From the Bake Off to Benares…

Chan­nel 4 streams its In­dian film sea­son for the first time. Plus, more In­dian picks from Ama­zon and Fes­ti­val Scope

The Observer - The New Review - - Film - Guy Lodge

All 4, Chan­nel 4’s stream­ing and catch-up ser­vice, is not a re­source I use as of­ten as I should, at least when it comes to sourc­ing highlights for this col­umn. That’s partly be­cause some of their most sur­pris­ing of­fer­ings are rather ob­scurely folded into the more typ­i­cal fab­ric of the brand: peo­ple are largely head­ing to All 4 for last week’s episode of The Great Bri­tish Bake Off, af­ter all, rather than any­thing more specialist in na­ture.

But film buffs have a rea­son to go dig­ging there this month, as for the first time, Chan­nel 4 is in­clud­ing the se­lec­tions from its an­nual In­dian film sea­son on the ser­vice for catch-up view­ing – a mercy for view­ers not in­clined to start watch­ing movies, how­ever worth­while they may be, at 1:30 on a week­day morn­ing. It gives clearer ac­cess to a col­lec­tion that pro­vides, as in years past, a pleas­ingly rounded sam­ple of mod­ern In­dian cin­ema, from Bol­ly­wood to its more in­de­pen­dent reaches.

On the fresher end of the spec­trum, and prob­a­bly the pick of this year’s pro­gramme, is Masaan, a class-con­scious en­sem­ble ro­mance that won first-time di­rec­tor Neeraj Ghay­wan a new gen­er­a­tion award at 2015’s Cannes film fes­ti­val. A more sober spin on a tra­di­tional Bol­ly­wood melo­drama, the film’s script en­twines the crises of two pairs of young lovers whose ro­mance is thwarted by so­cial pres­sures and caste dif­fer­ence. Vividly set in the holy city of Benares, it uses some­what con­ser­va­tive sto­ry­telling to ad­vance more lib­eral mil­len­nial val­ues, earnestly re­flect­ing a so­ci­ety in flux.

Two more se­lec­tions from the past cou­ple of years, Ra­jat Kapoor’s com­edy Ankhon Dekhi and Na­graj Man­jule’s caste sys­tem cri­tique Sairat, fur­ther prove the stylis­tic range and so­cial con­sci­en­tious­ness of con­tem­po­rary In­dian film­mak­ing. Chan­nel 4 bal­ances the scales with an irides­cent clas­sic: avail­able to stream from to­mor­row, Satya­jit Ray’s 1977 film The Chess Play­ers is a glo­ri­ous pe­riod wal­low set on the eve of the 1857 In­dian re­bel­lion, weav­ing chess strat­egy into its tan­gle of po­lit­i­cal ma­noeu­vrings be­tween the rul­ing nabob and a Bri­tish colonist in the king­dom of Awadh. Far from the earthy re­al­ism of his Apu tril­ogy, it’s perhaps Ray’s lush­est, most at­mo­spheric achieve­ment.

Stick­ing with the theme of po­lit­i­cal process – but mov­ing back to the present day, and switch­ing chan­nels to Ama­zon Prime – we have New­ton, In­dia’s charm­ing sub­mis­sion for last year’s best for­eign lan­guage film Os­car. It’s more a gen­tly needling com­edy than the pun­gent satire it would seem­ingly like to be, but there’s plenty to en­joy in its tale of a sweetly naive govern­ment of­fi­cial strug­gling to en­gi­neer a demo­cratic elec­tion in a re­mote, in­sur­gency-rad­dled jun­gle town with other mat­ters on its mind. It’s hope­ful and fret­ful at the some time, with a slight streak of Pre­ston Sturges in its makeup.

Fi­nally, while you’re on an In­dian cin­e­matic bent, you still have a few days left to stream a di­verse se­lec­tion of highlights from the re­cent Venice film fes­ti­val pro­gramme on Fes­ti­val Scope – among the most es­sen­tial of which is Soni, a ter­rific fem­i­nist drama tack­ling the sub­ject of sex­ual vi­o­lence against women with can­dour and care. Fol­low­ing two Delhi po­lice­women fac­ing thorny pro­fes­sional ob­sta­cles as they form an al­liance on the is­sue, it’s hard­edged, dis­tinctly non-Bol­ly­wood cin­ema for the #MeToo era. Seek it out this week.

Sh­weta Tri­pathi and Vicky Kaushal in Masaan. Chan­nel 4

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