The 15th Mumbai Film Festival last month saw promising debuts by Indian film makers become the talk of the tinsel town.
Pottacheru, an adivasi hamlet in Orissa, is being torn apart by encroaching industries, bullying CRPF, and Naxalism. Little Oonga misses his school trip to the big city to watch a play on the Ramayan. While their Hindi teacher and village mentor, Hemla Didi, is arrested for suspected naxalite activity, Oonga runs off to watch the play on his own. The India Aluminium Inc. pulls the strings like the Big Brother, the army moves in, the naxalites prepare retaliation – Pottacheru becomes the new battlefield.
A crackling debut by Devashish Makhija, Oonga stars Nandita Das, Seema Biswas, Priyanka Bose, and Anand Tiwari along with child artiste Raju Singh. A taut script with crisp dialogues, this Oriya-Hindi feature enjoys excellent cinematography (the barren red lands of Orissa acquire beauty, hopelessness and tension shot in ways unseen till date) and music. While the veterans are a cinematic treat as usual, Raju Singh wins your heart as young Oonga, showcasing a commendable range of acting talent. Makhija avoids making a gritty docu-drama, opting for a ‘Life is Beautiful’ treatment to deal with the conflict. Deserving of numerous accolades, Oonga should have a fantastic run in the theatres.
The transformation of an old movie theatre into a church becomes a study of desire, pleasure and guilt. Kanyaka Talkies contemplates on human desire from the perspectives of politics, religion and cinema. The film also documents the journey of regional cinema and compares its history with the contemporary.
With a sterling cast of Murali Gopy, Alencier Ley, Maniyanpilla Raju, and Sudheer Karamana, Kanyaka Talkies enjoys extremely mature and nuanced performances. The debut feature of award winning documentary film maker K. R. Manoj, the film is a wonderful dialogue between the archetype and the deviant in society. It is the journalist in Manoj that deftly weaves a narrative with relevant socio-political elements, drawing striking comparisons between the colonial past and today. A visual firecracker, DoP Shehnad Jalal should definitely take a bow for wielding the camera with such dexterity, creating cinematic moments that will definitely stay with you long after the credits have rolled.
An untouchable Dalit adolescent, Jabya, has fallen in love with Shalu. However, Shalu is a girl from a higher caste. Jabya suffers from severe inferiority complex about his looks, his personality, his caste, his poverty, and above all, his hereditary source of livelihood – trapping pigs. These social hindrances prevent him from professing his love, and with a sudden turn of events, he is left with the only option to accept the harsh realities of life.
An innocent love story becomes a fiery commentary on the rigid caste system still prevalent in rural Maharashtra. Fandry studies an unsympathetic society where many struggle everyday for self respect and the basic essentials to survive while trying to make dreams come true. For the untouchables, what is more difficult is overcoming the deep rooted inferiority complex (rising from their miserable livelihood) that is both genetic and enforced upon by the higher castes. Nagraj Manjule, who had earlier won the National Award for his short film Pistulya, draws from his personal experiences of belonging to a tribal caste and being the first in his family to receive education. Therefore, Manjule proves to be an effective mouthpiece for the tribal castes to discuss their issues of independence, social equality and human rights. Raw, gritty and hard-hitting, Manjule’s Fandry is an honest portrayal of a world that still survives as this nation’s underbelly. Poignant writing, commendable cinematography and a talented cast make this Marathi feature a festival and awards favourite for this year.
Socio-political satires are rarely seen in Indian cinema these days. So, when you see one (and one that has been done well), you definitely wish it enjoys maximum audience. Vivek Budakoti’s directorial debut, Pied Piper uses a Brechtian style of storytelling to narrate the folklore of a simple laundryman, Chunnilal, rumoured to have acquired his beloved donkey’s brains in a freak accident. What follow is the rise of Chunnilal into a popular hero and an establishment’s fear of his influential, non-conformist approach on society.
Budakoti narrates the story of a simple man’s tryst with his conscience using dry humour and intelligent comedy. The film acts as a comment on the current economic and political attitudes of the country and also explores the true meaning of a democracy. Along with Rajita Sharma and Farid Khan, Budakoti has scripted a winning screenplay peppered with smart, witty repartee. A strong cast of Vikram Kochchar and Abhishek Rawat led by Rajpal Yadav makes the Pied Piper a definitive crowd favourite.
Punarvasu Naik’s debut feature Vakratunda Mahakaaya is an intelligent study of faith and worship in a city heavily given to the vice of communal muscle flexing. A Lord Ganesha soft toy has a bomb stuffed inside it, ready to explode. The plan goes haywire when a street urchin, Altaf, runs away with it. As the soft toy changes hands, the audience is taken for an adventurous journey as people from different walks of life come across the Ganesha-bomb.
The film studies belief systems and how spiritual charisma is directly connected to fulfillment of desires. Backed by Anurag Kashyap, Naik puts forth an engaging narrative, often edge-of-the-seat, which successfully blends the story with the message – without one overwhelming the other. A praiseworthy screenplay by Yogesh Vinayak Joshi, Naik brings together a wonderful cast of Usha Nadkarni, Vijay Maurya and Murari Kumar. Sensitive and mature storytelling, Naik is definitely one of the talented crop of young film makers to look out for.
What happens when two amateur writers struggle to create a script that is out-of-the-box enough for a Bollywood producer’s darling son’s dream launch? Sulemani Keeda boasts the collaboration of talented names from television and cinema. Director Amit Masurkar, writer of Murder 3 and popular standup comedy shows on TV, puts together an oddball cast of Naveen Kasturia, Mayank Tiwari and Aditi Vasudev in this dark slapstick comedy. While Tiwari steals the show with his frolicking comic timing and dialogue delivery, Masurkar should be applauded for a crisp screenplay and dialogues. Sulemani Keeda might score less on the story department, but the all-pervading irreverence and we-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude makes it an intimate story of Mumbai’s film-dreaming strugglers.
Image courtesy: MAMI