a specially curated art and photography exhibition and, occasionally, a painting demonstration/workshop.

The 4th edition of TIP was held in Delhi from 7-11 April, 2017 at the Alliance Francaise auditorium and art gallery. As in the past editions, the Festival opened with the inauguration of the Art exhibition presented by AnubhavNath’sOjas Art Gallery, curated by DevyaniSahai. On display were works by renowned artists such as Satish Gupta, Shakti Maira, Biman Das, VineetKacker, Santosh Kumar Das and, for the first time at an exhibition in Delhi were three young artists – TseringMotup, TashiNamgail and ChematDorjey - from Ladakh.

And the jewel in the crown was the three paintings by H.H. OgyenTrinleyDorje, the 17th Karmapa.

The inauguration of the art exhibition was followed by a dance performance of the Five Wisdom Dakinis. A dakini is a manifestation of liberating energy in female form. Dancers, representing natural elements and the ultimate wisdom, evoke the sounds and movements of cosmic celestial travellers from another dimension who strengthen the force of life through their blessings. These beings visit our world in times of stress and danger, bringing with them the positive energy that inspires harmony, peaceand enlightened awareness.

Edward A. Burger’s One Mind opened the film screeningprogramme of TIP. One Mind is a rare cinematic portrait of life inside one of China’s most austere and revered Zen communities. Besides, twelve other celebrated films like Chico Dall’Inha’sAkong: A Remarkable Life.

The Executive Producer, Vin Harris was in Delhi for the week-long Teachings by Tai Situ Rinpoche and many of the international participants in this event, filled the hall for his beautiful film; FujiroMitsuishi’sDalai Lama the 14th: The World Champion of Peacewas screened in the presence of the director who came from Japan; other multiple award-winning films such as Andrew Hinton & Johnny Burke’s Tashi and the Monk, Brian Perkin’s Golden Kingdom, and more, were received with great enthusiasm by the audience.

An interesting aspect that emerged from the selected films was the centrality of children to the stories that many filmmakers chose for their films e.g.Tashi and the Monkand Golden Kingdom. And where s/he wasn’t the protagonist, he played an important supporting role as in Mindfulness and Murder, Tom Waller’s Thai film which charts a new territory in the repertoire of Buddhists films. As the name suggests, it is a murder mysterythat is set in a Thai monastery where both the murderer and the investigator are monks.

The discourse by Venerable Mingyur Rinpoche attracted a very large, very respectful crowd as he talked about meditation and what it can do for you. Buddhist scholar and author DipnkarKhanna interactedwiththe audience as he spoke about how Buddhism informs his life and work.

The Panel Discussion centred on the influence of Buddhism and Buddhist philosophy on the creative process of filmmakers and the artists.The participants talked about the inspiration that they draw from this doctrine and how their worldview has been affected. As a consequence, their approach to their art too has undergone a change. They now strive to share all that they feel is inessential in order to concentrate on the core – both in content and form.ArunaVasudev moderated the discussion with four filmmakers - ShivajeeChandrabhushan,BabethVanLoo,Thomas Luchinger,Edward Burger and three artists - Satish Gupta,TseringMotup and ChematDorjey.

The 4th edition of TIP concluded in the Stein Auditorium of India Habitat Centre, with the launch of an album of audio CDs of poems written by Guru Vajradharathe 12th Kenting Tai Situpa.

A few of these poems written in original Hindi, Urdu and English were sung in the presence of Ven. Mingyur Rinpoche and Tai Situpa himself who also gave a deeply meaningful Talk on Life. At an earlier edition of TIP, paintings by him were part of the art exhibition. The evening - and the Festival - concluded with the shorter version of Mount of Excellence, the film made by ShivajeeChandrabhushan– and produced by DipnkarKhanna, on Tai Situpa’s celebrated PalpungSherabling Monastic Seat, situated in the heady pine forests in Himachal Pradesh.For a Talk by Tai Situpa there was a very large crowd in the big hall sitting in pindrop silence to hear him talk about “Life” and what it means…….. This year’s edition of The Inner Path Festival of Buddhist Art, Film & Philosophy was sponsored and presented by Teamwork Arts whichproduces the world’s largest free literary gatherings, the annual Jaipur Literature Festival, and many other major events – in India and in other countries. As Sanjoy Roy, Managing Director of Teamwork Arts said: “With increasing curiosity - especially among the young - about Buddhism, it is time to look at its manifold aspects in today’s context. ‘The Inner Path’ Festival will help connect your inner being with the evocative in contemporary art forms such as films, photography and design, as well as poetry and live performances

This unique Festival will be presented in other cities in India in the course of this year and the next edition will be in Delhi in 2018.

Digitisation & content, the way forward
Digitisation not only leads to cost effective way to reach audiences, it also enables differential pricing and catalyses small budgeted good content and niche cinemas, finds S Viswanath as he scrolls through Deloitte and KPMG India’s state of the Indian film industry reports.
S Viswanath

Digitisation is the new normal. And with it content as well. Be it catching the eyeballs of discerning cinegoers or raking in revenues. Fighting piracy or reaching personal devices of preferential consumers. Digitisation, opines Indywood: The Indian Film Industry: Deloitte FICCI Report: The Digital March: Media & Entertainment in South India, is the best bet to ensure return on investment in these days of rampant piracy and falling footfalls be it at the multiplexes or single screen theatres.

Further, with sluggish growth in average ticket price (ATP) given the profile of Indian cinema going diaspora, considered abysmally low compared to global standards, going digital, says the report, buttressed by strong content, is sure to ensure the coffers of all the stakeholders, whose fortunes ride on the film, are filled.

Digital cinema, coupled with advent of digital technologies, piracy of films has decreased tremendously. With digital distribution, movies are released on same day in all places and checks kept on where movies are showing and how many times they are screened, resulting in reduction in the scope for piracy. Incidentally, the report observes that, despite digitization, piracy continues to be a key issue resulting in industry losses of Rs 190 billion annually. Over 150 stes, half of them located in the US, followed by Canada and Panama and Pakistan, thrive on piracy stealing content from Indian movies, making quick copies and distributing them globally. The top 100 sites among them make around Rs 35 billion ($150 million) highlighting the enormity of the problem at hand.

Consumers are now willing to pay for content - Besides digital fills the dark window between theatrical and satellite where they can access content legally, notes Vivek Krishnani - Managing Director Sony Pictures Entertainment Films India.

Hence, observing that it is imperative to go for digital adoption across the value chain, the report observes that key players such as Real Image and UFO Moviez have facilitated digitization of movies enabling wider distribution of films across various regions and curbing piracy. Key benefits of digitization, it notes, can be witnessed across the value chain.

For film makers digital printing costs 80% less than conventional printing which allows producers to scale up to five times the number of screens than originally in the same budget. Due to this, it points out, digitization has enabled the penetration of content to smaller cities and towns. For distributors and exhibitors digitization of content has resulted in reduction of costs of physical transportation and print manufacturing. Digital content is delivered by way of satellite or hard drive adding convenience and cost effectiveness to process. With nearly all theatres having adopted digital technology, this has resulted in shift from large-sized projection systems to smaller and more efficient digital projection systems. Although digital projection systems does involve heavy initial investments, the running costs, as opposed to analog are minimal, the report points out. For consumers digital projection in cinemas has superior quality of images which are not subject to deterioration with the passage of time. It has also given viewers access to technologies such as VFX, animation, and 3D films. Going forward, digitization is expected to increase with digital becoming an independent revenue stream, rather than part of a bundle, and entry of more international players in the film industry.

Digital revenues are expected to grow significantly owing to rapid development of digital channel. This shift towards digital is expected. in turn, catalyses thrust toward small budgeted good content films which can then be monetized through personal devices.

Further, digitization can result in creation of new release windows enabling studios to explore release of films through various platforms with differentiated prices to consumers. Films are now available for home theatrical screening day of release and pay-per-view, with DTH, digital cable and Internet Protocol television (IPTV) distributors at prices as low as Rs 50 per screening.

As Indian film industry moves into next phase of growth, it is imperative to keep pace with global technological advances and innovation. Being world’s largest film industry in terms of number of films producing around 2,000 annually in more than 20 languages, Indian film industry, registers grosses total revenue of Rs 138 billion ($2.1billion), in 2016 Going forward, it is expected to grow at 11.5% year-on-year reaching total gross realization of Rs 238 billion ($3.7 billion) by 2020 registering CAGR of 11 per cent. The key growth drivers being expansion of multiplexes in smaller cities, investments by foreign studios in domestic and regional productions, growing popularity of niche movies, and emergence of digital and ancillary revenue streams.

Despite this, and having the second highest footfalls in the world next only to China, Indian film industry continues to remain small with respect to other global industries in terms of revenue. The industry’s gross realization stands at $2.1 billion versus gross realisation of $11 billion in the US and Canada which produce significantly lower number of films (approximately 700 films). This is mainly due to low ticket realizations and occupancy levels, lack of qualitycontent, and rampant piracy.

According to Media For The Masses: The Promise Unfolds : KPMG India - Ficci Indian Media & Entertainment Industry Report 2017, Indian film industry has had a disappointing 2016 Challenging landscape requiring significant shift in mindset and approach. witnessing a near flat growth due to poor box office performances logging just three per cent growth of previous year at Rs 142.3 billion against Rs 136.2 billion in 2015.

What is more promising is that growing access to rural audiences through digitisation, coupled with content availability through increase in free-to-air channels and deeper audience measurement will be key catalyst to long term growth of Indian film industry as a whole, though this may have adverse impact on distribution revenues, states the report.

According to Zee Studios Marathi Film Division Business Head Nikhil Sane production houses are focusing producing differentiated content which has allowed Marathi movies to outperform their past performance year after year. Further more, says Sane, Marathi cinema is gaining acceptance in non-Marathi speaking markets thanks to digitization of screens.

Most of small budget/independent movies have not been able to get wide screen release due to current challenges in exhibition sector - such as not getting theatres and slots for screening. This has led to many promising movies going unnoticed and unable to monetise their potential. However, as audiences are becoming more discerning in terms of type of content they consume, along with increasing affinity for digital content, these content driven movies have been increasing their footprint in digital space. This has led to such movies being less reliant on theatrical revenues with digital contributing around 70-80 per cent of overall collections.

There is an emerging trend in that there is a clear demarcation between tent poles/high budget movies releasing in theatres and small budget/content driven movies consumed mostly on digital platform. The future of film content creation, distribution and consumption is digital, sums up Rohit Khattar Founder Chairman Cinetaan Film Company.

Book on Cinema:
Mr. M.K.Raghavendra, our FIPRESCI member is one of our most prolific writers on cinema and he is now again in the limelight with his latest addition to his long list with the book:
Beyond Bollywood, The Cinemas of South India.
Edited by : M.K.Raghavendra
Published by: Harper Collins

A Word With You
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- Onaatah: of the Earth
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