Berlin: It is an exciting year for India at the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival, with five films in various sections. The festival runs 7-17 February. And it’s great to be back! It’s about my 15th year as India consultant to the Berlin Film Festival. In my first year, Mani Ratnam had just sent his Dil Se, which was translated as von Herzen, or From the Heart. What happens at Berlin is that it is usually cold—currently 4 degrees centigrade and the forecast is minus 6 by Sunday—so you keep rubbing your hands briskly, and the warmth generated kind of rubs off into a gesture of anticipation as well.
Five films in the festival is quite a coup for India, as the event receives an estimated 8,000 film entries from all over the world, and every section of the festival is fiercely contested. This time, there were 171 entries from India.
India has no film in the competition section. However, the Indian films selected include Abhishek Kapoor’s Kai Po Che (Brothers... For Life) in the panorama section. There are three superb documentaries in the International Forum of New Cinema—Sourav Sarangi’s Moddhikhane Char (Char... The No Man’s Island), Fahad Mustafa and Deepti Kakkar’s Powerless, and Deepa Dhanraj’s Kya Hua is Shahar Ko? (What Happened to this City?). And there’s the short film Sonyacha Amba (The Golden Mango) by Govinda Raju, a Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) student in the Generation K Plus section for children and young adults. The competition, panorama and generation sections are part of the official selection; the forum is the highly prized, cutting edge, parallel section of the festival.
There are two more British films drawing attention to India this year. The first is Salma, a documentary by well-known British director Kim Longinotto, set in Tamil Nadu, that was also at the Sundance film festival. And Jadoo (Magic) by Amit Gupta, in a most intriguing section called Kulinarisches Kino (KuKi, the insiders call it)—culinary cinema/film and food, which celebrates the delightful idea of pairing films with cuisines, and explores food, relationships and the environment.
Kai Po Che, adapted from Chetan Bhagat’s bestseller The 3 Mistakes of My Life, is directed by Abhishek Kapoor, who earlier directed Rock On!! The film, set in Gujarat, is about three friends who set up a cricket training academy, and whose friendship is both celebrated and severely tested. It stars Raj Kumar Yadav, Sushant Singh Rajput, Amit Sadh and Amrita Puri in key roles, with music by Amit Trivedi.
Sourav Sarangi’s Moddhikhane Char is a powerful documentary about Rubel, a young boy, who lives in the Char—a series of crumbly islands that keep forming and dissolving—in the river between India and Bangladesh, that raises complex issues of home, nation, identity and child labour, while swaying delicately between despair and hope.
Fahad Mustafa and Deepti Kakkar’s documentary Powerless, focuses on a Robin Hood-like chap in Kanpur, who steals electricity to keep homes and small businesses going in the face of endless power cuts.
Deepa Dhanraj’s Kya Hua is Shahar Ko? is an incisive political documentary of 1986, exploring communal violence and Hindu-Muslim relations during the 1984 riots in Hyderabad. The film is in the Forum Expanded section. It has been digitised and restored, and is being tributed with a special screening for the first time in 27 years, as part of the Living Archive project of the Arsenal Institute for Film and Video Art. A DVD of the film, including additional historical and contemporary material, is due for release in June this year.
Sonyacha Amba by Govinda Raju, is a short film that flits between reality and dreams, about a small boy fantasising about eating a golden mango, that gets the adults all suspicious.
Salma by Kim Longinotto focuses on Salma, a Tamilian Muslim woman, who was locked up in a room for several years, first by her family and later by her husband. Eventually, she escapes her shackles to become a published poet and politician.
Amit Gupta’s Jadoo is about how it takes a business rival and a daughter’s wedding to re-unite two feuding restaurant-owning brothers. The film features Amara Karan, Harish Patel, Kulvinder Ghir and Madhur Jaffrey. The film screening will be followed by dinner with a menu by Michelin-star chef Tim Raue. I’m surprised that the idea of pairing films and food hasn’t caught on big time in India. I know Reliance Big Cinemas’ plans included a ‘Cine Diner’ at R City Mall in Ghatkopar, a Mumbai suburb, a theatre-cum-diner where guests could watch movies while dining—which is not nearly the same thing, of course. But they were convinced that Gujarati money power and food addiction were an explosive combination; I wonder if the idea ever really took off.
Meenakshi Shedde is India Consultant to the Berlin and Dubai International Film Festivals and curator to festivals worldwide. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.