Applause, Konkona’s A Death in the Gunj and Familial Dramas

(An edited version of this was published in The New Indian Express)

What is it about film festivals that forces from everyone an applause no matter the quality of the film? Is the film great just by virtue of being part of a film festival? Everyone tiredly, cautiously, reluctantly, readily breaks into an applause after every screening. But when they come out you see the frowns, the tiredness, the that-movie-was-clueless signs all the same. Does the audience think – humor me a for a moment here – that maybe I did not get this film but others probably did, at least it seems to have deserved a spot in the World Cinema section here, right?  Does that mean the regular films that release every Friday and the finest among them don’t receive an applause? We hardly see them. Film festivals are where fun translates to responsibility. So how skeptical must one be about the reviews that state – so and so received a ten minute standing ovation in so and so festival? Your guess is as good as mine.

The 18th Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival has a new award this year called Oxfam India Award For ‘Best Film On Gender Equality’. The Indian films screened at the festival will fight it out for this award and a number of films seem to be tailor made for it this time. There is Alankrita Shrivastava’s Lipstick Under My Burkha, produced by Prakash Jha and starring Konkona Sensharma, Ratna Pathak and Aahana Kumra. There is also Akshay Singh’s Pinky Beauty Parlour that deals with our country’s obsession with fair skin. But even outside of these ground rules, the festival this time has a lot to cheer about. The opening film was Konkona Sensharma’s directorial debut, A Death in the Gunj, a drama around family reunion set soon after the Emergency. Konkona’s hold on the medium is razor tight and she seems a natural born filmmaker (duh!), great in detailing both of the minute and larger variety. It has visual flair, great character playoffs and an always clear and present danger even in the familial setting. It may lack that emotional connect due to mostly English dialogs (which is understandable and not really out of place) but a solid opening film nonetheless.

But the opening film in MAMI is never really the opening film. Films begin in the morning but the opening film is always later in the day at a bigger screen. My own opening film was another one with a woman at the helm – Kelly Reichardt’s aptly titled Certain Women. Certain Women takes its time to get going but the framing, the performances and the vast nothingness of Montana hold you in longer. Reichardt is nonchalant in taking you through the motions, the mundane passage of time in the lives of three women. Loneliness takes a fashionable form in Reichardt’s Certain Women. Are Hirokazu Koreeda and Asghar Farhadi related? Does one playfully say to the other – my brother from another mother? Koreeda’s After the Storm and Farhadi’s The Salesman will form a fascinating pair and possibly the most compelling two films of the festival. And it is only second day. Both deal with class and family issues. Both boast of two of the best screenplays at the festival this year. Both have strong women and a marriage in trouble or on the verge of trouble. Both are steeped in the culture of their origin and yet manage to speak to the rest of the world. Now that’s world cinema right?

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