IFFI 2019’s non-feature films tackle old, yet pertinent issues

IFFI 2019 held at Panjim in Goa through November 20th till November 28th witnessed a flurry of cinematic works, expressed through screenings, talks, discussions, workshops and exhibitions held all over the streets of India’s smallest state. The venues of International Film Festival of India were spread across INOX in Panjim, INOX at Porvorim, Maquinez Palace, Kala Academy, old GMC building and open air-screenings at Miramar Beach and Joggers Park in Altinho.
Of pertinent relevance to all at IFFI 2019 were screened a host of non-feature films that tackled issues seemingly traditional but which were vibrantly contemporary even today.  Look at IFFI’s Indian Panorama Section’s Opening Non-Feature Film Nooreh, produced, written and directed by Ashish Pandey that so deftly tackled the ever-relevant issue of Kashmir.

Armed conflict, in particular, and the rife between India and Pakistan has been documented over the years through films and across media. Since 1947, when the partition took place and Indian and Pakistan was carved out of a single sub-continent, the strife has been the bone of contention for both nations slugging it out in cricket matches and diplomatic channels.

The scrapping of Article 370 and Article 35 (A) of the Indian Constitution led to the formation of Ladakh and Kashmir as two union territories and Jammu as India’s newest state, in a clean sweep, slammed the brakes on the border strife. In Nooreh, an eight-year-old Kashmiri girl stops her loud studying and goes to sleep every night to the sound of distant firing. Each time, she opens her eyes, the firing stops abruptly prompting her to believe that she could control the conflict by staying up in the night. The 22-minute long drama film has Nooreh teasing an old woman anxiously waiting for her son’s arrival only to find him dead one day, victim to the violence in Kashmir. In another instance, she suddenly finds an Indian ‘mouchwale’ soldier she jocularly interacts with on her way to school every day, missing and replaced by another, leaving the audiences shocked.

It’s with extreme sensitivity that the director has etched out the character of Nooreh and her understanding of conflict and death. Nooreh, bent on putting an end to the violence, decides to stay up all night and ‘stop the firing.’ The secret to the peace along the border triggered by Nooreh’s sleepless nights is out in the open through a series of Chinese whispers spread among her friends and the film ends with one house after another, lighting up in the night spreading the message of peace across the village.

The other non-feature movies screened at IFFI included Jallikettu, Elephants Do Remember, Bahattar Hoorein, A Thankless Job, Bohubritta, Bridge and others.

‘Bohubritta (Circles)’ captures Swapna Dutta Deka’s poetry who also recites the poetry herself brings to the screen Assam’s rich tradition and heritage of tree and river worship. The film imaginatively depicts symbolic and nuanced versions of the poet’s words and pertinently processes the same to the viewer. On the film, Director Utpal Dutta says, “Usually, prose is used for making films. But, I took a poem and the images associated with it and tried to change the narrative. All the images in the film speak like a metaphor.”

‘A Thankless Job’, directed by Vicky Barmecha said his film followed the journey of a teacher who despite his hard work and sincerity isn’t really appreciated. “The teacher tries to do so much for the kids’ future and experiment in his teaching. But people around him keep trying to pull him down,” says Barmecha on the film that holds immense relevance on the concept of ‘guru’ even today.

Of the more pertinent films addressing age-old issues against contemporary times, special mention must be given to Hellaro, a distinctly relevant ‘feature’ film that translates into ‘Outburst’. The 2019 period drama film co-produced, co-written and directed by Abhishek Shah and is set in 1975 – the year of the infamous Emergency. “Emergency is synonymous with the lives of women,” feels Abhishek whose film speaks reams of the predicament of women in Kutch, their rights, the scourge of untouchability and the vagaries of hard-nosed patriarchy set in the deserts of Kutch. Tackling a concept as traditional as garba and applying it directly even ingeniously to depict the Indian female’s plight in a harsh patriarchal society; Hellaro comes as a whiff of fresh air. The audiences at IFFI were left spellbound by the sheer excellence of the script, the acting of the 13 female protagonists, the drama and the message that resonated loud and clear.

And then, there was ‘non-feature’ ‘Bahattar Hoorein (72 Virgins)’ directed by Sanjay Puran Singh Chauhan who said, “The film is about two persons, in search of 72 virgins in their after lives.” Incidentally, the director’s earlier movie ‘Lahore’ was banned in Pakistan but he plans to market this film in Pakistan, Gulf and every country that’s a victim of terrorism.

The concept of terrorism and promises of better after lives has been an old one yet truly relevant even today. The film Bahattar Hoorein tackles a subject that would be relevant across the ages.

At an extremists training facility, Bilal and Hakim are instructed that if they give their lives in the name of Allah, they will be rewarded with Bahattar Hoorain (72 virgins) in heaven. Following their terror attack on the Gateway of India in Mumbai, they are surprised to find themselves in a hospital where their spirits witness an autopsy being performed on their bodies and instead rot around for years on end. ‘Bahattar Hoorain’ is a dark comedy that puts forth the message that every human life should be treated with dignity and respect.

And then, there was another non-feature warranting special mention: Manju Borah’s ‘In the Land of Poison Women’ set in a remote part of Arunachal Pradesh and shot in Zemithang, locally known as Pangchen, the easternmost part of the country of the Indo-China border. Pangchen incidentally means a place where no sin is committed. Residents here include Buddhists and strictly vegetarian. They don’t even eat the fish in the river.  And, the dialect in the film Pangchenpa is spoken only by 5,000 people. The story here is of aboriginal people whose tales are universal and relevant to all.

IFFI 2019 was the 50th and true to its wont, the brightest hosted by Panjim, Goa. It were the non-feature film segments that screened works bold and contemporary by film-makers true to their craft speaking stories that feature film industry does not tackle. The stories are old, yet bold and of immense relevance till date.

A version of this article first appeared here.