Memories of Partition often reopen old wounds. The Punjabi film Qissa: The Tale Of A Lonely Ghost narrates the story of Umber Singh, a displaced Sikh who attempts to forge a new life in Indian Punjab. Traumatized by the loss of his home and identity, Umber, played by Irrfan Khan, raises his fourth daughter as a son.

“It’s an attempt to try and understand this fatal violence and to look into the inner consciousness of a refugee like Umber," says director Anup Singh. “The film also seeks to investigate the desire and power of men to ‘remake’ women as they like," he adds.

Qissa will be screened on Sunday during the 10th Habitat Film Festival, which opens in the Capital on Friday. In all, 48 films in 13 languages will be featured—including Assamese, Punjabi, Kashmiri, Manipuri and Bengali.

The festival will open with Shonali Bose’s Margarita, With A Straw (Hindi/English) and Teen Kahon (Bengali), directed by Bauddhayan Mukherji. The other films include Marana Dandane (Kannada), Bey Yaar (Gujarati), Shukha Asuchi (Oriya), Elizabeth Ekadashi (Marathi), Ottal (Malayalam), Punjab 1984 (Punjabi) and Adomya (Assamese).

“In the last 10 years, we have seen Indian cinema, especially regional cinema, going places. Young directors are not afraid to experiment with unconventional topics and innovative narrations," says Vidyun Singh, programme director at the India Habitat Centre, the festival venue.

For instance, Kashmiri film Quolf by Ali Emran is woven around the idea of “Kashmiriyat"—a belief in peace flowing from within, he says. “The biggest challenge was to put across the spiritual message, as spiritual movies don’t find many viewers in India," he adds.

On 9 May, there will be a retrospective of actor-director Kamal Haasan’s work. It will open with an interaction between the actor and Ira Bhaskar, professor of cinema studies and dean, School of Arts and Aesthetics at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, followed by a screening of Vishwaroopam (Tamil/Hindi).

There will also be a panel discussion on “Single Screens: Are They Delhi’s Heritage?" with Danish Iqbal, theatre and radio artiste, Dipa Chaudhuri, editor-in-chief of Om Books International, and Ziya Us Salam, film and literary critic.

“Festivals like this encourage regional film-makers and the audience to watch films that they would not otherwise," says Vidyun Singh. “Some of the regional films are made by first-time directors."

Take Wanglen Khundongbam, for instance. His first Manipuri film, Pallefam, revolves around a young man who shuttles between the polarities of two different lives: a successful life and a poverty-stricken one. “Regional cinema needs a strong platform to reach people. After all, what is a movie without an audience?" asks Khundongbam.

The 10th Habitat Film Festival is onfrom 8-17 May, at the India Habitat Centre, Lodi Road. Timings vary. Click here for the complete schedule and details.

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