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Lucky 13 make the grade

Clipping (58kbs) - The Hindu, 14/11/1997. By Gautaman Bhaskaran

Record Number : A0090284

Click to browse by keyword: Cinema Film Exhibition Filmographies/Film Listings


Lucky 13 make the grade
It is a tricky task to pick the films for the IFFI’s Panorama slot. Gautaman Bhaskaran analyses the films that got the jury’s nod this year.

The Indian Panorama is in the eye of a storm this year. Nothing unusual. For, controversies have become part of it, have been so for several years now. And the causes are not far to seek.

This section, which forms an important part of the International Film Festival of India, held every January, is supposed to present the best of Indian cinema. Whether it actually does is a moot point. There are important reasons why the Panorama fails, at times, to be a showcase of the finest variety. Of the 700-odd movies which the country churns out every year, not more than 70 or 80 entries are submitted for a slot that can hold a maximum of 21. This year, a mere 60 came up for viewing.

it is possible more likely than not that several important or interesting works are never sent up, which means that the jury (constituted to select the 21) never sees them. Moreover, the jury often finds itself under compulsions of different kinds, though it has no need to be under any obligation. First, there is this factor of lobbying. Second, regional considerations play a part. Jurors tend to forget or even intentionally overlook the fact that Panorama is not meant to give equal or adequate representation to the States or languages. It is to present the worthiest of Indian celluloid fare to an international audience that would. this time, come to New Delhi to watch a world class event. After all, the International Film Festival of India commands an ‘A’ grade status, and is, at least on paper, on par with Cannes, Venice and Berlin.

Third, the jury is usually apprehensive of rejecting a reputed name. It must be remembered that even masters do not make a masterpiece every time; on the contrary, they can end up making a clumsy movie, which certainly should be out. Finally, there is this perennial debate on whether the entire slot of 21 ought to be filled, even at the risk of including those that do not, by any stretch of imagination, make the grade. Some feel that since there is a provision for 21, why not select 21, and let the world decide how good or bad the crop is.

This- line of thought has a major flaw. Terrible films may be chosen only because the slot has to be full, with the result that devastating impressions may be created about the country’s cinema, a fact that even the better ones in the package may not be able to offset easily.

It is the duty of the jury to include only those that are of a certain standard of excellence. If one were to allow bad movies to be seen by a foreign audience, it will not only condemn the choice, but also carry back home a poor impression of India’s artistic capability.

Goutam Chose’s 'Gudiya' is an example of this, though in a slightly different context. The only official entry from India to the Cannes International Film Festival, held in May, it is an amateurish effort by Ghose, who

a note of lie. Even before the first images appear on the screen, an announcement greets the viewer: 'This is not a true story’. But the fact that "Iruvar" traces the Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu -drawing so many parallels between the lead characters and some of those still alive and active in politics is transparent. It would have been less pretentious if he were to have said that ‘Iruvar" was indeed based on a true story, and that he took artistic liberties with it. "Iruvar" is not visually rich. It is not cinematically extraordinary. It is not even authentic. A sense of identification is difficult even within Tamil Nadu. As for outside the State, "Iruvar" may sink without causing the slightest of ripples.

No less pretentious and confusing to the point of being confounding is Suma Josson’s "Janmadhinam" in Malayalam. Admittedly her first feature, it is non-linear. So far so good. But Josson attempts to punctuate her movie with tens of flashbacks. it is apparent that she still does not have a good control over the medium, and despite Han Nair’s able effort behind the camera, ‘Janmadhinam" fails to click, and wastes an actress of Nandita Das’ calibre by tying her down to a role that has exciting, but untapped possibilities. The male characters appear like whitewashed puppets, quite contrary to what the story or the script would have us believe.

Equally disappointing is another first: Anjan Dutt’s "Bada Din" in Hindi. For a director who began his cinematic life with Mrinal Sen in Calcutta, one feels sad that he should have embarked on journey that seems no different from that which hundreds of others have undertaken in Bollywood. Dutt glorifies violence. Insensitive handling of the theme and exaggerated images mar what could have been an absorbing study of a lonely community in Calcutta.

Prema Karanth’s "Bandh Jharoken", also in Hindi, explores a doctor’s dilemma in bed. Her husband turns a sadist every night,but instead of tackling what is essentially a medical/psychological problem, the woman runs away to her father. In a series of repeat shots, Karanth presents a case that is flawed at the very basic script level. Clumsy editing adds to its superfluousness.

Now for some highlights of the 13-film remarkable job. All of them from the Bangalore stage, their performances, shorn of mannerisms and dramatic exaggeration appear, beautifully natural. Indeed, a great first work that makes its points without the kind of fuss and frill one is so used to watching on the screen these days.

On victims of violence

Rituparno Chosh’s "Dahan" (Bengali) also touches one in a way that "The Outhouse" does, probably because both address very personal issues, both tackle problems that women face. Ghosh has made a film that may as well be a very intensely felt statement. "Dahan" reflects middle class hypocrisy and morality, codes that are unfriendly to women, rather than to men. The economic liberation and independence that the fairer sex appear to enjoy are more often than not a mirage that hides beneath its glittering exterior harsh, rigid "principles", which bind women to servitudeor almost.

"Dahan" begins with an ugly incident outside a tube station in Calcutta; newlymarried Romita is molested and her husband is beaten up by five men from well-to-do families, and the repercussions may have been even more serious had it not been for the courage of a passing school teacher, Ihinuk, who later takes the couple to a police station. Next morning, Jhinuk is the heroine with the local newspapers hailing her for a brave deed.

Ghosh captures the essence of the resulting reactions and responses, and the turmoil they cause in the families of both women. The episode itself is treated as a kind of by-theway occurrence, but the strength of the narrative lies in the manner in which the movie lays bare the struggle and trauma of not just the victim, but also the saviour. Her fiance’s opposition to her determination to see that the guilty are punished, and the hostility of the defence lawyer, who pulls all stops to tarnish the teacher’s image have been handled with feeling. Romita’s decision to go away to her sister in Canada, a direct fallout of her husband’s unconcealed embarrassment and anger over the issue, adds a note of poignancy to a tale that ultimately highlights society’s inhumanity to victims of violence and rape.

Powerful emotional drama

Nabyendu Chatterjee also takes up a very has given us at least one significant work, "Paar". The story of a ventriloquist whose "Gudiya" (doll) acquires a life and mind of its own has been the theme of meaty classics such as "Dead of Night" and "Magic". Ghose’s dummy inherits these as well, but the picture shoots off at a tangent here, to incorporate a weirdly obsessive romance and a political battle that has not been very well portrayed.

At the end of Chose’s show, at Cannes not more than a dozen of the 4,000 accredited journalists were present in the auditorium.

Happily, this year’s Panorama jury that met in New Delhi recently, rejected "Gudiya".

A few more lines about a few more rejections. Kalpana Lalmi’s "Darmiyaan" in Hindi operates at so many levels that there is no visible focus. The story of an aging actress meanders through a path strewn with her unfulfilled desires. One of them is to see her hermaphrodite son happy. But the murky world of eunuchs would not let him be so, and Lajmi paints her canvas in colours that shock a viewer. Eunuchs lead pathetic lives, living in abject poverty and utterly degrading conditions: "Darmiyaan" glosses over this fact, making a mockery of an unfortunate section of society, indeed making a mockery of cinema itself. Mani Ratnam’s "Iruvar" in Tamil begins on

A great first work

This year’s find, undoubtedly, has been Bangalore-based Leslie Carvalho. His English work, "The Outhouse" is an example of what intelligent cinema ought to be. The note of authenticity, the sensitive handling of a theme as delicate as marital violence and the extraordinary eye for detail (which one saw so easily in Satyajit Ray’s work) place "The Outhouse" in a class by itself.

Tracing the story of a small Anglo-Indian family that moves into an outhouse owned by an unfriendly Bengali man but with a wife who loves her new tenants, especially their children Carvalho weaves a couple of subplots into it. The wife’s desire to work to supplement the family income, and the husband’s reluctance to the idea that leads to violence complete a picture that may not be original in its basic form or structure. But there is something refreshing about the direction. Two shots in "The Outhouse" are worth mentioning here. When the door-bell rings, the lady is in the kitchen. She hurries away, retraces her steps to switch off the gas stove and...The little girl runs down the flight of steps outside the outhouse, goes back to the top and climbs down again as children are wont to do. Carvalho’s actors have done a build up a powerful emotional drama around it. When the sole bread winner of a family lies critically wounded after a road accident, the dilemma that his wife, son and two daughters face has been picturised with tremendous clarity.

Admittedly, "Souda" is a low budget film, and technically it appears somewhat shoddy. But Chatterjee makes up for this by presenting what can well be called a powerful psychological play: the choice between a hefty compensation (in the event of the man’s death) and his life itself is not an easy one for a family that has lived in penury. But Chatterjee’s "Souda" veers around this tricky issue with alacrity, and presents a solution after a night of tortured existence.

Subhash Agarwal’s "Rooi Ka Bojh" tackles emotions at another level. The sorrow and plight of the aged form the basis of this Hindi movie, where Pankaj Kapur, in the convincing role of an old man, grapples with the feeling of being unwanted in a society that has little time or patience for the old and the infirm. In a series of comic/tragic situations, Agarwal gets his camera to capture the essence of a relationship that three people share: Kapur, his son and the son’s wife. Admittedly, "Rooi Ka Bojh" could have been clipped by a good 30 minutes, but despite the weight of an additional reel or two, it leaves behind a pleasing impression.


So too does Nagamandala" from Karnataka, Its director T. S. Nagabharana, may not have a n vel story to say, but, based on Girish Karnad’ play, this work a delightful piece of artistic effort that portrays a folklore in a truly folk tradition. The screen come, alive with rich vi uals, which seem to move from fram to frame with effortles ease. Appanna is a village landlord, who finds hi new bride quite out of step with his own sexual pas ion. It takes the wit of an old woman and the wil of a snake to instill a sense of love and dev lion in Appanna, "Nagamandala" enhances the beauty of love without getting physical or melodramatic it.

Without fuse

Govind Nihalani shows similar restaint in his "Hazar Chaurasi Ki Ma" in Hindi, in the turbulent period of the Naxalite movement in Calcutta early 1970s the movie may not ha faithfully mirrored the life and times of a ci and its people. It may have even failed to get to the essence , but Jaya Bachchan as the unfortunate mother of a young Naxalite killed by a team of policemen and people portrays a kind of strength that sees "Hazar Chaurasi..," through. Jaya has always been a great actress. "Guddi" and "Abhimaan" have been merely the two ends of a broad spectrum, and interestingly, she has not lost, after all these years. the ability to spre s and convey a story without fuss. The death of her son awakens her to a society that is shallow and, above all, indifferent to suffering. That Is the ‘ociety her most favourite son rebelled against, arid that the sod y Jaya herself o all nated om. nupam Kher , her husband, and NanditA Das as the girlfriend of he Naxalite chip in. Das shows Ir mendous potential and promise in a role that unfortunately appears to have been sidelined by Nihalani.

On turbulence

"Train to Pakistan’ by Pamela Rooks also draws its substance from turbulence -the Partition. Set in a village near the border with Pakistan, it work up to a conflict that touches he ju. I about every inhabitant there. The moneyknder, the Western-educated Communist the be gangster. his sweethe rT, her fath , a of course, the district magistrate find themselve ‘ s pawns in a game whose rules appear as perplexing as their own conflicting loyalties and emotions. Based on Khushwant Singh’s novel, it is bound to be endlessly debated whether Rooks could possibly lift the soul from one medium and place it in another.

Bhabendra Nath Saikia’s "Kaalsandhya" describes another form of discord in society: political and moral degeneration. However, he uses Hindi instead of his usual Assamese to emphasise the terrible anguish and desperate loneliness that result from such societal disharmony.

A. K. Bir’s Oriya work, "Shesha Drushti" fills the celluloid canvas with a special relationship between a father and son. When they meet, interact and deliberate, they converge on to a point of doubt and dilemma, so unique to cinema.

The Indian Panorama also includes Kumar Sahani’s "Char Adhyay", A. K. Lohitha Das’ "Bhoohakkannady", P M. Abdul Azeez’s "Athyunnathangalil Koodaram Panithavar" and Jayaraaj’s "Kaliyattam".







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