Utpal Borpujari

October 2, 2008

A Film’s Journey: From Pune to Pusan

Rajesh Shera’s film that takes a look at post-tsunami life in the Andamans, leads the Indian charge at Pusan International Film Festival, finds Utpal Borpujari

Rajesh Shera is on cloud nine these days. And why shouldn’t he be – this Pune-based director’s debut film, shot in the Andamans and recalling the impact of the devastating tsunami through the story of an old teacher, will have pride of place in this year’s Pusan International Film Festival (PIFF) at Busan, South Korea.

Shera’s film, Ocean of an Old Man, will be showcased in the New Currents section of the festival as one of the six projects selected for the Independent Feature Post-production Fund of the highly-prestigious Asian Cinema Fund (ACF) programme, considered a recognition for best emerging talents from Asia.

In fact, India has hit it quit big this year in PIFF’s programmes to promote new talent. Delhi-based Jahar Kanungo’s Half Truth is one of the chosen seven in the ACF Script Development Fund, and Paris-based Partho Sen-Gupta’s Arunoday – The Sunrise has been selected for the sidebar Pusan Promotion Plan (PPP) that offers a platform to find funding and co-production opportunities to talented Asian filmmakers. Another Indian filmmaker, Ranu Ghosh’s documentary project Quarter No. 4/11 too has tasted success, having been chosen for the ACF’s DongSeo Asia Fund component.

Shera, an FTII alumni with a diploma in editing, will have the world premiere of his film, starring Tom Alter, at PIFF. And for a debutant director of a small film, it is quite an exposure that he would get, particularly as the festival has emerged as a focal point of those interested in Asian cinema worldwide. Quite naturally, Shera is excited, “

This has opened a big opportunity for me to explore the international scenario of filmmaking. And since it is a completion fund, I was able to complete the film.”
Ocean of an Old Man is the story of a school teacher in Andaman Islands, teaching kids from nearby islands in his school. As the devastating tsunami hits the archipelago, the school is rebuilt, but five students do not return. Where have they vanished, forms the crux of the story as it unfolds through the eyes of the teacher.

 

It is an original story conceived by me. We shot the film over 39 days in various locations in the Andaman islands. While the language of the film is Hindi, there is Nicobari too in the form of their folklore and traditional songs, and it has been done for the first time in the history of Indian feature films,” says Shera, whose visit after the 2004 tsunami and the first-hand witnessing of the agony of the people there laid the seed for the film.

Equally excited is Kanungo, whose first film Nisshabd – Reaching Silence (Bengali), had offered an interested treatise about modern-day man’s daily encounters with noise and their impact on his psychology. “The support from ACF will help me tremendously in developing my new film, as it will give me an opportunity to do all the research work and engage experts in the story board, engage a script editor, and also visit the likely locations on the basis of which the script is developed,” he says. Nisshabd was incidentally a part of PIFF’s competition section in 2005. The director, who developed the concept for Half Truth from a Bengali story he had written in a magazine called Digangan, says, “My story is about fiction and reality.  ‘Is fiction a manipulation of truth?’ is the question that I am trying to answer in this thriller.”

 

On the other hand, Sen-Gupta’s Arunoday is at a fairly well-developed stage, with Sudhir Mishra’s company Cine Raaz Entertainment roped in to be the producer. Sen-Gupta, whose first film Hava Aney dey (Let the Wind Blow, 2002), was made with the help of French Cultural Ministry’s fund Fonds Sud and had also got selected for PPP, says, “A selection into PPP gives my project a position in the ‘world cinema market’. I don’t have to tell anybody on the international world cinema scene that I am making a film, they already know because of this selection.” Incidentally, Hava Aney Dey, shown in 30 international festivals, was never released in India

because of censorship issues.
 

 

Like in his first film, for Arunoday too he drew from his experiences during “roaming around” in city streets at night. “The urban streets at night are amazing sources of stories. Once, I was sitting in a small shady bar in Mumbai, when I was approached by a man who said he could supply me with a sexual partner. I queried and discovered that there was a free and open market of underage children for sex. I went back home very troubled,” says Sen-Gupta, who himself had survived a kidnapping bid in Mumbai when he was six. “This traumatic event has stayed with me throughout my life, often reproducing itself in disturbing nightmares. I have often wondered what my life would have been like had I been abducted,” says Sen-Gupta, who is also developing another project that will be funded partly by Europe MEDIA fund and the Dutch Film Fund and produced by a Dutch producer.

But the India story at this year’s PIFF, being held from October two to ten, does not end here. The festival in its main sections will showcase quite a few Indian films across genres. While the  Window on Asian Cinema section will screen Nandita Das’ directorial debut Firaaq, Priyadarshan’s Kanjivaram and Santosh Sivan’s Tahaan, The Special Programme in Focus section comprises Anurag Kashyap’s animation film Return of Hanuman, another animation film Ghatotkach, the short-film compendium Mumbai Cutting and Hrithik Roshan-starrer special effects extravaganza Krrish. Quite a few documentaries from India are also being screened as part of the Wide Angle section.

 

 

(An abridged version of this article was published in Sakaal Times, www.sakaaltimes.com, 26-09-2008)

September 29, 2008

Shooting in J&K: Indian cinema’s love affair with the Valley

By Utpal Borpujari

The opening shot of Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Mission Kashmir probably depicted in the best way how the ties between Bollywood and the trouble-torn state snapped. As the screen lights up, we see the picutre postcard image of a shikara on an idyllic Dal lake – and then, suddenly, the shikara explodes, shattering the calmness.

Hindi films, as also some from southern India, have had alwasys captured Kashmir’s “heaven on earth” image – chinar-clad dales, rosy-cheeked dames, snowy-white mountains, et al.

In the 1960s, Kashmir was the place which the camera would instantly zoom onto as soon as the hero and the heroine felt like running around the trees and singing a ditty.

The highly-energetic Shammi Kapoor, whose “Yahoo” as he slid down the snowy slopes in Junglee (1961) created many a clone in the subsequent years – take Joy Mukherjee for example – whose films with similar love stories would be shot in Kashmir.

Sharmila Tagore, discovered by the great Satyajit Ray, got instant nationwide fame as the Kashmir Ki Kali (1964), as she played the innocent Kashmiri girl role to the hilt. Films like Jaanwar, Jab Jab Phool Khile, Phir Wohi Dil Laya Hoon and Aarzoo reflected the fascination of filmmakers for Kashmir’s natural beauty, and countless filmmakers since then shot their films in the state.

But as militancy started in 1989, everything changed. For long years, nobody ventured into Kashmir to shoot a film, even if the storyline was based there. The most glaring example of this is Mani Ratnam’s superhit Tamil film Roja, which became an even bigger money-spinner when it got dubbed into Hindi. The film’s storyline emerges out of the situation in Kashmir, but not a single shot was taken there. Instead, Ratnam chose to shoot almost the entire film in Manali area of neighbouring Himachal Pradesh.

In fact, with the rise of militancy, not many filmmakers thought of even venturing near the state, preferring to rather follow the footsteps of Yash Chopra to shoot their songs and scenes in European and other exotic locales. And a few films with Kashmir as the backdrop, continued to be shot in other locations – Jahnu Barua’s under-production Butterfly Chase in Sikkim and Kunal Kohli’s Fanaa in far, far away Poland.

But now, some filmmakers have started returning, though they are no more depicting the innocent charm of the state. One way or the other, these films are to various degrees reflecting the current scenario of the state. Shoojit Sircar’s Yahan is an example of this. Though a mainstream film, it provided a realistic depiction of the situation there.

Other films partly shot in Kashmir include Chopra’s Mission Kashmir and Sanjiv Puri’s Agnipankh which had around 60 per cent of it shot in the state. From the South, Mohanlal-starrer Keerthi Chakra, a Malayalam and Tamil bilingual directed by former Army man Major Ravi, has been shot in Kashmir in recent years, as also the Kannada film Chaitrada Chandrama produced by Bhagyawathi Narayan.

Santosh Sivan’s Tahaan is a rare film which has been almost entirely shot in the state after a long gap, though he did not shoot it exactly in the Kashmir Valley, choosing Pahalgam in the larger Jammu region. Quite clearly, even though the J&K government website assures one that “Mumbai and Southern film shooting resumed in Kashmir, cinema business resumed in Srinagar”, filmmakers in general are not yet confident enough to return to there.

For the record, though the state government is making its best efforts to get the film shooting teams return to Kashmir, even hosting high-profile teams of producers and directors from Mumbai, only a few have actually shot their films there.

(An abridged version was published in Sakaal Times, www.sakaaltimes.com, 07-09-2008)

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