News Column

Mountains, movies and momos [Financial Express (India)]

November 3, 2013


It was a rather refreshing sight to see a tiny touristy heaven-wont to western backpackers sharing narrow, cobbled street space with Tibetan Buddhist monks-turn filmi. Banners and posters dotted every nook and corner of the landscape as much as the colourful prayer flags blowing Om mani padme hum to early wintry winds. Mediapersons jostled for space with local craftsmen and souvenir sellers, hobnobbing with the huge crowd of filmmakers, critics and movie aficionados that had flocked in from around the world only to get a taste of the best of global indie cinema.

For four days-from October 24 to 27-Mcleodganj, the seat of the Tibetan government in exile and home to the Dalai Lama, turned into a veritable platform for movie lovers as it played host to the second edition of the Dharamshala International Film Festival (DIFF). On offer was a bouquet of over 30 contemporary works that included feature films, documentaries and short movies.

When this correspondent visited the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA)-one of the two venues for the festival-a group of students swarmed the tiny auditorium, leaving barely any room for movement. For the youngsters, though, comfort seemed to be the last priority, as they put their heart and soul into the movie. When Jabya, a Dalit teen and protagonist of Marathi film, Fandry, laments his stunning poverty that prevents him from expressing his feelings to his long-cherished love, Shalu, the students nodded in silent appreciation. Apart from the age factor, the young audience found an immediate connect, albeit remotely, to Jabya's predicament-that of a missed opportunity, in their case, a platform to watch good cinema in the absence of a movie theatre in Mcleodganj.

"What set the festival apart this year was the reserved seating arrangement for about 100 students from the Dharamshala Institute of Education and Training. Last year, the invitations were limited and it was, primarily, a paid-ticket system," said Prabhu S Singh, 29, an IT professional, who worked as a box-office volunteer during the festival.

Outside the auditorium, the atmosphere bore resemblance to a mini fair. Stalls selling food items and souvenirs surrounded the open-air courtyard of the TIPA, with some NGOs displaying just about anything from dolls to handicraft items and woollen shawls made by their members. Young nuns sold carrot cakes and apple pies, and in the background, melodic Tibetan songs and prayer hymns provided company to visitors. "It's the perfect setting for independent filmmakers to showcase their work. Mcleodganj holds tremendous potential for a culture of filmmaking, as it is a prominent place on the global tourist map," said Avijit Mukul Kishore, director of To Let The World In, a two-volume film project that looks at a significant period in the history of contemporary Indian art from the early 1980s to the present day, featuring the work of two generations of visual artists.

Agreeing with Kishore's viewpoint, filmmaker Anand Patwardhan said: "The film festival is a good thing to happen to the people of Mcleodganj. It's like their window to a new world. Apart from a few infrastructural issues, like the lack of a good auditorium and sound system, the Dharamshala festival has been wonderful. Of course, these are minor things and, hopefully, the festival will get better in times to come." Patvardhan is the director of the acclaimed film, Jai Bhim Comrade (2011), which was shot over 14 years and follows the music and tradition of reason that Vilas Ghogre-a leftist poet who hung himself in protest against a Mumbai police firing incident of 1997-had been a part of.

While the schedule allowed two films to be screened simultaneously at the two venues-TIPA and the government-owned Clubhouse-it also meant that viewers had to make a choice between films, sometimes missing one great movie for another. That, however, was compensated, rather pleasantly, by the scenic locales they had to pass by while covering the two places, not to forget the multi-cuisine cafes and restaurants that offered what the area is famous for-Tibetan food and beverages, from piping hot thukpas to steaming stuffed momos.

DIFF was the dream project of documentary maker Ritu Sarin, who along with her filmmaker husband Tenzing Sonam, wanted to bring alive the magic of cinema in the Himalayan region. "Our main intention was to hold an independent film festival outside the metros. We wanted to have an intimate event, not too huge, but one that enriches viewers' experience about different societies and cultures," said Sarin.

Like the first DIFF held last year, this year's edition continued to create a cultural space for the local population apart from showcasing the best of Indian and world cinema. "This year, we have had filmmakers coming from all around the world presenting a selection of films, which have rarely been shown in India," said Sarin, adding: "An exciting feature this year was the 'Art and Film' section, which brought a selection of acclaimed art films in collaboration with our main partner, Vienna-based Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary Foundation (TBA21), to India for the first time. Apart from India's burgeoning indie films, documentaries and international features, a special sidebar at this year's DIFF was the showcase of the best of recent short films from India curated by noted Indian filmmaker Umesh Vinayak Kulkarni."

While Ritesh Batra's highly acclaimed The Lunchbox opened the festival, other notable screenings that marked the festival were Nagraj Manjule's Fandry, Nitin Kakkar's Filmistaan, Sange Dorjee Thongdok's Crossing Bridges, Richie Mehta's Siddharth and Q's Tasher Desh. There was Oscar flavour too, as this year's documentary selection represented some of the most powerful films that featured in the Director's Cut section like Joshuah Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing and Mike Lerner's and Maxim Pozdorovkin's Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer. Interactions were an important part of the fest and filmmakers like Amit Virmani, Nishtha Jain, Nitin Kakkar, Avijit Mukul Kishore, Anand Patvardhan and Guneet Monga made themselves available to the media and viewers alike.


Some indie films that created a buzz at the DIFF this year:

Gulabi Gang (2012)

Director: Nishtha Jain

The 96-minute film is about the unusual pink sari-clad women of the 'Gulabi Gang', who use words as weapons-demanding their rights, submitting petitions and haranguing corrupt officials-in Bundelkhand in central India, a region notorious for its rebels-turned-armed-bandits.

Watermark (2013)

Director: Jennifer Baichwal &

Edward Burtynsky

A feature documentary film from Canada that brings together stories about our relationship with water-how we are drawn to it, what we learn from it, how we use it and the consequences of that use.

Filmistaan (2013)

Director: Nitin Kakkar

Filmistaan is the tale of an aspiring Indian actor who is abducted and meets a Pakistani who smuggles pirated Hindi movies. The film bagged the Best Feature Film in Hindi at the 60th National Film Awards 2012.

Kunal Doley

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