With the summers finally descending and the March flowers blooming, the Indian Habitat Centre saw an amalgam of colours and excited visitors on day two of the Habitat International Film Festival (HIFF), its first. From young students to bespectacled elderly, HIFF saw a diverse audience, and none of them, tumbling out of the auditoriums, seemed disappointed. HIFF however, doesn’t have a broader theme. “This being our first time, we have decided it to be purely a celebration of cinema”, Vidhyun Singh, Director of Programmes, Habitat World told indianexpress.com, and insisted it’s rather “a festival of festivals”, borrowing a line from the first Toronto Film Festival.
However, what settles down on one, and pleasantly so, as they get a whiff of the films being showcased at HIFF, is that a lot of them are ‘women oriented’. In times, when the CBFC deemed ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ not fit for viewing because it was, well, “lady oriented”, here was Zoltán Fábri’s Hungarian film Körhinta (Merry-Go-Round), Finnish Drama film Armi elää! (Armi alive!) by Jörn Donner or Driving With Selvi by Elisa Paloschi celebrating women, their travails, their journeys and their hope.
Although Singh asserted that the films being showcased weren’t handpicked to fit into a particular theme, she agreed it is important that these films (in the face of Lipstick under … ban) are showcased. “Such movies indeed make a connect. For instance, in Merry-Go-Round, when the mother cries saying I was born a woman, you can look at it today, see an evolution and sense that ‘times, they are a-changin’,” the 63-year-old said. It is important to understand that oppression is not unique, miles and ages away women have experienced the same elsewhere, but that there’s an evolution, bring us hope, she said.
Shreejani Samaddar, a visitor at the fest, too, agreed on the importance of showcasing films on women because she believes that helps “understand different perspectives”. Samaddar, who has been to other film festivals in Mumbai and Kolkata, watched Armi Alive! here. “I as a woman, relate to the movie, because in spite of not being able to understand her language, I could relate to the problems she faced,” she said. Be it the protagonist’s unwillingness to have a baby, yet, succumbed, giving birth to a child, is just one of the instances that Samaddar, a market researcher in Delhi, related to. “I think this is why we watch these films — to understand different perspectives and yet see a commonality bind us all, irrespective of our differences.” she said.
Bholenath Vishwakarma, an environmental engineer and a photographer, understands that these films are important for people to get rid of their biased views. “For instance, I watched the film Mustang, a Turkish coming-of-age film released in 2015, about women empowerment that was appreciated and lauded by all. And I was surprised because it came from a country like Turkey, known more for their regressive attitude towards the female gender than for making path-breaking films,” Vishwakarma said. And so, such films that focus on the often marginalised sections show how art rises above all and people even seem to defy their countries and governments to do so, he said.
That people from everywhere are coming together to celebrate good cinema and leave more encouraged after watching a woman stand up for the life she wants to live, with the person she wants to, in a film like Merry-Go-Round (1956) or see a Finnish entrepreneur fight odds in Armi Alive!, leaves the CBFC’s decision of banning theatrical release of Alankrita Shrivastava’s movie, with a bitter taste in mouth.