Of the many lump-in-the-throat moments in Mayurakshi, one is a scene where an ageing, dementia-gripped man (Soumitra Chatterjee), seated across a restaurant table and playing an imaginary violin, tells his son (Prosenjit Chatterjee), who comes to meet him from Chicago, “in some moments in life, you need background music, as in cinema”. With his immediate past wiped out, the man’s only recourse is the distant past from 25 years ago. The Atanu Ghosh-directed Mayurakshi (Best Bengali film) is among more than 60 National Award-winning regional films that will be screened during the 13th Habitat Film Festival (HFF) in Delhi.
“Creating a role that gave justice to Soumitrada’s immense potential, years of experience and approach to acting, was important,” says Ghosh. In another film, Prosenjit will be seen playing a married blind lawyer in love with his widowed client (Rituparna Sengupta). The Kaushik Ganguly-directed Bengali drama Drishtikone will open the festival tomorrow. Ganguly, who boycotted the National Awards ceremony earlier this month, was at Cannes last week, along with director Rima Das, with their films, the transgender love story Nagarkirtan and Village Rockstars, respectively. Both films picked up four National Awards each. The latter will be screened at HFF.
Regional features will share the space with documentaries, experimental films, children’s cinema, a retrospective on Malayali director KG George, tributes to late actors Shashi Kapoor (including The Householder and Shakespeare Wallah) and Sridevi (16 Vayathinile), and masterclasses by Vishal and Rekha Bhardwaj, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and Gulzar.
Film critic CS Venkiteswaran says, “Hindi films and Hollywood have taken over local vernacular cinema.” However, last month, National Awards jury chairperson Shekhar Kapur said he was stunned by the “high standard of the deeply rooted regional cinema” that the current lot of “Hindi films, which try too hard to become everything, can’t compete with”.
“The National Award will boost the market possibilities of the Tulu film,” says Abhaya Simha from New York. His film Paddayi was screened at the New York Indian Film Festival last week. Simha, whose children’s film Gubbachigalu (2008) won him his first National Award, has adapted Shakespeare’s Macbeth to today’s Udupi in the 100-minute Paddayi, which bagged the Best Tulu film award.
Other films to be screened include October, Omerta, Marathi films Nude and Ajji, Sonali Kulkarni-starrer Kaccha Limboo, Madhavan-starrer Tamil neo-noir crime thriller Vikram Vedha, Aparna Sen’s Sonata and Srijit Mukherjee’s forthcoming Bengali drama Uma. Bhojpuri documentary Naach Bhikhari Naach, which shows Bihar’s traditional folk theatre where lower-caste cross-dressing male artists spouting double-meaning dialogues, will also be screened. “We faced resistance to the film title. It’s reflective of a casteist society,” say directors Shilpi Gulati and Jainendra Dost.
Last year, the title of the Malayalam S Durga saw the state machinery clamping down on director Sanal Kumar Sasidharan. “Everybody knows S stands for Sexy. It will remain so in the international markets. The title is essential for a film trying to convey a point,” says Sasidharan, of the film that depicts sexual objectification of the very woman revered as a goddess. The movie pans out inside a van, a palpable gut-wrenching claustrophobia courting the protagonists, Durga (Rajshri Deshpande) and Kabir (Kannan Nayar), enveloped not only by the silence of the dark night but by prying glances and lewd sneers. Sasidharan has been urging everyone to see the film before dissing it.
In India, the film has been shown at MAMI festival (Mumbai), NITTE international film festival (Bengaluru), and special screenings at PVRs. “People are increasingly becoming intolerant towards radical art. They need art material which they can understand and digest under the current social set-up,” says Sasidharan, who plans to release the film on the internet soon for all to see.
“Kerala churns out a lot of art films which the IFFI and KSFDC (Kerala State Film Development Corporation) are meant to support,” he says, adding, “we just want more people to see our films through festivals.”