The lure of the road is strong. So strong sometimes that you want to throw caution to the four winds, and get going. From a fixed axis which limits your vision to an endless rolling vista that changes with every corner: when you turn, the landscape is different, the view is different. You are different.
“Main toh chala, jidhar chale rasta.” The intoxication of going where the path curves is distilled in the best road movies, where the protagonist becomes your alter ego. You look at the screen, and you make the leap of faith: there you are, bowling along, sniffing the air. Is it faintly acrid, a wisp of smoke hanging on the horizon? Is it sweet, carrying a fragrance of ripening mangoes? Or is it anything you want it to be?
That’s the leap the filmmaker wants you to make. And in Galibeeja (Wind Seed), artist Babu Eshwar Prasad holds out his captivating take on the landscapes he has traversed, inviting us to journey along, pause and observe, renew and reaffirm. I saw the film at the Mumbai Film Festival (MFF) which got over last week, and I’ve been thinking about it since. Because of the way it says what it does about a sense of time and place: it transports me from my seat in a suburban air-conditioned Mumbai theatre to his open-to-the-sky world, which becomes mine too.
Landscapes have been the “central preoccupation” in Babu’s paintings. As a student at art college, he was strongly attracted to road movies made by world cinema maestros, and watched them incessantly. He combines both loves in his debut feature, made on a shoe-string budget, featuring habitual users of the road: a “road engineer” in his four-wheel vehicle, a fellow who used to pirate DVDs who is looking for a ride (amongst the discs he carts around are classic road movies, a nice meta touch), a cyclist whose job it is to plaster posters of forthcoming blockbusters on dilapidated shelters for road-farers, a silent farmer seen criss-crossing the spaces, his figure a metaphor for someone who was there before, and will be, after.
The 96-minute-long film is categorised as “Kannada”, as it comes from an artist who is based between Bangalore and Delhi, but it is pure “world” cinema. Its layered insights speak to me without “language” intervening: the road is used by cars, cycles, walkers, two-legged and four-legged beasts, millionaires and paupers, those who went to college to earn engineering degrees, and those who know instinctively which way the wind blows and when to plant the seeds.
There are other delights I savour at the festival: an informative panel discussion which tells me many things I didn’t know about the archiving and retrieval of cinema, and how narratives can be changed at the switch of a button: digital is the future, and I see it unfurl, from the black-and-white beauties of yore to the dizzying colour of today.
Away from the Juhu and Andheri theatres which have programmed “festival” fare is the Movie Mela jamboree at Mehboob Studios, where Bollywood is out in force: it’s a parade of stars (a re-union of the Mr India team, helmed by the eternally youthful Anil Kapoor, the still gorgeous Sridevi, a rousing “master class” with Rishi Kapoor, and a bunch of young stars). This is a different audience, whose sole focus is stars and starry vehicles, and its glitter settles over the central hang-out space which has a few chairs and tables, where people sit, grab a bite, walk into the next session.
This is crucial to the life of a film festival: a hub where you meet people in between films and panels and other events. This edition of MFF, supported by Reliance Jio and Star India, had solid programming, interesting side-bars, and full-on glamour: what it needs is a central hub. Or hubs. Because the life force of a festival is made up of its delegates, and those people need a space to discuss what they’ve just seen, or what they are about to see, moan at the misses, gloat at the gains.
Cannes has got the mix of glamour and arthouse down pat. They’ve had years of experience. A mega-budget superhero film finds it as worth its while to cart its entire team to the south of France every year, as does a tiny, edgy character study, because the world and its buyers are at the festival. It is a place to show and share and buy and sell.
How can you connect the meditative Babu with a kinetic Salman Khan who shows up at the awards function? By hoping that they will both learn and benefit from the outing. By celebrating and espousing all kinds of cinema.