(An edited version of this was published in Silverscreen)
More snatches of conversation on Day 2. The list of films at Mumbai Film Festival is quite exquisite and unprecedented this time. Major players from Cannes, Berlin, Venice and Locarno are here. So we have people going in with that notion on their minds, that they are watching prestigious award winners. Two women walk out of Mina Walking praising it to the skies. And end the conversation wondering how The Assassin, the director winner in Cannes, was so boring. One of them slept through it. “How did this win the Best Director at Cannes?” was the unanswerable question. That brings us to the eternal conundrum of what determines a reaction to a film? We walk into a film in different moods and different preconceived notions. Those are instrumental in developing our response to any work of art. This is especially stark in a film festival. You have schedule clashes. Screenings get cancelled or postponed. You travel from one part of the city to another in the October heat of Mumbai. At MAMI, they are quite strict about the “show up for the screening 15 minutes before” rule. There were queues (for those who hadn’t reserved seats) from 10 AM for the screening of Jafar Panahi’s Taxi. I had a booked seat and was driven away because I reached at 11:02. Oh well! I had to settle for Mina Walking, a documentary style feature by Yosaf Baraki, on a week in a 12 year old girl’s life in Kabul taking care of the house, her father and grandfather. Now is it fair on Baraki if I write about his film that is something I “settled for”? Or it doesn’t matter because even the ones who chose to walk into Mina Walking had their own set of dispositions?
Gurvinder Singh’s Chauthi Koot (The Fourth Direction) is something I wanted to watch. Chauthi Koot was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at this year’s Cannes and this was its India premiere. You may fault Chauthi Koot for a few things but what you can’t deny is its atmosphere. There is fear and a reluctance to trust hovering over the film – set in Punjab of the 80s – from start to the end. It’s presented as what is effectively a frame narrative. Singh films a brisk walk that is really a sprint of two friends trying to catch the last passenger train to Amritsar. The guard in the last train that is supposed to travel empty doesn’t trust the group wanting to make the journey in these desperate times. Joginder doesn’t trust a man and his wife who have lost their way searching for their relative’s house. The policemen don’t trust Joginder. Joginder doesn’t trust himself and gives in to his fear and paranoia when he’s had enough. Chauthi Koot is not an easy film to watch but it makes one hell of a point.
While death and violence are under an invisibility cloak in Chauthi Koot, Raam Reddy’s Kannada film Thithi – winner of two awards at Locarno and having its Asia premiere here – celebrates death in ways you won’t imagine. It doesn’t shy away from it with the very gala being the title. Century Gowda, introduced in a you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it fashion in the first scene, drops dead. His son Gaddappa when informed of this news says, “It’s fine. No big deal.” That’s also the approach director Raam Reddy and his writer Eregowda incorporate towards their film. The actors are all common folk from Eragowda’s village and Reddy described how the crew worked around them to bring this magic on screen. No wonder it is so natural. The joy in Thithi are in the little things – the women characters from a bar owner masquerading as a loan shark to the one who keeps her husband under her thumb, a group of shepherd nomads rivalling only Karna in their hospitality, a charming love story that could be a film of its own and the man who is at the thithi only for the meat. The writing in Thithi is so organic that one set of detail neatly dovetails into another – the way Gaddappa is found during the thithi function, the husband of the aforementioned woman being a little too hospitable to the land buyers. Thithi reminds you a lot of Manikandan’s Kaaka Muttai in its characters and their infectious warmth. And if a similar kind of release and publicity is provided it may very well match that reception.