Business Standard

A flying start for debut Indian trio at TIFF 2021


From Mumbai to Delhi to Dubai to Toronto, punctuated by mandatory app downloads and Covid-19 tests, Ritwik Pareek finally turned up after a long and eventful journey only to find that he’d missed the world premiere of his debut film, Dug Dug, at the Toronto Internatio­nal Film Festival (TIFF).

But he was still walking on air hours after he landed, and not because of jet lag.

He was thrilled that his Hindi film had been picked as the warm-up act for the scifi extravagan­za Dune that has star billing at this year’s TIFF (September 9-18).

“Where your film opens really matters,” he said, adding, “TIFF was wonderful because they really loved the film. They believe it has that grand scale and they premiered it at IMAX just before Dune.”

Another Indian film at TIFF hobbled by Canada’s ban on direct flights from India was Paka (River of Blood), directed by Nithin Lukose and co-produced by Anurag Kashyap and Raj Rachakonda. Of the three, only the Us-based Rachakonda managed to get to TIFF for the Malayalam film’s world premiere. But Lukose is looking beyond the missed premiere. “TIFF is the perfect festival for our film, because it’s bridge cinema. It’s not just a festival film or a commercial film,” he said. “I think the exposure is going to help in the future also, in making films and maybe coming back to TIFF.”

This year, only three films from India made it to TIFF, among the world’s top fests and traditiona­lly a welcoming platform for Indian cinema. Screening along with Dug Dug and Paka was A Night of Knowing Nothing, a hybrid feature by Payal Kapadia that had won the best documentar­y award at Cannes. All three are directors’ debuts.

Cameron Bailey, artistic director and cohead of TIFF, said, “We’re always looking for discoverie­s and we have been able to find a number of debut feature filmmakers over the years but it is unusual that they would all be debut. That may reflect the fact that…we’re not fully back to where we usually are in terms of a normal release schedule in India and what’s available at internatio­nal festivals. But I’m very glad that we have the films that we do.”

The limited slate, however, shows off the expanse and depth of India’s young cinematic talent. “One of the year’s most electrifyi­ng debuts,” is how TIFF programmer Andrea Picard described Kapadia’s film. Pareek’s Dug Dug, a quirky satire on the power of religious faith, manages to splash a lush, bright palette over a sparse landscape near Jaipur in Rajasthan. The music by Salvage Audio Collective of Gully Boy fame complement­s both the slick montages and the sweeping panoramic shots. On the other hand, Paka, set in the naturally lush territory of Kerala’s Wayanad, delivers an intensely gripping portrait of a region and a river bearing the weight of a violent local feud.

The atmosphere in Paka is as heavy and menacing as it is light and absurd in Dug Dug. Yet, both filmmakers had returned to their respective ancestral places to shoot films based on local stories they had grown up with. “These are the stories I heard from my grandmothe­r — real events, real people and a real space, the river. It’s (Paka) a careful blend of reality and fiction,” Lukose said.

He is looking forward to taking Paka to festivals across Asia, Europe, the US and India, while exploring options for its commercial release.

The Bullet Baba temple near Jodhpur was the inspiratio­n for Dug Dug, which was financed by Pareek and his sister Prerna with help from their family. Pareek is as driven about the way forward. “I don’t want people to watch it on their phones. I want them to experience it in a theatre, maybe later on an OTT platform,” Pareek said.

Since 2005, when he started programmin­g Indian films for TIFF, Bailey has watched the landscape evolve. “One of the first things I did was to bring in more commercial films like Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna. We would also have the auteurs, from Bengal, and the Malayalam and Tamil films,” Bailey recalled. “What I’ve seen is that the divide between the big entertainm­ent-driven films and the more art house films is not so clear anymore. You’ve got commercial filmmakers, who are coming from the independen­t art house space, and some of the artistic films are more commercial.”

TIFF, the world’s largest public film festival with equally strong industry participat­ion, has been a happy hunting ground for young Indian directors. Most recently, Village Rockstars, the Assamese film directed by Rima Das, premiered in 2017 and subsequent­ly won the National Film Award in India for best feature film. It was also selected as India’s official entry for the Oscars, as was the Malayalam film Jallikattu, which premiered at TIFF two years ago. That would be a good script to follow.

 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India