MAMI Mumbai Film Festival 2016 Highlights

October saw the close of the 18th edition of the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival which boasted of an eclectic line-up of over 170 films over 8 days from over 50 countries.

This year’s festival saw some fascinating themes running through its vast line-up, such as the complex and often damaging notion of family, classism, the impact of war, and the booming Indian documentary space. Indian audiences haven’t typically been large digesters of documentaries, resulting in a somewhat repressed documentary film industry. However, this clearly seeing a shift, this year in particular with truly fine films such as An Insignificant Man and Cinema Travellers. One can only hope that this is a start of a consistent and sustained change.

To give you a taste of this year’s cinematic festivities, here are some short reviews and discussions of the films I saw this year:

After The Storm (2016, Hirokazu Koreeda)

MAMI Mumbai Film Festival 2016 Highlights
After The Storm (2016) – source: Gaga

‘Why do men find it so difficult to live in the present?’ a mother asks her adult son in one scene of After The Storm, an apt question as any to describe the essence of this sweet, melancholic, endearing, albeit slow burning film. Presented in a simple, slice-of-life manner, writer-director Hirokazu Koreeda’s family drama centres around the life of Ryota, played masterfully by Hiroshi Abe, a failed writer and recent divorcee attempting to take stock of his dishevelled life.

Ryota is a man utterly lost between following his career aspirations, attempting to maintain a relationship with his young son to whom he has restricted visitation, as well as rekindle marriage with his ex-wife. He’s a man whose life has in no way turned out how he would have hoped, and the film explores his struggles in coming to terms with what is as against what was, or indeed could have been. In that sense, the film is in many ways a character study of someone who just can’t seem to grow up and just do life very well.

The film offers up a host of wonderfully well-realised characters, with a wider cast who do fine justice to their individual roles with real conviction. Whilst Abe wholly carries the film in his performance, with a distinctive sadness in his eyes and an almost childish, immature vulnerability to match, not enough can be about Ryota’s mother played so beautifully by Kirin Kiki.

She is the infinitely relatable grandmother who lights up every scene she’s in with her comical, yet emotionally delicate demeanour, such that you wish you could just reach out and give her a tight, warm hug whenever she appears onscreen. She represents the inherent warmth of the film – so full of unbridled energy, insightful wisdom and joyous humour as the mother who is stuck perpetually loving and caring for her children, despite not being necessarily happy with how their lives have turned out.

And yet, it is perhaps thematically where After The Storm truly shines, touching on some fascinating subjects such the complex nature of family, as the strange mesh of selflessness and cruelty they can be. Not to mention the hypocrisy of love – our ability to be so wholly cruel to the world around us, and yet, unendingly forego ourselves for those we love.

Perhaps what’s most memorable about After The Storm is how it doesn’t overly focus on any one aspect of Shinoda’s life, but rather lightly touches on so much in a way that really stays with you. The film offers no solace or conclusion, just the importance of acceptance, and is in the end, highly recommended viewing.

A Death In The Gunj (2016, Konkona Sen Sharma)

MAMI Mumbai Film Festival 2016 Highlights
A Death In The Gunj (2016) – source: iDream Productions

A marvellous directorial debut by national award-winning actress Konkona Sen Sharma, A Death in the Gunj is a fine film by any assessment. It’s enjoyable, relatable, interesting, relevant and so strangely absorbing. Add to that a career-defining performance by Dil Dhadakne Do’s Vikrant Massey as Shutu, the main character who your heart goes out to so entirely.

The screenplay from Sen Sharma, and story from Mukul Sharma, present a host of finely fleshed-out characters, with even the smallest roles being given commendable significance. Not to mention striking a tone which will appeal to those looking to be superficially entertained, as much as it would to those who seek deeper meaning and emotional resonance.

The story, set in the small town of McCluskiegunj in Jharkand in the late ’70s, tells of a gathering of the Bakshi family, and unfolds over seven days, ending in a fatal tragedy. This structure works marvellously to keep the narrative progressing, as well as to keep the tension building in an increasingly palpable way. This is all the more heightened by the rich milieu created, which is nothing short of atmospheric, due to the beautiful visuals from Sirsha Raydelightfully capturing the simple beauty of the Indian countryside.

The film boasts of a stellar cast with the likes of Gulshan Deviah, Tilotama Shome, Vikrant Massey, Kalki Koechlin and Ranvir Shorey to name a few. More than their individual talent, of which there is plenty, what shines through is their collective chemistry, as is crucial for a family drama such as this. More so, it is the way in which Sen Sharma uses them to create the quintessentially Indian familial chaos which we so often experience every day, with so many feelings, emotions and egos flying around all at once.

The film offers an exploration of traditional notions of masculinity, and how sensitive men are ostracised simply for being different. Especially within the institution of family, which can so often be the most damaging entity in our lives, rather than the necessary source of support. It is in this relatability that A Death in the Gunj becomes the moving experience that it is. The film makes for such an enriching, thought-provoking and self-reflective experience and is no doubt one of the best feature films I saw at this year’s Mumbai Film Festival.

You can read my full review of the film here.

The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe (2016, Ros Horin)

MAMI Mumbai Film Festival 2016 Highlights
The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe (2016) – source: The Goodship Angency

The Baulkham Hills African Ladies Troupe is one of the most difficult and deeply frustrating films I have encountered in the longest time. The documentary film chronicles the story behind the making of the popular Australian theatre production of the same name, made by the same director, Ros Horin, here making her filmmaking debut. The film is sadly an amateur attempt at telling an important story, which raises some severe moral questions about how far you’re willing to go to tell a story.

The original stage production is centered around the lives and experiences of four African women who came to Australia as refugees. It depicts their harrowing ordeals of being born and raised in different parts of war-torn Africa, with painful tales of rape, kidnap and violence. The film documents Horin initially approaching them with the prospect of telling their stories through theatre, right through to the process of formulating the final production and its subsequent success. It explores the obstacles and challenges faced along the way, particularly emphasising on the emotional trauma of having them regularly relive and recount what they went through, not to mention having four non-actors carry an entire theatre production.

These four women, Yarrie Bangura, Aminata Conteh-Biger, Yordanos Haile-Michael and Rosemary Kariuki-Fyfe are nothing short of remarkable and are the best thing about the film in every way. One portion of the narrative is devoted to each of them sitting in front of a camera, and freely reciting their individual journeys, which is easily its best portion, with the subpar storytelling and off-putting cutaways proving to be the least obtrusive. These women are in every sense the human embodiment of courage and strength, which makes this film documenting their journey all the more difficult to stomach.

In terms of the more superficial issues, what’s consistently apparent is Horin’s lack of experience with, and understanding of the medium, resulting in murky, clunky storytelling that doesn’t allow you fully appreciate the subject matter. The film is also a fine example of why it’s ill advised to make a film about your own life and experiences, as you lose all sense of objectivity, as is ever apparent throughout the film. Horin is an integral part of this story and by narrating and making the film herself, she gives herself an unnecessary and disproportionate focus.

And then, there’s the crux of the issue, one which left me feeling so deeply disconcerted and at times simply enraged. The film brings through some serious notions of exploitation, plain and simple. There were always going to be psychological and emotional implications when making a production such as this, requiring women to relive something truly horrific experiences, on stage, every night. Yet Horin attempts to circumvent this by continually asking the women if they’re ok to go on with the show as if that absolves her of all moral responsibility. A significant chunk of the film is devoted to Yordy Haile-Michel‘s frequent breakdowns, in going through this night after night, which was deeply disturbing to watch.

Add to that the fact that we barely ever get to see much of their lives today, in terms of how far they’ve come and what they’ve accomplished in their new lives in Australia. Instead it’s all about the pain and strife and violence they faced, which I guess is supposed to make for a more riveting story. To that end, it doesn’t feel like a journey, but more of continual prodding into the horridness of it all. It’s also difficult to ignore the fact that Horin got a globally successful theatre show out of it. Whilst it’s clear her intentions were noble, you cannot overlook the inexcusable damage caused in the process – just because the show must go on.

The War Show 2016, Andreas Dalsgaard & Obaidah Zytoon)

MAMI Mumbai Film Festival 2016 Highlights
The War Show (2016) – source: BOND360

The War Show is one of the most hauntingly powerful and heartbreaking documentaries you will see this year. How do you capture the lifespan of a war? From the initial rumblings of disruption to violent escalation, that leads to nothing short of the crumbling of an entire nation.

In 2011, as the Arab Spring spread and eventually reached Syria, the nation awoke with nationwide protests and demonstrations taking place against the Assad regime. Among these was radio jockey Obaidah Zytoon (co-director of the film) and her friends who set out to do their part and protest as well as record the rising rebellion. The film is told exclusively through that footage captured during that period which chronicled the end of Syria as it once was.

The War Show is a film that is as deeply personal as it is universally relevant. We first see Zytoon and her group of friends who want nothing more than to live their lives and be free to be who they are, and how the war gradually yet inevitably changes their lives forever. Aside from the personal narrative, through her travels, encounters and interviews Zytoon documents the impact on Syria as a whole, the result of a violent, oppressive dictatorship, a growing rebellion, and the common people mercilessly stuck in between. As she says in one scene:

There was a place for everyone in the war show, apart from the people’.

We are taught a number of frightening lessons as the films unfolds, such as how to oppress a nation with violence and torture, and keep a war hidden from the world, the very idea of which is staggering to comprehend.  The regime’s control over the mainstream media coupled with the strategy to primarily targets those with cameras, allows them to do with the people as they please. It’s also a lesson in what people can endure in harrowing circumstances. Once the people become accustomed to the torture and pain and fear of death, there isn’t much you can dish out by way of control or fear.

Yet, more than anything, it’s the journey and evolution of a rebellion. What starts off as a people’s uprising and a collective fight for change and freedom, soon breeds a whole range of factions and different ideologies, further worsening the lives of the people it once fought for. And ultimately how the sincere and hopeful aim of a nation to fight against its dictator for its freedom eventually breeds seeds of extremism.

The War Show is unendingly powerful due to its harrowing subject matter as well as its fine storytelling. Watch it to get an understanding of how this world of ours works, and get something of a history lesson of Syria’s plight, the political consequences are still being faced and shaping the western world today. Watch it to get an understanding of just what is freedom; as one man answers in an interview when asked the same:

‘No one who’s ever lived in Syria knows the meaning of true freedom’.

Cecilia (2015, Pankaj Johar)

MAMI Mumbai Film Festival 2016 Highlights
Cecilia (2016) – source: Journeyman Pictures

Cecilia is a fine example of the increasing focus and dynamism in Indian documentary filmmaking. Whilst the film lacks the level of impact of a memorable investigative documentary, what shines through is the honesty and sincerity of its story. Pankaj Johar is a Delhi-based filmmaker, who lives with his wife and their house help and caretaker Cecilia, considered to be part of the family.

Cecilia gets a call one day, informing her that her young daughter, supposed to have been at her village home, has been killed whilst being employed by an upper-class Delhi family. Further inquiry reveals that she had in fact been sold into Delhi’s rampant child labour racket, which leads Johar to subsequently document the investigation that follows. The film chronicles Cecilia’s journey with the help of Johar and his wife, to seek justice and uncover just what happened to her daughter, thereby providing a window into the messy world of Delhi’s child trafficking industry.

Whilst the film explores just how deep-rooted and systemic the issue of trafficking is, ranging from the police to the judiciary, it also serves as a strong commentary of the dominant class divide that forms a key cornerstone of Indian society. Put simply, those who have no social standing, no voice, deserve no justice, thus making for easy pickings for traffickers. Yet, although the film deals with some disturbing social issues in the seedy underbelly it explores, it is held back by its overly simplistic storytelling.

Perhaps what is most interesting about the film is what it achieves unintentionally, as opposed to what it actually sets out to do. For a documentary which talks about classism and the lack of rights of the lowest strata’s of society, in many ways, it becomes a victim of itself. Cecilia has an influential middle-class couple, in Johar and his wife, supporting her and helping her fight for justice, backed by their societal standing and resources. But as a result, she is somewhat at their beck and call. It is no longer just her fight, but all of theirs, and they are constantly guiding, advising and influencing her decisions. Though it is clear they only want what’s best for her, it is admittedly so interesting to see the impact their involvement has.

In the end, Cecilia is a heartbreaking exploration of how justice is such a painfully fluid concept in India for certain sectors of society. Whilst it could have achieved a great deal more, it is still worth watching to get educated on yet another rampant social evil around us. What’s more, it has you questioning your own treatment and understanding of those you employ.

An Insignificant Man (2016, Khushboo Ranka, Vinay Shukla)

MAMI Mumbai Film Festival 2016 Highlights
An Insignificant Man (2016) – source: Memesys Culture Lab

In 2013, Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party (the party of the common man) contested for the Delhi legislative assembly elections, thus campaigning against the Congress Party’s Sheila Dikshit who had enjoyed a 15-year reign. Though the AAP was widely dismissed, it gained a historic, landslide victory, easily among the most unexpected and significant political victories in recent memory.

This triumph was driven by the people’s need for change and overhaul of the ruling system – hopes that were embodied by one man promising the honest revolution Indian politics so needed. The majority of AAP’s resources and manpower came from volunteers and to that end, it was widely considered a people’s movement – by the people, for the people. Kejriwal was a man who in many ways held the collective hope of an entire nation in his hands, with many wondering – was this finally the leader we needed?

Directors Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla followed and recorded the AAP’s campaigning activities throughout the year, getting exclusive access to intimate party meetings and decision making. The result of a year’s worth of footage collected is An Insignificant Man, a film which provides a staunch insight into the functioning of politics, voters, and all the struggles, hypocrisies and compromise that come with that.

The film is masterfully told, and narrated through Kejriwal’s own speeches as well as various media clips, and includes many key interactions between him, senior party leaders and volunteers. The film is briskly edited by Abhinav Tyagi and Manan Bhatt to tell one of the most memorable political stories of this generation.

Due respect must be given to Ranka and Shukla for ensuring the film doesn’t serve as a panegyric to Kejriwal, one of the nation’s most polarising figures, but instead provide a far more objective view of the man and his activities in his most crucial year. What’s more, the way Ranka and Shukla manage to build tension as the film approaches its conclusion by way of the election, despite us knowing the result, is commendable. Although the film does end on a controversial note given it only documents the parties initial victory and not the ever turbulent and scandalous events that followed it, which may cause many to suggest that it shows but a small slice of a far larger story.

I for one won’t soon forget the atmosphere of that cinema theatre, one of deep complex emotion and sadness. We as an audience were invested not just because this was another film, but rather this was our own story, a very real part of our own history unfolding before us. What it shows is a movement, one which transcends politics and elections, because at its core it was about a people who earnestly and sincerely wanted to rise out of their circumstances, and so we followed a man we thought might be able to do just that.

At that time, this was our movement, our campaign, our victory and our hope which ultimately fizzled out as this resulted in little more than more messy Indian politics.

Autohead (2016, Rohit Mittal)

MAMI Mumbai Film Festival 2016 Highlights
Autohead (2016) – source: Amit Verma Films / Stalker Films

Autohead is nothing short of a visceral experience and is certainly one of the most interesting films seen at this year’s Mumbai film festival. Told in a mockumentary-style format, the film’s strength is its stylistic storytelling which is as wholly absorbing as it is wildly entertaining. And yet, despite the many edge-of-your-seat thrills the film offers, Autohead falls prey to the curse-of-the-second-half in its narrative, as it increasingly starts to derail and almost entirely falls apart in its close, such that I was left feeling robbed, and downright frustrated.

It tells of a documentary crew that sets out to film the day-to-day life of Mumbai auto rickshaw driver, Narayan, and unfolds exclusively through the footage they collect. As they chronicle more of his life and activities, they uncover a lurking dark side within him with his behaviour growing increasingly erratic and violent, ultimately leading to grave consequences.

The essence of the film is in every way the almost haunting, palpable milieu it creates, down to the visuals as well as its incredibly natural performances. Deepak Sampat, who plays Narayan, is the film, offering a truly unforgettable portrayal as the eerie common man; he so wholly embodies the character that I imagine meeting Sampat in real life would be a very disorientating experience. The same is true of the film’s supporting cast, from the slum-dwellers to the police officers, all of whom have us second guessing whether this is in fact, fictional.

To that end, it mesmerising how starkly real it feels, in terms of the attention to detail and Mittal’s conviction to telling the story. In its tone, the film strikes a curious mix of exhilarating and weirdly fun, that keeps you consistently on edge, as much as it puts you at ease with its playful humour. Not to mention making some poignant statements about classism, and shedding light on what rickshaw drivers like Narayan must often endure at the hands of the public.

In the end, Autohead will likely polarise audiences, split by those who are bowled over by the film’s style, approach and unique entertainment value, and those put off by its narrative choices. But despite its flaws, the film makes for an undeniably engaging experience, one which I was grateful for. With this, Mittal shows that he’s certainly one young director to watch out for.

Trapped (2017, Vikramaditya Motwane)

MAMI Mumbai Film Festival 2016 Highlights
Trapped (2017) – source: Phantom Films

Included this year was the world premiere of the latest outing from director Vikramaditya Motwane, of Lootera and Udaan fame, this time offering up an independent film with a concept so intriguing, it’s a wonder no one’s thought of it before. The film tells of a man who gets inadvertently locked into his flat, situated on a top floor of a high-rise building, of which he’s the only resident. It explores his journey to survive, desperately make contact with the outside world and attempt to escape his unlikely yet scathing predicament.

In the same mould as Buried or 127 Hours , the lion’s share of the film takes place exclusively in the confines of a small flat, featuring one man and his life-threatening ordeal, and thus requires a highly skilled actor to do it justice, as well as singlehandedly keep an audience engaged. Rajkummar Rao steps up to the plate with fervour, doing well to carry the story with a performance that has you hanging on his every move with bated breath, proving yet again that he is one of the most talented actors on the block.

Whilst it certainly makes for a refreshingly different cinematic experience, the film loses out in its tonal inconsistency. Motwane starts us off on an exhilarating, tensely dramatic note focusing on the desperation and growing hopelessness of the ordeal. Yet somehow the film opts for a somewhat lighter note in its latter half, diminishing the chilling momentum built up, resulting in an overtly inconsistent experience.

However, Trapped is certainly very intriguing in the ideas it explores, not just in its story of survival and the persistence of the human spirit, but also in how it captures the city of Mumbai – bustling, brimming, overflowing and ever alive, yet equally inherently lonely. He’s a man trapped on the top floor of a building with a great view of the world and city below, to which he has no contact or access. It takes the term ‘so close yet so far’ to entirely new heights, quite literally.

What’s more, the film makes for a wonderfully interactive experience, as he has with him only a basic set of household furniture and tools dotted around, from a TV, to paint tins to pots and pans, all of which he attempts to use to furnish ways of communication or escape. As we see him go about different ideas and approaches, it becomes like a puzzle to be solved unfolding before your eyes. As you watch his innovate attempts, you can’t help but examine what you would do in the same situation with the same equipment, such that, it’s at times difficult not to shout at the screen and bark instructions at him as to what else he could do.

Whilst the film misses the note of a top notch survival drama largely down to its bumpy tone, it’s also greatly refreshing and makes for an altogether different kind of movie experience.

The Lover And The Despot (2016, Ross Adam, Robert Cannon)

MAMI Mumbai Film Festival 2016 Highlights
The Lovers And The Despot (2016) – source: Magnolia Pictures

Car chases, prison breaks, espionage, spies, kidnapping, a villainous dictator, a love story, all of these and more can be found in The Lover And The Despot. The only thing is, all of it actually happened.

Ross Adam and Robert Cannon’s The Lover And The Despot is a documentary about one of the most fascinating, unlikely and straight up crazy stories you’ll ever hear. In 1978 North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, an ardent fan of cinema, looked to revive and reboot the North Korean film industry and be recognised for it on the global stage. As a result, he arranged for the kidnapping of famed South Korean director Shin Sang-ok and his actress ex-wife Choi Eun-hee and had them kept prisoner for 8 years, away from their children and loved ones. Whilst the world believed them dead or possibly traitors, it was at this time, whilst constantly plotting their escape, the couple went on to make some of the best films, of their career. You really can’t make this stuff up.

The film touches on so many complex emotions in its vast, engrossing story which has so many perspectives and facets to it, it’s at times hard to wrap your head around. Shin was a successful South Korean director at the top of his game, who was deeply in love and married Choi, and yet, as the years passed his life became increasingly turbulent. He lost touch with his art with many dismissing his career entirely, not to mention getting divorced and becoming increasingly reclusive. What follows is a dire tale of kidnapping, imprisonment, constant fear of death, and hope of escape, and yet, artistic freedom. Whilst in North Korean captivity, Shin was given all the support and resources he could want to make the kinds of films he wanted to make, and as such regained his love for the movies, thus producing some of his best work at the cost of his own freedom. It does make you wonder if many directors today would actually see the situation more favourably.

What’s more, the film offers a mesmerising insight into the culture, tradition and functioning of North Korea, one of the most controversial nations today. More so, it gives us a look into the life and demeanour of Kim Jong Il, given this was his first interaction with anyone from the outside world. It paints a portrait of the young man who has power and a country’s rule thrust upon him, one who must constantly live in the shadow of his deceased, adored father. He is a complex character, who is passionate and misunderstood as much as he is weirdly reasonable in his treatment of his filmmaking prisoners. Not taking away from the fact that he’s clearly an unhinged, maniacal dictator, but it was certainly interesting to get an insight into the man.

The film is powerfully told by through interviews with senior South Korean officials, Choi Eun-hee herself, members of her family, as well as media clips and stock footage. In many ways The Lover And The Despot is nothing short of an action thriller, featuring Shin as the mastermind formulating a plan of escape, not to mention the romance angle, as, through one of the most frightening phases of their lives all the ex-lovers really had was each other.

In the end, the film is such a tense series of stranger-than-fiction events, that it’s often difficult to grasp or contemplate that this is an actual thing that did happen. The Lover And The Despot makes for an all-engrossing story, a commentary on the power of cinema, a showcase on the importance of love, and an insight into one of the world’s most unique cultures and societies.

Lipstick Under My Burkha (2016, Alankrita Shrivastava)

MAMI Mumbai Film Festival 2016 Highlights
Lipstick Under My Burkha (2016) – source: Prakash Jha Productions

Accept, adjust, manage, tolerate, settle, suffer. This is the sad reality of the mindset the average Indian woman is expected to adopt today.

Lipstick Under My Burkha is an important film, nay, an essential one, and although it’s far from perfect, it’s one I sincerely hope gets a wide mainstream release and is seen by as many people as possible. India is a curious nation, and among its many idiosyncrasies, is the fact that the impact a movie can have here is beyond measure. Our dire obsession with the movies means that films here can truly educate, change mindsets and start crucial discussions.

Alankrita Shrivastava’s Lipstick Under My Burkha is a film which aims to do just that, start discussions and educate people, and is the kind of film where the social message takes precedence over the story. The film follows the interlocking stories of four women across ages and life stages and explores their struggles of liberty and sexual expression in a harshly misogynistic society where facets of religion and regressive tradition reign supreme.

The film offers a fine cast wth national treasures such as Ratna Pathak Shah and Konkona Sen Sharma, along with Aahana Kumra and Plabita Borthakur, with an equally great supporting cast featuring Vikrant Massey and Shashank Aurora, two of the brightest young actors working today.

Shirin (Sen Sharma), a mother of three, is a talented saleswoman, a job she must hide from her oppressive husband. She wants nothing more than the freedom to follow a career she isn’t allowed to have. Leela (Aahana Kumra) is the fiery young women stuck between wanting to enjoy a liberal relationship with her boyfriend Arshad (Vikrant Massey), whilst facing pressures from a family looking to get her ‘married off’. Hers is an infinitely relevant tale of new India and their want to be free and explore, whilst at constant loggerheads with the shackles of tradition that the older generations impose.

Rehana (Plabita Borthakur) is a young Muslim college student who is similarly caught between the social pressures of being a teenager, of fitting in, being cool, getting in the right circles, as against the repressed, obedient, well-behaved girl her orthodox Muslim parents would demand. She is the girl confided to a burkha who secretly takes it off before attending college every day to allow her to be her own person. And then there is by far the most interesting tale of the lot, that of Usha Auntie (Ratna Pathak Shah), the community’s matriarch who is seen as a leader, and parent figure more than she is a woman. Usha discovers the world of erotic novels and so goes on a journey to rediscover her sexuality and femininity, whilst keeping it a secret from a household that would deem repulsive.

The film lacks nothing by way of diversity offering four intricate stories which share common themes to shed light on the plight of women in India today. Whilst the narrative is well-crafted, where it suffers is in its originality given it’s strongly reminiscent of recent flicks like Leena Yadav’s Parched which similarly explored the lives of four women in rural India.

Many may call the film male-bashing, but that shouldn’t take away from the very poignant and harsh reality it explores, a world where women are limited and controlled at every turn, be it from men, parents or society as a whole. Our world. These are women are made to feel bad and apologetic if God forbid they want something for themselves. As Usha Aunty says in one scene:

‘Humara problem yeh hai ki hum sapne bahut dekhte hain.’ Our problem is that we dream too much.

I dream of a world where this isn’t a painfully accurate reflection of our society. Lipstick Under My Burkha is not to be missed.

Notes on panel discussions and ‘In Conversation’ sessions:

Virtual Reality And Filmmaking

A session hosted by the charismatic Shakun Batra on virtual reality and its implications and applications to storytelling, featuring panellists Gabo Arora – creative director at the UN, filmmaker Anand Gandhi and Raja Koduri – the man behind the VFX of the gargantuan Baahubali.

The discussion explored what exactly virtual reality is and the opportunities it offers the world of filmmaking, with words and phrases like ‘immersive’ and ‘you-are-physically-in-the-story’ being frequently thrown around. Although the panel repeatedly proclaimed, almost matter-of-factly, that VR is a game-changer and the definitive future of filmmaking, I remain unconvinced given the same was said years ago about IMAX and 3D, the hype behind which eventually fizzled out.

However, this is still no doubt a fascinating new dimension to the medium of cinema, and definitely one which all film buffs should be aware of.

Short film premiere – Neeraj Pandey’s Ouch

Ouch, the aptly titled comedy, starring Pooja Chopra and Manoj Bajpayee (who is fast becoming the face of the Indian short film) proved to be a fun little film on eloping relationships, which hinges on Bajpayee’s great comic timing and keeps you chuckling. Apart from some overpowering music and the slightly stretched narrative, it’s a refreshing change to the recent slew of short films made by mainstream filmmakers.

Director’s panel – In conversation with Zoya Akhtar, Vishal Bhardwaj, Gauri Shinde, Shoojit Sircar and Rohit Shetty

Undoubtedly the session one of the best sessions of the entire week! A pure cinematic delight, hosted by Anupama Chopra and Rajeev Masand, in their signature film-focused, yet light-hearted style. The energetic discussion covered their behaviours and demeanour on set, their relationship with failure as well as their approach to dealing with actors.  A few excerpts and fun facts from the session:

When asked what the best advice on filmmaking she ever received, Zoya Akhtar recalled something Mira Nair had told her about three things to never forget:

  • Always be true to the story you are telling
  • Never let go of your femininity in an effort to be the leader. You can wear  a skirt and lipstick and still be the boss
  • Never hook up with your actors.

Rohit Shetty was in full form and stole the show with his frank and direct answers. Although I don’t hold his brand of commercial potboiler cinema in high esteem at all, I couldn’t help but respect the man for his honesty which included stating that ‘Golmaal 2 was a crap film’, ‘The villain in Singham 2 just didn’t work’, and admitting that the love story arc of Dilwale grossly let the film down.

In Conversation With Cary Fukunaga

An insightful and fun-filled interview of the celebrated filmmaker Cary Fukunaga of True Detective (season 1) and Beasts of No Nation fame, hosted by Zoya Akhtar. Fukunaga discussed his career, schizophrenic film choices, and his preference for delving into different cultures in his films, not to mention the phenomenon of the “McConaissance, referring to the recent reinvention of Matthew McConaughey.


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