It happens every year. The lack of good films, the absence of renowned filmmakers and much carping about the limited budget on hand. However, no film fest in the past could have kicked off as somnolently and lifelessly as the 33rd International Film Festival of India. The never-ending smiles of diya girls, Aishwarya and Rani, may have made the day for the autograph and photograph crazy I&B babus and their kin but couldn't inject any shot of cinematic energy at Siri Fort. In fact the dullness only got amplified by the suffocating morbidity of the opening film, Brazil's Bicho De Sete Cabecas (Brainstorm). Wouldn't Aki Kaurismaki's much feted Man Without A Past been a better choice to kickstart the event? Certainly, but gossip has it that the Brazilian film was chosen only because its crew had consented to be present at the festival.
Slice of Brazilian Life
Brainstorm, directed by Lais Bodanzky turned her into one of Brazil's most promising new directors and has also won several awards the world over including the Young Jury's award at Locarno 2001. It narrates the horrifying nightmare of a middle class Brazilian adolescent, Neto, who is sent off to a mental asylum by his parents to cure him of addiction. But the entry into this cruel world pushes him into insanity. "Things look better when they are memories but I'll never forgive you...": Neto writes to his father. The film is stylishly shot, alternating between a cinema verite view of the Brazilian family life and MTV images of the underground Sao Paolo youth culture. But it gets excessive in the portrayal of the truamas of Neto which are evoked in the fashion of a radical, nihilistic music video. Also the provocation for the father to admit his son into a mental hospital is never convincingly grounded in the narrative. Sending drug addicts to asylum is queer to Brazil and the condition of these institutions is a serious problem that the nation is contending with. Such issues may not ring a bell in India. However, this slice of Brazilian life does find an echo in the Indian reality in other ways -- the intrusion of the West, the Internet, the information highway and the influence of globalisation that the film talks about are as strong an element of our lives today.
The interval of two years hasn't made an inch of a difference to IFFI. The lady cops who frisk you every day are the same, so are the committed non-starry film buffs. Even the Pat-a-Cake food stall has carried forward its culinary journey into yet another festival. Inside the auditorium, the covert steps continue to make the unsuspecting viewers trip and fall, the rudely woken up bats repeatedly fly past the screens, the chairs still creek and groan, even more vigorously if the film has "paisa vasool" scenes. But everyone's missing the January winters. "It was fun to have coke laced with you know what before the late night screening," said a delegate. However, in October there's no nip in the air to enjoy such small pleasures.
New Zealand unspooled its cinema with Rain which for most parts remained an exposition of drinking and debauchery.A young girl discovers her sexuality even as her mother has an adulterous liaison. For most part the movie's slow-paced narrative seemed to be going nowhere other than showing the various experiments in love-making alternating with some bright kiddie humour. But things take an unpredictable turn in the end as the girl learns how one moment can change things for the entire family. Too average a flick to enthuse viewers.
Love And War
Mrinal Sen returns to filmmaking after a long gap with Amaar Bhuvan (This My Land), a quiet, subdued departure from his ambitious, "overtly political", statement-making cinema. His new film lacks any major cinematic flourishes and narrative explorations. There are no dramatic highs and lows. In fact it could be too straight and simple cinema for some but is never slight or flimsy. Inspired by the television interview of a vegetable vendor suffering from the consequences of the Kargil War, Amaar Bhuvan indirectly critiques the violence, war, hatred and destruction by presenting an alternate world of warmth, love and sympathy. It focuses on three characters -- Shakina, her husband Meher and her former husband Noor. For Sen the love and reconciliation they arrive at in life, their tranquil togetherness is symbolic of the hope in the midst of despair.
Anwar Jamal's Swaraj, The Little Republic, was strangely reminiscent of Lagaan. The tale of four Rajasthani women's struggle to get water to their village is almost like Bhuvan's attempt to win the match against the Britishers. Maybe the resonances have to do with the landscape the two films seem to share or the background score that strikes a similar chord. However, the journey that the women undertake to reach their goal also brings us face-to-face with their individual lives. The ride together then also becomes an inner journey to liberation.