Jul 12, 2008

Entertainment - Cinema beyond Bollywood

Shorts by young filmmakers, flicks out of Pakistan, a restored oldie, works by international masters... Neha Bhatt on what to watch at Osian's Cinefan.

Ten years ago, you couldn't have guessed that a "niche" film festival like Osian's Cinefan, an annual event in New Delhi (with a preview in Mumbai), would bring such a rush of energy to the average moviegoer. Over the years, the festival has won over a much wider base of audiences — people looking at films as more than mindless entertainment.

For all such enthusiasts, this year's fest brings an impressive collection of films — from a wide range of short films by young filmmakers dabbling in new mediums and concepts to highly-acclaimed works from Arab and Asian countries, the choicest of literary adaptations to classics from masters such as Fellini, Kurosawa and Mrinal Sen.

Over 200 films, handpicked and curated carefully, are to roll out this week, including those from Pakistan and from country in focus Israel. Here's a look at what you must catch — at the fest or elsewhere if you miss it there.

The stunning opening film, Sparrow, by Hong Kong-based filmmaker Johnnie To, is a must-watch. Shot over three years, Sparrow borrows its title from the street slang for pickpocket. The story follows the lives of a beautiful woman and three professional pickpockets who come together in search of an elusive key.

Then there's the festival's centrepiece movie, Wong Kar Wai's balmy My Blueberry Nights which was the opening film at Cannes last year. In her acting debut, Norah Jones stars as Elizabeth who sets out on a journey across America after a heartbreak, and on the way meets people who change her perspective on life and love.

The closing film this year is Mumbai Cutting, an anthology of short films by 11 directors, in keeping with the new focus on short films.

Emotionally complex, Mumbai Cutting alternates between the comical and the cynical, relating the story of a man and a woman who come together in grief after losing their loved ones, a writer who makes it his mission to connect with a troubled orphan, a Muslim woman attempting to procure a fake passport, and an aspiring actor who races through the streets in order to reach an important audition.

Filmmakers Sudhir Mishra, Jahnu Barua, Rahul Dholakia, Rituparno Ghosh and Anurag Kashyap among others, come together for this anthology. The starcast includes the likes of Ranvir Shorey, Raima Sen, Reema Lagoo and Vinay Pathak.

The long and short of itWhat's refreshing this year is the platform provided to short fiction films. Of the 42 short films chosen from across Asia and the Arab world, 13 premiere at the fest. Others have been screened at film festivals across the globe. Watch out for, says section curator Monica Bhasin, Match Factor, made by Pakistani filmmaker Maheen Zia and screened earlier at the Berlin film fest.

However, Cinefan consciously keeps away from the documentary-style of filmmaking for now, point out festival directors Latika Padgaonkar and Indu Shrikent. "We'd like to start with fiction before going on to anything else," says Padgaonkar.

All the films are between 5-40 minutes and it's interesting to see new mediums used, slick camerawork and offbeat storylines. Another short film not to be missed comes from Pakistan: This Is Hindustan That Is Pakistan by Ehteshmuddin Mohammad. Shrikent also recommends Rewind by Atul Ashok Taishete.

Pakistan diariesSpinning on the new-found appreciation of Indian audiences for Pakistani films after Khuda Ke Liye, a clutch of movies from across the border are being showcased. Ramchand Pakistani starring Nandita Das demands attention in particular.

The film tells the story of a young boy who crosses the border to India unknowingly — gathering little of the socio-political blunder he has committed — and the tragic consequences of it. A Pakistani horror film Hell's Ground is high on the list too, as is a novel adaptation titled Victoria Ka Ticket. (Other literary adaptations include war film Beaufort, the classic Lady Chatterley and the acclaimed Peeping Tom from Japan.)

Assamese gold Seventy three year-old film Joymoti, the first-ever Assamese language film, has been restored by filmmaker Altaf Mazid and is to be screened too. Jyotiprasad Agarwala's timeless classic, Mazid says, is almost as beautiful as when he saw it for the first time.

At a time when the Hindi film industry alone churns out 800 films a year, few have the inclination to pursue classics that may get lost as a result. The story behind the recovery of the duplicate print of Joymoti is, in fact, quite dramatic.

After the original print and negatives were lost in a studio fire which destroyed a large part of Agarwala's setup in the 1940s, a duplicate was recovered in a garage in the 1980s by his elder brother. The film was significantly damaged but Mazid managed to piece together 80 per cent of it from footage from a documentary made on the movie.

Reconstructing the scenes in a linear version was tough. Mazid calls it a "labour of love". "I did everything on my home computer with an assistant, on a budget of Rs 20,000. But it was hard to work without the script. It took me months to string together the sequence," Mazid tells me.

Despite poor sound quality, the soundtrack remains fresh, thanks to the fact that a separate recording of the music had been archived carefully. The film, Mazid says, has the quality of a contemporary. Old or new, cinema is the flavour of the season.

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