Films & Feni: A Day in the Life

Posted on November 27, 2009


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NOV 27, 2009 – LET IT NOT BE SAID THAT THE MEXICAN DIRECTOR known only by the mononym of Tao lacks a sense of humour. His entry, El Día, is nothing less than the longest navel-gazing exercise ever committed to film, and by the end, his camera actually gazes (in loving close-up) at the navel of the heroine, whose course-though-a-day the film charts. Just how does one describe this twee, pretentious, precious, but also daring and disturbing ode to the female force? Imagine the diary of a suicidal teenager, whose every heartbeat thrums with hypersensitive emotion, being recited in quavering singsong, or else imagine a distaff version of The Wall, with the lyrics being stripped of all the musical Sturm und Drang and reduced to mere words, broken-glass encapsulations of a life at the edge of living. I won’t say El Día is easy to endure – it definitely tests your passion (and patience) for self-indulgent poetry – but it’s unlikely you’ve seen anything even close to it.

EVERY EDITION OF THE FESTIVAL has its taint of scandal. This year, it’s the blacklisting of critic and film-writer Gautaman Bhaskaran, who was supposed to be part of the Panorama Feature Film Jury. The matter of contention is that the list of films was “leaked” to a web site, which quoted Bhaskaran’s name – as a result, he was not invited to the festival (as other members of the jury were). He was not provided accommodation, not allowed into the auditorium when the jury was introduced, and not even given press accreditation (which would have allowed him to watch films like the rest of us plebs). Bhaskaran says he’s covered IFFI for 20 years, and when Cannes and Venice extend invitations to him, he can’t see why he’s being “punished” here. With newspapers and television channels having picked up the story, it will be interesting to see what, if anything, happens.

FEW THINGS TWIST A CRITIC’S HEART as the accursed task of carping about an obvious labour of love, performed with passion (and obviously for very little payment) by a group of theatre folks, and with first-timers all around – from the cinematographer to the music director. But Makrand Deshpande’s Shahrukh Bola Khoobsurat Hai Tu never quite captures the whimsy needed to power the smallish story of a flower-seller smitten by SRK. Not quite a dark-side-of-showbiz saga like Main Madhuri Dixit Banna Chahti Hoon, not quite the lighthearted charmer the title promises, the film winds up frustratingly in between, saved only by some terrific performances.

ON THE OTHER HAND, Joseph Mathew-Varghese’s exquisitely atmospheric Bombay Summer could show our commercial Hindi filmmakers a thing or two – or three – about how the depiction of upper-class lives needn’t exclude the other, less-privileged sections of society. There are several hints of how this modest movie could have become a Bollywood blockbuster – the tease of a love triangle, or the struggling writer who, despite his collected composure, might just be wishing that his publishing-industry girlfriend were a tad less successful. But all pretence of narrative momentum is sacrificed at the altar of grace, a sense of free-floating being that few films manage to evoke. The have-not angle does become, at times, a tad awkward – especially as the focus remains the superb heroine (Tannishta Chatterjee) – but this is the sort of lived-in Bombay cinema we need more of. Just wondering – where do these films vanish after making the festival rounds? Isn’t this the very definition of a multiplex movie?

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