Film Space

What are films? Or rather, what is the function of films? The common-sense understanding of contemporary audiences, who are all-too-willing to consume films “dimaag side mein rakh ke”, is that films provide entertainment. At Do Din the function of films was envisioned to be something quite different. More important than the function of the films screened at Do Din was their form. It was an exhibition of films in diverse forms. These included experimental short-films, short & long documentaries and short animated films. Another important property of these films is their content. There were portrayals of spectacular state violence alongside films showing normalized everyday violence. But there were also portrayals of quotidian existence and modes of survival therein. The films, through their experiment with forms and alternative contents, brought out the immutable complexities of the everyday city. Labelling these films as experimental, or alternative, insinuates that the function they wish to perform is something highly ambitious when in fact their function is really quite modest. They try to make the viewer think, to make that “dimaag” reflect.

The film festival at Do Din was curated by Sumanaspati Reddy and Madhumeeta Sinha. The following were the films screened (in alphabetical order): [Film Title – Director(s) (Length in minutes/Year of release/Language)]

Aakruti – B. Narsing Rao (13’/1989/No words)

AAKRUTI is about rock formations. Beautifully captured, it brings out Rao’s love for nature. It could pass the test of an international geography documentary. It won the Special Jury Award of the International Film Festival of India and also Silver Nandi Award in 1991. Rao says he owes his diverse talents to his rustic origins – the simplistic lifestyle of rural folk, the pristine nature around, the native influences, impressions and beliefs of people from the hinterland. In Telugu cinema circles, Rao is called ‘The Killer of Kitsch’, or one who goes against the tide.

Bottle Masala in Moile – Vaidehi Chitre (38’/2013/Marathi)

As owners of ancestral land in a city developing at an accelerated pace, the East Indian community of Bombay has found itself rapidly losing land to government and corporate forces that see their property as prime real estate.

For the community as a whole, especially in the urban areas, this has meant losing a valuable connection with the soil to which their culture is tied- the ‘story of us’. But for many, especially those in the rural areas like Dharavi Island this has also meant a threat to livelihood and customs, and consequently, as a small community, a threat to their very existence.

Bottle Masala in Moile’ focuses on some of this ‘story of us’. The film is divided into two thematically interconnected but dramatically discrete chapters. The first chapter, ‘Belly of the Whale,’ based in mainland Bombay, is a collection of individual stories loosely held together by a common thread – that of the experience of loss. The second chapter, ‘Eye of the Storm,’ is set in Dharavi Island, and is driven by the narrative of the community’s resistance movement against land acquisition. Although it is the second chapter in the film, in a sense, ‘Eye of the Storm’ is also a prequel to ‘Belly of the Whale,’ in that the people of the island are still struggling to maintain the vital connection with their land that the urban community has already lost.

Children of the Street – Ramesh Desai, T.Vishnuvardhan (7’/2004/Telugu, Hyderabadi)

The film ‘Children of the street’ was made in a short time as a training film by the media and communication students of the Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages, Hyderabad. T. Vishnu Vardhan, a student trainee who took an active lead in making this short documentary, spent about 2 months meeting and interacting with various street children across Hyderabad before capturing their story on the screen. Ramesh Desai with his brilliant camera work and overall production supervision presents the pleasures and perils of a street child in a poignant manner. The lack of voice-over narration in the film (a conscious decision) ensures that the children of the street speak for themselves.

Chronicles of a Temple Painter – Shravan Katikaneni (52’/2013/Hyderabadi + English subs)

On August 25th, 2007 a bomb blast at Gokul chat centre killed over 40 people in Hyderabad. Papalal, a Hindu temple painter rescued a four year old distraught Muslim girl. Since then he and his wife have taken care of her as their own daughter. This noble family’s world soon turned upside down. Muslim groups have been pressurizing that the child be handed over to a Muslim orphanage so she can be raised as a practicing Muslim, while the local Hindu groups are strongly opposing the idea of a Hindu family raising a Muslim girl.

The story of Papalal’s family is a disturbing account of the freedom with which religious chauvinism and bigotry operate in a country that has secularism for an ideal. It shows how humanism and tolerance – the very qualities required to overcome communal discord and strife – rather than being nurtured, are in danger of being subverted. But through all these accounts of hardship, ultimately this is an inspiring tale of humanity, harmony and hope.

City on the Water – Charles Correa (17’/1975/ English)

This film, written and directed by Charles Correa and photographed by Purush Baokar, is a cinematic meditation on images that we take for granted, but never tire of. The milling crowds at Bombay VT station (it was Bombay VT then); the lashing monsoon waves at Marine Drive and Worli Seaface, with children reveling in the splash; the cliched-but-ever-energetic image of the crowds on busy south Bombay roads along with archival footage from 1950s films on Bombay, which were much recycled in many FD documentaries. That is what iconic images are for anyway!

It is fascinating to watch this film so many years after it was made, with the awareness of the present-day realities of Bombay and New Bombay. The film forces us to reflect on the ever-changing and sometimes never-changing aspects of metropolitan life.

Cutting off a Lifeline – Saraswati Kavula (63’/2007/Hyderabadi, Telugu, English)

The city of Hyderabad was born on the banks of the River Musi. However, today, Musi has been relegated to history books by the people of the city. Little do they realize the importance of this Lifeline of Hyderabad.

‘Cutting off a Lifeline’, especially made for the people of Hyderabad, brings back to the conscience of the city that this “murky” river (as they call it now) still continues to provide life for thousands of rural folk. The film tries to pose certain important questions we need to ask ourselves regarding our perceptions of urbanisation, our demands as city-dwellers, which impact thousands if not millions of lives in the rural areas.

It also portrays the callous attitude of the planners, bureaucrats who seem to think of the urban and rural poor as non-entities. All in all, a lifeline has been turned into a tool of death and disease.

Gaialogue – Uma Magal (3.30’/2010/Music)

Uma Magal filmed her friend, artist Preetha Kannan, paint abstract forest-scapes in a gritty space in the suburban industrial ghetto of Navi Mumbai, two floors above a metal works factory. The process of filming sparked a journey. It grew from the initial idea of showcasing the evident irony of such contrast in a singular space, to a larger rumination on co-existence and balance between nature, art and “development”.

Hyderabad: A Place in the Heart – Zafar Hai (15’/1993/Hyderabadi, English)

Hyderabad- A Place in the heart is an insider’s view of the old Nawabi culture of Hyderabad going back to the splendour of the 1920s and ’30s. The film attempts to evoke the essence of that culture through photographs of the period and unique shots of decaying yet unchanged interiors and customs that still retain the old Hyderabad flavour.

I Ranu Gayen – Shyamal Karmakar (10’/2002/No Dialogue)

I Ranu Gayen’ is a film that portrays a post-modern yet surreal account of an urban woman, Ranu Gayen, within a crumbling space defined by four walls. An over-sized ugly fish, her favorite pet, lives in a small bowl and she has a phone that keeps her in touch with the outside world. Suddenly the bowl topples, leaving the fish gasping for oxygen. There is no water around except a couple of frozen mineral water bottles! She has to save her fish.

Kya Hua Is Shehar Ko?Deepa Dhanraj (90’/1986/Dakhani & Telugu + English subs)

A pioneering political work of contemporary relevance: Communal violence between Hindus and Muslims in 1984 forms the starting point for this film, whose complexity lends it immense political force. The film’s historical perspective is provided thorough commentary, which gives the camera’s particular presence the necessary depth and complexity. The mechanisms of political power struggles, the dynamics among those that hold powe, and the instrumentalisation of economic relations and urban poverty make for a striking analysis, uniquely anticipating the subsequent development of communalist conflicts and the politics of marginalisation. The immediacy achieved by filming as the violence is unfolding juxtaposed with calm observations of the devastating consequences of living one’s life during a state of emergency, imbues the film with respectful lyricism and contemplation that raises it far above the level of reportage.

New Improved Delhi – Vani Subramanian (6’/2003/English)

By the turn of the century, Edwin Lutyen’s vision of colonial grandeur had metamorphosed into a New Delhi of global aspirations. The city has begun to love its new robes. But the hands that created the transformation have been forgotten: the metropolis has no space for the poor and their slums. Delhi has been witness to a spate of slum demolitions but 2000-2001 was the worst ever. More than 15,000 shanties, home to about 100,000 people, were destroyed. Thousands left the city and countless others lost their livelihoods, so that the city could ‘reclaim’ 1.5% of the total urban area of New Delhi. A short work propelled by an acapella chorus, the film welcomes you to the capital city of India.

Paradox City – Saraswati Kavula  (39’/2006/Hyderabadi, Telugu, English)

Post 90′s Liberalisation has brought in many changes into Hyderabad. From its laid back lifestyle to a hectic one, from the cycle rickshaw and bicycles to i10s and Innovas…many things are different in the city…including the ever increasing traffic problems. Some blame it on the inherent indiscipline of the city while others blame it on the indifferent govt. agencies…but who will find a holistic solution that will finally bring order in the chaos? Are the solutions being offered by the authorities truly inclusive? Paradox City captures the spirit and mood of the City Traffic typical to Hyderabad with plenty of opportunity for laughter which at the same time looks beyond the obvious.

Platform No. 5 – C. Vanaja (26’/2010/Telugu, English)

The film is about three children living on the railway platforms – Wajid and his two friends. An economically independent and self-reliant childhood, free from school and home seems quite adventurous. Ideas about love, fear, respect and money picked up from movies and from the street may or may not be different from the other kids but some stark differences emerge in the course of the film. Their life is constantly threatened by the very elements that protect them today. Fun loving, easy going, happy-go-lucky Wajid and his friends reflect the lives of millions of such children who are looking at a future that is dangerous at best or ‘short’ at worst.

Q2P – Paromita Vohra (53’/2006/English, Hindi)

Q2P is a film about toilets and the city. It peers through the dream of Mumbai as a future Shanghai and searches for public toilets in Bombay with a small detour in Delhi, watching who has to queue to pee. As the film observes who has access to toilets and who doesn’t, we begin to also see the imagination of gender that underlies the city’s shape, the constantly shifting boundaries between public and private space; we learn of small acts of survival that people in the city’s bottom half cobble together and quixotic ideas of social change that thrive with mixed results; we hear the silence that surrounds toilets and sense how similar it is to the silence that surrounds inequality. The toilet becomes a riddle with many answers and some of those answers are questions – about gender, about class, about caste and most of all about space, urban development and the twisted myth of the global metropolis.

The City – B. Narsing Rao (100’/1987/Telugu. Hyderabadi, English)

This is a personal essay by the renowned filmmaker on his city, Hyderabad.

The Mall on top of my House – Aditi Chitre (5.5’/2006/No Dialogue)

The Mall On Top Of My House’ is an animated film that swiftly captures the repercussions of land reclamation in Bombay which have drastically altered the lives of its fishing community. Creating metaphorical locations and characters, the film revolves round a pale faced character who resides in a dark hole in the midst of a city choked with skyscrapers and ambitious plans of further ‘development’. Through his mundane daily routine and reminiscence, a calmer past of the city is revealed. Tracing the early appropriation of land for urban development, the viewer is brought back to the present to find even the dark hole residence of this character consumed by the city’s unrelenting tryst with ‘development’.

This Land is Mine – Nina Paley (3’35”/2013/English)

A quick animation film on the history of Palestine, Nina Paley’s new “potential-possible-maybe-feature film” project is Seder-Masochism, and she’s posted a clip called “This Land Is Mine,” which she envisions as the final scene of the movie. “This Land Is Mine” is a history of the Holy Land and all the blood spilled over the years by various parties who laid claim to it. Her web page for the short features a full cast of characters, with historical notes, and, of course, the wonderful video itself.

Thodi Si Zameen, Thoda Aasmaan – Shashi Ghosh Gupta (8’/2009/English)

Focusing on two men, a tailor and someone who repairs mattresses, the film unravels the economics of the streets. While these men are able to occupy some space on the streets to earn their livelihood, they face several obstacles. Frequent evictions, unreasonable and arbitrary extortions, even confiscation of their tools and products are an everyday threat. The larger question is, who do the streets belong to? And how is that negotiated?

Trip – Pramod Pati  (4’/1970/No dialogue)

Here is a film using techniques such as stop motion photography, pixellation and animation to interpret the city of Bombay in the seventies. The title ‘Trip’ bears overt suggestions of psychedelia. Psychedelic experiences are conventionally understood as extra-ordinary sensual experiences. By experimenting with methods of motion capture, in 4 minutes, this film transforms the ordinary city into a trip.

Where’s Sandra? – Paromita Vohra (18’/2011/English)

Where’s Sandra? If you saw her would you know her? Is she naughty or nice? And where is she, anyway? The film is a playful look at the figure of “Sandra from Bandra” – part covetous fantasy of the racy Christian girl from Bombay who works as a secretary, wears a dress and likes to dance; part condescending stereotype of a dowdy, religious girl from a minority community. The film searches for Sandra in Bollywood films, in the words of writers and poets and the stones in church graveyards. We encounter various claimants to the title – some who aren’t called Sandra and some who aren’t even from Bandra – until finally finding 5 women really called Sandra who are all as different from each other as can be even if they are a little bit the same.