For a self-confessed film fanatic, my record of attending film festivals has been abysmal so far, despite the annual film festival in Pune – PIFF – and the existence of NFAI here being among the reasons I moved to the city more than five years ago.
So this year, I finally made that trip to Goa during the International Film Festival of India – and while I really spent less than three full days there, the pilgrimage was totally worth it. Also, conveniently timed during the festival was an I League Football match between my home team, Pune FC, against the Panjim-based team Dempo SC. All in all, four days well spent.
This was my first visit to IFFI. While it is impossible to talk about all the films and the overall experience, here are some quick notes.
Polish film: Life is good
If you read nothing else in this article, I’d still hope you take up my recommendation for this lovingly made film by a Polish writer-director with a really hard name. Based on real-life stories, this film is about Mateusz, a boy with severe developmental problems that render him unable to move around (except for crawling on the floor), use his hands or, most importantly, talk. Owing mainly to his inability to communicate, he is written off as intellectually retarded, and spends over 25 years locked inside a stubborn body that cannot keep up with his intelligent mind.
The film is warm, funny and touching without being overwrought and manipulative, and without ever indulging in self-pity – a considerable task, given the built-in pain and frustrations of the subject.
(Update: Longer review here)
Another kind of motherhood
The independent French-Russian film Marussia provoked some mixed reactions from the audience, much like the 6-year-old Marussia’s free spirited mother in the film provokes in the well-meaning people around her. In the Q&A session after the film, the producer Janja Kralj (seen on extreme left in the picture above) found herself facing questions on the choices and child-rearing credentials of this character.
It is interesting to note that while our films have taken to depicting all kinds of lovers, friends, officers, even all kinds of fathers – we still expect a certain kind of mother in our stories.
Women in a young nation
An interesting experience was watching Chetan Anand’s 1946 film Neecha Nagar, thick with allegory and bursting with optimism for a soon-to-be-free nation. I hope to write more on that later. This is the second film I’ve seen from roughly that year, besides the rare and enchanting Kalpana (1947), Uday Shankar’s ambitious dance film that was exhibited at NFAI some years ago.
Both films are full of ideas about what the newly independent India should be like. Kalpana tends to get pedantic, while Neecha Nagar pays homage to many defining events from the non-violent freedom struggles. Both films see an important role for women to play in the construction of this new society. The women in these films have a voice, they have agency, and exercise their choices. Kalpana goes so far as to endorse a bit of besharmi – shamelessness – in the New Woman of its vision. In Neecha Nagar, the hero’s younger sister (a strikingly beautiful and fresh faced Kamini Kaushal) is his trusted partner in his fight for dignity for the people of the town. It is his sister, and later his lady love, who catalyse important turning points that spell eventual success of his mission.
In the interest of full disclosure, let me mention that my support for Pune FC is not exactly the selfless dedication of a true fan. My husband is the analyst for that team. If you happened to be at Duler Stadium, Mhapusa on 27th November for the Pune FC vs Dempo SC match, you might have noticed the guy in a red cap recording the match from atop a mast. That’s him.
Nonetheless, it isn’t difficult for anyone mildly interested in Indian football to be following Pune FC with some interest. The team finished second on the League Table last year, and are neck-and-neck with Salgaocar for the top position this year. Making things appropriately filmy is the fact that Salgaocar is currently coached by Pune FC’s former coach Derrick Pereira, and our last match in Goa had Derrick’s old and new team facing off in an exciting game that resulted in a draw.
Mhapusa is not a city your tour guide will likely take you to during your Goa trip. Located at some distance from the shore, this little city is soothingly devoid of tourist activity and full of the normal buzz of small town life. So instead of tattoo studios, pretentious cafes, and shops selling colourful hippie clothes and myriad trinkets, you’ll find real shops selling stuff people need and humble restaurants serving wholesome food. The low rising, moss-covered buildings give it the look of one of Mumbai’s narrow suburbs, only with cleaner roads.
Duler stadium is itself a most unimposing structure – the line of shops built under the audience stands make it look like just another commercial building on the busy street. Inside, the stadium seats are almost hugging the artificial pitch, and the pitch is bordered on two sides by houses and palm trees. No matter how humble the venue however, you can count on the Goans to turn up in large numbers for a game of football.
This unadulterated enthusiasm for the game is what always makes it worthwhile to watch one in Goa, even if I am the only one cheering for the visiting team, and praying for all these lovely people to go home disappointed today. The game was a draw, by the way.
Random highlights of the trip
- Spotting a young Kamini Kaushal in a pivotal role in Neecha Nagar
- Spotting a young Zohra Sehgal in Neecha Nagar (Amusingly, as way back as 1946, she had already graduated to playing the more ‘senior’ character of the hero’s bhabhi!)
- Rahul Bose as a Calcutta-dwelling simpleton and Mithun as his loose-shirt-over-polyester-pants father in Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Kaalpurush (wish I had nicer things to say about this film that is the director’s loving tribute to his departed father, but I found it extremely boring)
- A Canadian actress playing the poet Samuel Beckett in a play within the film Meetings With A Poet
- Kurdish film: My Sweet Pepperland (God! So many movies I haven’t enough time to write about)
- Somehow managed to get through three days of an international film festival without having my tender sensibilities exposed to much nudity
- Pretending to ignore Sanjay Suri even as I struggled to suppress the automatic grin on my face every time I looked in his general direction. Happened twice. (I blame this entirely on Jhankar Beats)
- Driving a car on the lovely Goan roads
- Cheering for PFC on their lone goal amid angry Dempo fans
- Squeezing in time for a quick lunch at the serene Bogmallo Beach
- Discovering a cheap cafe with delicious food right off Miramar Beach
- Coffee at Marriott, Panjim – both food and the view
- First ever vacation with mostly just my sister for company
(Deepti Chaudhuri Sharma is an editor, writer, blogger and in her own words ‘mad mad cinema fanatic.’ If you ever find Jaani Dushman running on TV, leave her a tweet at @DeeSCJockey. Even though she has watched it a thousand times, she will bless you liberally for that.)