After the screening of this film Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane Le Jaa Riya Hoon at Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival this year, a young girl in the audience of the same age as the character in the film, exuberantly called this scene out and said how this will stay with her for the rest of her life.
Ghode… is a runaway film, equal parts humour, satire, pathos and black comedy. The real and the surreal, truth and dreams of truth that are truer, merge into a kaleidoscope of visuals on screen that will move a discerning viewer, stun a general viewer perhaps back into the safe, ‘cool’ activism of polar bears and such.
In an ideal world, the film would have run in competition at most film festivals, or it would be the film that India sends as its Oscar entry next year. But at least those who have seen the film know that India is far from ideal and what will be sent next year, as most years, is at best a sweet popcorn indie or commercial film, elegantly shot with beautiful visuals, a film that doesn’t ‘cast India in a stark light’. Ghode… is too dark, real for the patronage of any government.
Ghode was not the only such Indian feature in this edition of Jio MAMI.
Jaoon Kahan Bata Ae Dil tackles the political in the personal. A film shot on six locations with what the filmmakers must have tried to do in as many takes but did not entirely succeed, packs a powerful punch into the gut of every lover of romance. Love, sex and betrayal is played out brilliantly by its three cast members.
Where the otherwise brilliant film with some of the wittiest lines you will ever hear in cinema falters, is its ending where despite shunning conventional drama throughout, it seems to fall into the trap when in the end karma comes to take stock of an evil man. Despite that, the brilliance of the film cannot be underlined enough.
The Tamil film Sivaranjani and Two Other Women is triptych of stories of women in three different times. But the brilliance of this film lies in the evocation of the simple in tackling of the complex narrative of patriarchy.
In the first story set in the 80s, a woman waits for a husband who does not return after she dared to question his violence on her. In the second a child unwittingly tells his mother of his favourite aunt writing a personal diary, leading to an avalanche that destroys the peace of the joint family and in the third a woman trapped in stifling domesticity goes back to her college in search of a trophy she had won in a competition ages ago.
In three stories Sivaranjani… seems to paint the picture of 90% of this nation’s women. The beauty of the film is its simplicity. The mundaneness of everyday life, the women going about the boring work around calls to mind the brilliant prose of Virginia Woolf whose attack on patriarchy and misogyny was not the external violent type, but incisive, deep, moving and as time has proven – lasting.
The problem with this film, which I consider its strength, is that it is not stark and does not call attention to itself unlike many others dealing with patriarchy and misogyny. It uses the mundane to paint a tragedy of promethean proportions. But this is something perhaps only discerning viewers will see and realize. That could also mean the film won’t be noticed as much as its brilliant writing, direction and acting deserves.
These three along with many other Indian films screened at the festival this year, talk about what is wrong with the nation, both politically and personally. Join the points made by these films and you have a picture of the true reality of this nation.
It was 7 odd years ago when MAMI’s screening committee member and film critic Rashid Irani had told me that he was overwhelmed by the quality of Indian films being submitted to the festival. There were so many good films, it was hard not only to select films for the competition sections, but to reject films in the general category. I had joked then that it was perhaps time to have a film festival exclusively dedicated to Indian films.
Indeed, over the last decade as I have seen the rich harvest of Indian cinema at this festival, most of whom sadly never ended up finding release, one thing has consistently occurred to me – are we in the midst of a new wave of Indian cinema right now?
The answer is not easy to come by. A new wave of cinema in any nation: take the Italian, French, Iranian or even Indian New wave of the 70s into picture – is defined by the consistency of a vision that is different from the commercial fare of the films in the nation.
The 70s New wave of Indian Cinema was consistent in its anti-establishment rhetoric, in its going at the heart of the reality of the nation and bringing those sights, sounds and issues to the big screen which the nation had rarely seen.
In that sense, these small and big indie films today present our reality, but they are not joined by a common vision. Nor are they united in what they are trying to say. Each of these films today are individualistic and there is no coherence of subject matter or the manner in which it is said. This could lead someone to call it a cacophony rather than a new wave.
However, that actually shows the robustness of this wave of cinema compared to the previous one. Despite the many merits of the previous new wave of Indian cinema, its demerits were a kind of elitism. You had to be in the ‘circle’ to be a new waver with its own set of rules and an invisible boundaries. And this was not because the filmmakers then set the rules. The rules were often set by the very nature of filmmaking. And the most basic rule was this: it took a lot of money to make a film.
This has changed in the new millennium. The digital era has ushered in a time where anyone with a mobile and a brilliant idea can become a filmmaker. This has led to the flowering of a million mutinies in cinema and the flowers of the revolution have become visible in festivals like Jio MAMI over the years.
It is not easy to answer if there indeed is a new wave underfoot. To my mind there is, but it is not like the ones we have seen in the past. The very rules of defining a new wave has to be rewritten if we want to understand what is going on even in traditionally non-filmi states like Kashmir, Assam, Delhi, Manipur, Gujarat, Bihar, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh etc. Today films are being made in languages in which no films have been made before, some in languages that are dying.
The other problem is that most of these good or great films never find a release and people never come to know of them. If you have liked ‘Village Rockstars’, know that it is but the tip of the iceberg, that it leads a pack of brilliant indie films just like itself, and some even better, who get buried in the sand dunes of time while we Indians look to the west to find our cinematic mojo and neglect our own filmmakers unless they have made a name for themselves out in the west.
The question to me thus is not whether we have a new wave. We do. The question is whether we have the mindset to see these films with the new eyes that they demand from us, whether we have that great audience, those great discerning viewers, without whom no great cinema can ever hope to be made or survive.
(Satyen K. Bordoloi is a screenwriter, researcher, journalist based in Mumbai. He writes mostly on cinema and politics. He is currently writing a spec script on R&AWs 1971 exploits.)Read more by Satyen K Bordoloi: