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Friday, October 22, 2021

65th BFI London: Three filmmakers tell stories of home to show what ails modern-day India

At BFI London Film Festival next month, films Dostojee and Pedro will uncover life in invisiblised rural India, as Invisible Demons gets ready to shine a spotlight on the subject of climate change

Written by Tanushree Ghosh |
September 16, 2021 3:28:25 pm
65th BFI London 120065th BFI London: Films Dostojee, Pedro and Invisible Demons will be showcased at BFI London Film Festival next month.

Life comes full circle with London inviting, for a world premiere, a tender film on a Bengali village along India’s eastern border, one whose fate was written 75 years ago, when the British left. In this remote no-man’s-land of a village in West Bengal’s Domkal (Murshidabad), separated from Bangladesh by river Padma, two eight-year-old boys Palash and Safikul are growing up in the early 1990s in Prasun Chatterjee’s directorial debut Dostojee (Two Friends). While the demolition of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya (in Uttar Pradesh) and the following Bombay blasts in 1992-93 have echoes in this faraway village, stirring the adults, the children remain unperturbed, mimicking nature — rain-kissed, swinging wildly like wind-brushed kaash phool, fluttering by like stringless kites — their friendship deeply anchored, innocent, and immortal.

The universe within the film, which will showcase in the ‘Love’ strand of the 65th BFI London Film Festival (October 6-17), unspools through the eyes of these children. “For me, truth, though uncomfortable, comes before beauty. What I want to say (through the film) is the broader humanism, which is beyond any kind of discrimination,” says Chatterjee, 35.

Dostojee A still from the film Dostojee

After gestating for seven years since 2013, the film is now ready. NFDC Film Bazaar selected it in its Recommends section, and sent it, along with Natesh Hegde’s Kannada feature debut Pedro, as part of ‘Goes to Cannes’ to the Marche du Film, to be pitched to buyers/distributors.

“For two and a half years, I stayed in the village, roamed along the border areas, sat and ate with the locals. I’d fundraise a little, go and shoot till the funds ran out, return and repeat,” says the director, who’s trying to gauge society through the lens of innocence. It was a Bangladeshi film, Television (2012), by Mostofa Sarwar Farooki, a pioneer of Bangladeshi new wave, that became a turning point for Chatterjee, for him to make cinema about his roots. Incidentally, Farooki’s latest film, the Nawazuddin Siddiqui-starrer No Land’s Man, is headed to the 26th Busan International Film Festival (October 6-15), where Hegde’s Pedro will have its world premiere, too.

Produced by Rishab Shetty Films, Pedro tells the story of yet another village, in Karnataka’s Sirsi. It will have its European premiere at BFI London in the ‘Dare’ section, and is, perhaps, the first Kannada film to premiere at Busan, in ‘New Currents’, a competitive section for up-and-coming Asian filmmakers’ first or second features.

Pedro A still from the film Pedro.

Hegde, 26, draws on and from his own village life to paint a haunting picture of a world seldom captured on celluloid. As the lens penetrates the lush thickets of this part of the Western Ghats, it unveils the dividers – class, religion, caste – and how they upend reason and the unspectacular lives of the village folks.

In Pedro, the eponymous role is played by Hegde’s electrician father, who has previously featured in his short films Distant and Kurli/The Crab. The journalism graduate watched a poor-quality video of Abbas Kiarostami’s Iranian film Close-Up (1990) on YouTube one day and his life was never the same since. “The expression was honest and true. It was not realism but transcending that. I have tried to do something similar (in the film),” he says.

The aim was to put the spotlight on people like Pedro, who are engaged in “unrecognisable jobs”, who are invisibilised in the larger scheme of things, whose lives matter to none. And the trigger was the feeling of “constant fear and uncertainty” that Hegde had while growing up, pertaining to the precarious nature of his father’s work. Pedro has been edited by Paresh Kamdar, who’d edited Kumar Shahani’s 1989 film Khayal Gatha. The climate of the village changes when the good-for-nothing drunkard, an outcast, is said to have accidentally killed a cow.

Climate, or rather climate change and its far-reaching repercussions are at the heart of Rahul Jain’s sophomore, Invisible Demons, which is screening in the ‘Debate’ strand at BFI London. The documentary was screened at this year’s new Cannes strand ‘Cinema for The Climate’. Jain’s debut documentary Machines – a captivating chronicle of the gruelling working conditions inside a textile factory in Gujarat – went to the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

Invisible Demons A still from the film Invisible Demons

Jain, who’s been in California for a decade, says he wasn’t able to see the Indian capital because of the thick layer of pollution. “Delhi was repeatedly in the news as the world’s most polluted city,” says Jain, 30, who was terrified to return to Delhi, where he mostly grew up indoors. His relationship with nature changed in California. “Reacclimatising (to Delhi) was a physical challenge. The heat and humidity were taxing,” he says.

Besides being about environmental catastrophe, the film takes a dig at class privilege. How climate change affects the haves and have-nots differently. The rich buy heaters, water filters, air conditioners, air purifiers as the horror of consumerism and inequality gawk at the couldn’t-care-less city from a burgeoning landfill.

The film looks at how past choices have ruined the present and disfigured the future. The camera points at his city, but also at himself. He addresses his privilege and reality of not directly being affected by Delhi’s conditions. And how “people with greater financial means have tried to avoid dealing with climate change”, which “like COVID-19, is affecting everybody, everywhere,” he says.

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