Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Our Reality in Others’ Eyes
Driving Miss Selvi directed by Elisa Paloschi
Distance can lend a new reality to a film-maker’s view. So many fine films have been made by directors abroad on India and its problems, documentaries of strength and courage here. Eyes other than our own find and exalt these stories – another perspective, a keener poignancy.

Two Academy Awards and many short listed films figure in the record of recent times: set in India or with Indian themes. In 2005, Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman’s Born into Brothels: Calcutta's Red Light Kids won the Oscar for Best Documentary. Widely acclaimed thereafter, the film is about the children of commercial sex workers in Kolkata’s famed Sonagachi. Anand then 2011 was special. Smile Pinki, a 39-film directed by Emmy-nominated producer Megan Mylan won the Oscar of the Best Short Documentary. Set in Varanasi, in Hindi and Bhojpuri, it tells of six-year-old Pinky from Mirzapur who faces social ostracism and cannot attend school because of a cleft palate. She meets Pankaj, a social worker, who ensures that she gets free surgery. Pinki attended the Oscars, which shows the pint-sized protagonist yawning when seated among the glitzy gathering, and later nimbly climbing on stage to a huge ovation.

Another film in 2011 shortlisted in the same category was The Final Inch by Irene Taylor Brodsky and Tom Grant. It dealt with Muhammad Gulzar's battle against polio. The story highlights India’s efforts to eradicate polio.

The Toronto International Film festival in particular looks out for films on social issues. In 2010, it featured Sarah McCarthy’s heart-wrenching Sound of Mumbai: A Musical, on the city’s slum kids recruited to provide a performance of the Rogers & Hammerstein score alongside the Bombay Chamber Orchestra. The same year, Toronto World premiered Kim Longinotto’s powerful Pink Saris, on Sampat Pal Devi, the leader of the 'Pink Gang.' She brings her own brand of justice to the streets of Uttar Pradesh, combating violence against women.

In 2013, the Berlinale’s Panorama Audience Award went to the same director’s poignant bio-pic, Salma. A woman defies her village in Chennai to become a legend as activist, politician and poet.

In 2014, one more human interest story is biding its time to take India to world screens. This is Driving Miss Selvi directed by Canada-based Elisa Paloschi. Her inspiring film tells of courage and spirit.

Set in Karnataka, South India, Driving With Selvi follows the brave Selvi through a nine-year transformation as she discovers her personal power, helped by a citizen group . At age 27, Selvi has endured many hardships. An impoverished child, she was a victim of the society she inherited. Forced to marry when 14, she endured abuse, exploitation and discrimination. Instead of giving in, Selvi decided to end her abusive marriage.

She starts her own taxi company and becomes Karnataka’s first female taxi driver, working for a medical outreach organisation, getting her license to drive a passenger bus, becoming a wife again and eventually a mother. It is her unwavering spirit and character that push her through to finding a second chance in life and love.

Through Selvi’s eyes, the audience is taken on an intimate journey, perhaps even a familiar one, of healing, overcoming obstacles and fulfilling a dream.

Meeting the velvet-skinned, beaming Selvi at a documentary pitching event in Mumbai in early in 2014, winning hearts with her stunning sparkling smile, an onlooker says that if she wanted another career it could be as a model for toothpaste. When asked if she ever thought of redressal of past injustice Selvi, now 27, replies with maturity and grace, “That is all over. I am happy now”.

Elisa Paloschi spent ten years on the inspirational Driving With Selvi. It is currently at fine cut stage and should be ready late 2014 / early 2015. Elisa is currently raising completion funds through the Indiegogo crowd-funding platform: http://igg.me/at/drivingwithselvi.

Courtesy: http://thecitizen.in/ - India's first independent on-line daily which was launched on January 27, 2014.reproducing Uma da Cunha's column 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Farhan Akhtar Centrestage

Farhan Akhtar Centrestage

Thu July 31, 2014

Director/actor/lyricist/singer Farhan Akhtar was the prime attraction at Cary Sawhney’s 5th London Indian Film Festival (LIFF) held July 10 to 17. LIFF presented a sold-out, fan-filled “Farhan Akhtar Screen Talk ” moderated by perfect foil Nick James, the genial editor of the esteemed journal, Sight and Sound. Farhan captivated the audience from the word go. There is no trace of stardom in the way he presents himself. He dresses simple, talks straight and has an amazing aptitude for fun, the double take and the surprise move. Within that ready wit is a mind that works clear and targeted to his aspirations. Excerpts follow …

Early upbringing
Farhan said he was familiar with the movie scene from childhood because of his high-profile parents (Jaaved Akhtar and Honey Irani). In college he took commerce. “Big mistake”.

He preferred staying home watching movies. Until his irate mother said either he studied, worked or he could leave the house. “It’s amazing how well that motivation worked. Within a week I was working as an assistant director.” He recounted an instance when he had to hold the clapper board for a scene at a highly contorted angle very close to the actor’s body. When he shut the capper board, the actor said “Ouch!”. Poker-face, Farhan said he had chopped a bit of the actor’s anatomy “And it was not his nose”. The audience was in splits. Farhan went on to work in an advertising company called Script Shop. “That’s where I learnt a lot of what I used on my first film.”

Celebrated debut as director
Dil Chahta Hai (2001) starring Aamir Khan, Saif Ali Khan and Akshaye Khanna  was Farhan’s directorial debut. The film is on male bonding.  Its theme, he said, grew out of a 3-month  extended trip he made alone to the US  in 1996  . “I was 22 at the time.” ( “There – I’ve have given away my age!.”  Minutes later he said his sister Zoya was two years older than him . “Please don’t say I said so – you read it somewhere!”.)  He added that his experiences on this trip  in terms of freedom and friendship came into his first film.  The characters are a blend of people I know.”

There is a famous scene in the film where the three men remain silent, faces turned away, looking out  into an endless sea. “I wanted to convey the beauty of three people being comfortable with each other.” Farhan sees this as the power of silence between close friends. He still gets cards from others replicating this scene. The film also broaches a taboo subject: one among them, (Akshaye Khanna) defending his attraction towards an older woman who has alcohol problems (Dimple Kapadia) which leads to a rift.

Farhan established himself as a cult mainstream  director  with this film and his subsequent ones Don (2006)  a remake of the 1978 classic Amitabh Bachchan starrer which was co-written by Farhan’s father Javed Akhtar.  Farhan cast Shah Rukh Khan in the negative role as the gangster Don.  He said that he that and Shah Rukh were good friends and enjoyed playing the same gags. They often did the snake dance together. When asked to demonstrate Farhan immediately lay down on the stage floor and slithered his way …
He did the same through his 90-minute talk when asked to sing a song, recite poetry (he did this seriously and with fervor),  and rise to his feet to hug a two-year-old who kept saying “me, me,,me” and a male fan who he had inspired. Being game comes naturally to Farhan.

Acting debut as singer and star
In Rock On (2008), Farhan made his acting debut playing rockstar Aditya Shroff about a band that breaks up and gets together ten years later.  “The film really is about how when people connect with something they love (in this case music), no matter where they go or what they do, they will eventually end up connecting with it again, Because their passion for something which they had created together is so strong.” The director Abhishek Kapoor had no idea that Farhan played the guitar or that he sang.”  One jamming session settled that score. Farhan then acted in films that introduced his sister Zoya as another forward-thinking director. In Luck By Chance he played the emotionally adrift, exploitative young Bollywood director . Farhan’s next was Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara  acting as the quirky poet Imraan  for which he was highly lauded.

Farhan’s crowning success as actor is the recent Bhag Milkha Bhag. “When I met Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra I could see that he wanted to share his love for Milkhaji’s story  with people. That really did motivate me. And when I met Milkhaji, he told me everything that went on in his life.” Farhan modestly added that reassuringly, all through the shoot, he felt that both Rakyesh and Milkhji felt that they had not made a bad decision in casting him. “That really kept me going and I don’t regret one single day of anything that I did on that film.”

The film scene today
Rounding up his exhilarating talk, Farhan said,  “I  don’t see my kind of films as ‘parallel’ or ‘new wave’ – they are actually part of  Bollywood mainstream.”  He added that Indian filmmakers should be bolder in bringing taboo topics to the big screen. “There’s a kind of  strange system of censorship, of not thinking about certain things as topics for film; ‘Our film may not get a release, so let’s not bother. Courage is the most important thing that filmmakers and writers need to have. New filmmakers want to tell stories that are more in tune with who they are – as opposed to what it is people want to see.”
Credited with bringing a new sensibility to Bollywood, creating more realistic and engaging storylines and taking more chances on challenging audiences, Farhan  concluded by saying that has several themes as subjects to write about, that he would continue to act, and that direction remained his primary love.

Courtesy: http://thecitizen.in/ - India's first independent on-line daily which was launched on January 27, 2014.reproducing Uma da Cunha's column

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Mexico International Film Festival

2014 Silver Palm Award Winners
Feature Film Competition
Butterfly Dreams directed by Venkat Krishnan
Chambers Gate directed by Charles Ross & Mukesh Asopa
Antaraal (veiled) directed by Benoy Mitra