Friday, September 5, 2014




Fri, Sept 5, 2014


Two films old. Her debut feature Amu had a world premiere at the Berlinale 2005. Then Toronto, Los Angeles and a lot elsewhere, awards all the way. Her second, Margarita, With A Straw, is also being world premiered at TIFF 2014. Next, to Busan and the BFI London – with others waiting.

What makes Shonali Bose the kind of filmmaker that she is? You have only to know her work or the lady herself. Humanity calls irresistibly for her understanding and skills.

Writer, producer, director Shonali Bose talks to Uma da Cunha

How did you get drawn to film?

Complete chance. In school and college in Delhi, I was driven by the need for social justice. And I loved being on stage. I did street plays on issues. Then, tragedy struck. My mother died due to hospital negligence in Mumbai. I felt so angry I needed get far away. I got a scholarship in Columbia University for a Ph.D. But it was too conservative about India and the Third World, so I quit after my Masters. Around this time I acted in an NYU student film. I found it so exciting, I took a course in film direction there. Good fortune got me a full scholarship to the UCLA Film School. Within a month, when I made my first 2-minute film on 16mm, I knew I had my vocation. Later at a premiere of Amu, I told my mentors how sad I was to leave History, Political Science and activism. They replied, “Who said you have?”

What drew you particularly about the two feature films you have directed?

Both came out of deep personal experiences. Amu brings out the truth of the 1984 genocide against the Sikhs, personified in an Indian-American girl in search of her roots. I was 19 when it happened and I joined the relief camps. On graduating from film school in 1997, I felt compelled to write about it in a way that would hit people the way it hit me.

And did it?

I didn’t expect the standing ovation from a 1,000-strong audience when Amu screened in Berlin. Or that the stalwarts in the Indian film industry would love and support the film. Or the film’s two National Awards, Best Film/ Best Direction. And I certainly didn’t expect the A certificate the censors gave, considering that there was no sex and violence. They said, “Why should young people know a history that’s better buried and forgotten?” I’m fighting for a U/A certificate for the release in a few months on satellite channels on the genocide’s 30th anniversary.

What about Margarita, With A Straw?

My inspiration for that was my sister Malini. We were sitting in a London pub. I asked her what she wanted to do for her 40th birthday. She said, with a rare clarity in her speech, “I want to have sex!” The thought stayed with me. It was an aspect of disability I hadn’t ever considered.

Has the kind of person you are shaped your trajectory as a filmmaker?

Yes. But good activist intentions should not emerge as preachy and stop being good cinema. Ultimately, it’s all about craft. I have tried to be rigorous about that. I spend a full two years on research and writing. I write a minimum of 20 drafts of my screenplay, and then re-write some more. I workshop my actors intensely and insist on at least 2 weeks rehearsal time. With Margarita, the lead had to give me a three-month commitment. Kalki is one of those rare actors who appreciated that.

The other key thing which has helped me be a good director is - motherhood! My films are very performance driven. The trust I need to get my actors to be absolutely naked and honest is akin to a mother- child relationship. You also need to be without ego, be patient and nurturing to get the best out of your crew and cast. Attributes I learnt from my children!

And then, the inevitable question. What advice to emerging filmmakers?

For the kind of cinema I make, which won’t compromise with the ‘market’, I advise an alternative income. Also practise meditation and yoga - it helps you stay in the moment and also calm when all hell breaks loose! Remember -- it's just a film. Not real life.
But don’t give up. Both my films are on extremely difficult subjects that financiers shy away from. But the first has won audience hearts everywhere. And I am confident of Margarita. I feel that Indian audiences want fresh cinema. If you’re not passionate about making films, choose something else. If you are, then, there’s nothing like this roller coaster. Films are a unique legacy you can leave to many future generations.

Thursday, September 4, 2014





Kalki Koechin as Laila in Margarita, With a Straw

The Citizen announces Exclusive coverage of the Toronto International Film Festival by well known film critic and writer Uma Da Cunha

TORONTO: Considered the launching pad for the best of international, Hollywood and Canadian cinema, Toronto today is seen as the second most important festival in the world - Cannes occupying first place. Toronto is where the countdown to great and small films begins, from Oscar contenders to bidders locking titles for markets in the US and around the world. This year 393 films will be screened, out of which 285 are feature films and 143 World Premieres.

TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) is where a maximum number of films make their very first appearance, no matter what the genre – from Hollywood starrers to issue-based shorts/docs, to horror thrillers and a powerful dose of the medium budget independent films that are strong in content and talent.

India is special to Toronto.

The festival has consistently highlighted the country’s cinema in its many facets and forms, from known makers to debut work, to films in regional languages, to the special place that Bollywood occupies, and particularly, to that neglected area, documentary and shorts. And with its selection, Toronto has proved to be a barometer of India’s of India’s filmic evolvement and pressures, which its 2014 India selection amply demonstrates.

Three feature films from India are in Toronto’s main sections (Contemporary World Cinema and Special Presentations), each of a different genre.

One features Bollywood’s prominent star Priyanka Chopra in the film Mary Kom (a true-life story on Assam’s World Boxing Champion May Kom), directed by a first-time director, Omung Kumar, and mentored by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, known for the emotional sweep and visual splendour of his work. The other is a woman director, Shonali Bose whose promising debut feature, Amu, on the 1984 Sikh genocide, premiered in 2005 Toronto. Her second film, Margarita, With a Straw, also premiering in Toronto, clearly establishes her mettle. The film is a tender and insightful portrayal of a disabled young girl (an endearingly powerful portrayal by Kalki Koechlin . Both films are produced by the major Mumbai-based studio, Viacom 18.

The third is a film in the Tamil language, Kaakkaa Muttai (The Crow’s Egg), again by a first-time filmmaker, Manikandan. M. It is a children’s story that reaches out to one and all. It is produced by another major player Fox Star Studios. In documentaries, Megha Ramaswamy, in her film Newborns brings her caring and compassionate study on girls who have suffered acid attacks. This film too is produced by, Recyclewala Labs.

This year’s selection of three films records how big studios are bringing Bollywood and its stars closer to the challenging demands of independent cinema. And, importantly, women-orientated films are gaining ground in a heavily male-dominated cinema. Women are playing main roles, even if unglamorous ones.

India’s international interface is also on display this year. From Hollywood, Indian producer Vijay Amritraj presents his latest tour de force 99 Homes on American real estate manoeuvres. In New York, Isabel Coixet in her film Learning to Drive shows how a Manhattan writer and her Sikh driving instructor draw emotional succour from each other. Then, there’s the pull of India as locale and content. Canada’s Sturla Gunnarsson presents his stirring documentary Monsoon on how the cloudbursts and downpour of the monsoons affect the vast expanse of the country and the life and soul of its people. Bosnian director Danis Tanovic screens his latest film Tigers drawing strength and resources from Indian film talent and professionals.

The India Pavilion in the Market section is being managed by the Directorate of Film Festivals, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. In attendance will be Mr Bimal Julka, Secretary, I&B Ministry, Ms Nirupama Kotru, Director (Films), MIB, and from the Directorate of Films Festivals, its Director Mr Shankar Mohan along with Mr Rizwan Ahmad and Mr K Prashant Kumar. The Pavilion will operate through the duration of the Toronto festival to cater to worldwide interests in the cinemas of India and to also field queries on the acquisition and distribution of Indian films and festival participation of films between India and other countries.

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