For a perennially lazy person, only interest doesn’t suffice to sustain a three-day film festival. Caffeine supply every three hours fuelled my usually-lethargic self to sprint from one auditorium to another, both- less than a kilometer apart. A rather sloth-like dollop of molten caramel was slipped into my cup and sprinkled with cinnamon. I gulped it down and joined the queue outside the Dekyi Tsering auditorium to watch the next film.
Film-makers Ritu Sarin and Tenzin Sonam are the torch bearers of the Dharamshala International Film Festival. It is annually brought to Dharamshala and Mcleodganj by White Crane Arts and Media, a production house run by the two of them that is famed for churning out content with Tibetan subjects. The festival curates films from all parts of the world. It tells stories that might not bag box-office numbers but are certain to touch hearts. This year, they screened Ashwatthama (dir. Pushpendra Singh) - a feature narrative that took the audience to the Chambal valley and into the life of a boy- Isvaku. Upon losing his mother in a bandit invasion, Isvaku is left with the mythological character Aswatthama, who his mother told him about during a bedtime story. A reminiscing Isvaku, looks for Ashwatthama and stumbles upon a dysfunctional school, a fascinating recluse in the village and orthodox values. Turrup (dir. Ektara Collective), another feature film effortlessly knots three story lines and land the audience in the epicenter of spaces that are a common sight yet tends to escape you. Like the banter of street sweeping girls after they sit for their evening chai. What Will People Say (dir. Iram Haq), set in Oslo and Pakistan, is almost an autobiographical account of the Pakistani director and her struggles with the noose of a stifling culture. Throughout the film, she is neck deep in this culture that demands her to submit to decisions about her life made by her family; and the audience on the edge of their seats.
The festival commenced at 10 am., daily. Films would simultaneously run in two different auditoriums, in Tibetan Children’s Village- the gracious hosts of Dharamshala International Film Festival 2017. There was a half hour break before the screening of the next film.
Allow me to give you a sense of the drill that these in-between thirty minutes used to be. Every film’s end was succeeded by five minutes of taking the uphill journey of bidding farewell to the lives of characters you invested quite deeply in for the film’s duration. There were films which rendered those paths untraceable too. Watching a film is close to a long walk into a step well. At the bottom of the well, you are made to witness an uninhibited flow of life. There are characters, interesting ones. Some remain acquaintances, while others you know too much about to not feel the intimacy. It might so happen that a character seems like an extension of you and an incident plays on your past. By the time one gets comfortable in this new-found world, the film ends. The friends you made or the acquaintances that you thought possessed the potential of growing into friendships- you will never know more about again; unless there’s a sequel.
Another ten minutes were spent in interaction with the director by those from the audience who had reclaimed reality sooner than others. Hasty footsteps grazing out of the hall would interrupt my race car of thoughts which had lost track of time. Muscle memory made my hands reach for the DIFF catalog that contained the film schedule, as I scurried my way out. What’s the hurry you ask?
Must I introduce you to the two kinds of film-watchers I know- one, who strategize the acquisition of the right seat, preferably centrally located, at the right distance from the screen and behind a not-very-tall person. Two- who do not care about where they will be seated; this lot is usually taller than I am and will forever attract my envy at their genetic privilege.
Tibetan Children’s Village makes for quite an encouraging landscape for these drills from one auditorium to another. Post noon, resident students could be seen gliding across its lengths chasing one another, playing soccer and racing with bhotia dogs. One day I was almost certain that the right seat had been missed. A few of these students merrily flocked towards the direction I was headed in. I picked pace with them and joined the bandwagon, prohibiting myself from walking slower than these slope-accustomed brisk walkers.
It would be a major disservice to the twenty films I watched over 3 days if my views on them were condensed to fit this space. It would also be equally dissatisfying to keep the most enriching part of this experience out. While I grapple with the question of ‘to tell’ or ‘not to tell’ and well, ‘how much to tell’, I must share with you an observation. The trailer for DIFF 2017 played before every film commenced. I watched it fifteen times over three days, not once did I take my eyes off it.
Excitement made me prop my chin on my hands on the first day, when I watched it five times. By the second day, I looked at it like a new friend would- smiling at scenes I could recognize from the films I had watched, curious about the ones I hadn’t. On the last day, I watched it with a sense of belonging- the kind you feel after someone confides their deep dark secret in you and it is up to you to preserve it.
The trailer was truly a teaser of the treasure trove of films, experiences, conversation and caramel-cinnamon-coffee that DIFF was. I’ll hold on to this experience until their next edition in November 2018.