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Sunday, April 05, 2020

Berlin Internatinal Film Festival: An Indian Journey

Prateek Vyas’s Eeb Allay Ooo! and Akshay Indikar’s Sthalpuran may be rooted in India but resonate with global audiences

Written by Shubhra Gupta | Published: February 26, 2020 5:10:59 am
A still from Sthalpuran.

Just a few days before Prateek Vyas travels to the Berlinale with his film, Eeb Allay Ooo!, I ask him about what his expectations are: will a film so specifically about a bizarre situation in Delhi resonate with audiences in a European country?

Vyas’s bitingly sharp satire, programmed in the Panorama section of the festival, taps into many things: the waves of unending migration from nearby states in search of a better future, the potent mix of poverty, illiteracy and unemployment, and the daily humiliations of people on the margins.

The first showing in Berlin’s Zoo Palast is followed by long applause. It proves that monkey business is universal, even in those countries where simians may only be found in zoos.

We see chief protagonist Anjani learning the ways of the world, getting to know how to slack off, (the film offers a critique of how those who get into these government jobs learn how to build long, languid patches of joblessness through their working day) and seeing just how quick the descent into despair is: one of the most moving scenes has him caged, as his colleagues poke him with bananas, and he cowers in a corner, doubled up in shame. Arrey yeh toh mazaak thaa, says one of the tormentors. No, it isn’t. It’s not a joke. It’s a human life. One of the on-the-nose ironies in the film, which seems particularly apt, is that Anjani is another name for Hanuman, the monkey god worshipped by millions.

Every day something happens in India which makes this film really relevant, says Vyas. True that. A national capital, burning as we speak, forces anger and violence upon its own people. It seems so far away from chilly Berlin, and the Palast teaming with festival delegates, as we stand exchanging notes with Vyas and his team. And yet so near.

Among the other India entries is Akshay Indikar’s lovely coming-of-age Sthalpuran. Shot in the green villages of Goa, it is about Dighu, an eight-year-old boy, who uses diary entries to mark the significant events in his life. Among those is the search of a father gone missing, a sister growing up and ‘becoming a woman’, and about learning the beats of life. “Again (like his previous Trijya), the film comes from personal experience, collecting various memories, creating a nostalgic affection of a father figure who isn’t there any more,” says Indikar.

Sthalpuran (The tale of a place) reminds you a little of Avinash Arun’s Killa, which was also about a little boy, trying to fit into a new place and find new friends, as his mother tries to create a fresh life. But Indikar’s film, which shows in the ‘Generation K Plus’ section, relies less on dialogue, more on images, and creates an immersive world where nature becomes a participant in the process of healing, and growing up.

Trijya, his earlier film which is still doing the international festival rounds, has a more grown up protagonist who leaves behind his village to come to the city. He comes to Pune, and looks around him for a spot he can find comfort in, for a place that he can call his own. There’s a kind of humour in the proceedings: the young man tries his hand at journalism at a local paper, and ends up making up horoscope ‘predictions’ for print.

Trijya is about journeys and discoveries. As the young man wanders around the city, looking for answers, you find a camaraderie with him. Indikar delves into his own experience and distils it into his lead’s character: “for generations, my family has been migrating. So much of my own growing up years have been spent in looking for places and people I could relate with,” says Indikar, who will turn 24 in a few months. “You can say a lot of Trijya is autobiographical.”

And the little boy in Sthalpuran could well have been a younger Indikar. He is also a wanderer, but his search is mediated by his younger gaze, still fashioned primarily by his family, and some new friends.

Sthalpuran is like a ‘reverse migration’, because Dighu comes from the city to the village, says Indikar, who quit FTII because he found that he didn’t fit into a place which catered strictly to the mainstream. His quiet, contemplative, almost meditative film is a strong addition to the independent film movement in India.

You come away, thinking of childhoods and memory and how they form us. In a conversation with his grandfather, the little boy asks the clock had 12 numbers, then why are there 24 hours in a day? There’s innocence here, and we hope wisdom will also be his.

Laila Aur Satt Geet, Pushpendra Singh’s new film, is also at the festival. Programmed in the newly created ‘Encounters’ section (a parallel, less narrative-driven section whose films are also in competition). The filmmaker is here with his producer Sanjay Gulati, who organises a special screening for us, because the film is showing officially towards the end of the festival. I am under embargo to say anymore, but I will leave you with this: I am still savouring the experience, pleasurably. More very soon.

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