Friday, May 20, 2016

"A Yellow Bird" Brings Singapore Director K Rajagopal Into Cannes Critics' Week

CANNES: Critics’ Week, created in 1962, has to be one of the smallest competitive sections at a festival. This key segment allows for only seven feature films which must be the first or second film of a director. Its objective is to highlight emerging talent from all over the world. 

This year, one of the seven competing films has a strong Indian connection, ‘A Yellow Bird’ from Singapore, directed by K Rajagopal. His grandfather migrated from Kerala to settle in Singapore, making him a third generation Singaporean. The film at its core is about a Tamil family dealing with separation and loss in a country made up largely of migrants who on the one hand cannot get on with each other and, on the other, are denigrated as lowly people by the regime and those in power.

‘A Yellow Bird’ revolves around the dark and stocky 38-year-old Siva Sudhakar, a Singaporean of Tamil origin, who is on parole after an 8-year sentence for smuggling contraband goods. He returns to his mother’s flat (Seema Biswas, surly and silent, but always a presence) to learn that his old bedroom has been rented out to migrant workers and worse, his wife and daughter (she was three when he was arrested) have left without a trace. His irate and disapproving mother refuses to acknowledge him. He then begins a furious search for his missing family. He hopes to bond with them and get back his flat to live in.

An urban vagabond, he finds work as a cymbal player in a funeral band. In his lonely journey, he finds Chen Chen, a Chinese woman working illegally as a prostitute. Her earnings pay for her family and daughter back home. Siva defends her from a lecherous band member. With this, the marginalised duo find comfort and safety in each other, even though they do not speak each other’s language. When he suddenly discovers his wife’s whereabouts, he confronts her only to discover a hideous truth about his daughter. The film stars local actor Siva Palakrishnan, the Chinese independent film star Huang Lu, and from India, Seema Biswas.

Rajagopal’s debt work is stringent, disciplined, sparse as it relentlessly describes the bleak half lives of migrant communities trying to make ends meet. This is not the spic and span, hygienic Singapore we know about. This film is set mostly in shanty areas where these poor outsiders live in crowded slums and or bare tenements. Here the migrants coming in from China, India, Sri Lanka and other places live cheek by jowl, unable to get on with each other. They hurl insults at each other and fight, which makes their precarious lives even more unstable. Living in poverty, they tend to take to crime. As migrants they feel alien and unwanted; as citizens they feel inferior to the local Malay. Overpowering insecurities eat into their human qualities and values.

The undercurrents of simmering racial tension and a need to connect with others comes through in Rajagopal’s film. The characters barely speak, looking searchingly into each other’s eyes, like hunted animals. The pacing is slow as the characters show their inability to communicate. Many languages are spoken in the film, Tamil is the one used by the main protagonists.

Earlier, at another packed screening, the documentary ‘The Cinema Travellers’ directed by Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya, also a debut work, showed a little-known and fading aspect of life in Maharashtra’s countryside. The well paced film is on the fast disappearing tent cinemas that tour the remote villages of this region, screening films for local villagers. Frame by frame this 96-minute film displays its love of the techniques that shape our cinema and also of the universal adulation and conviviality that this medium offers all people. Travelling cinemas peaked seventy-odd years ago and are now vanishing because of drought affecting the produce of these farming areas. Most of all, this film salutes all those behind the scenes who have the vision and stamina to take cinema to unlikely places. It is both a lament and a celebration. The film got a rousing reception with audiences applauding at length. ‘The Cinema Travellers’ is truly an archival treasure.

(PHOTOS: Cover picture still from A Yellow Bird Seema Biswas from A Yellow Bird Still from The Cinema Travillers)

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

Thursday, May 19, 2016


Best Film ‘Highway’ directed by Umesh Kulkarni

Best Director Umesh Kulkarni for 'Highway'

Best Actor Rajit Kapoor  
and Best Actress Nina Gupta for 'Threshold' directed by Pushan Kripalani 

Best Child Actor Vedashree Mahajan for 'The Silence' directed by Gajendra Ahire 

Best Screenplay Ruchika Oberoi's 'Island City'

Best Documentary ‘Cities of Sleep’ directed by Shaunak Sen 

Best Short Film Daaravthadirected by Nishant Roy Bombarde 

Best One Minute Cell Phone Film ‘Bad Habit’

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Anurag Kashyap in Cannes with Psycho Raman

CANNES: India was the clarion call for many yesterday, judging by feet that scurried past the usual haunt, the Palais des Festivals, to race along the La Croisette’s main street for the Directors’ Fortnight venue. All to be in time for Anurag Kashyap’s early morning screening.

The hall was full, mostly with non-Indians. Kashyap, presenting his third film in Cannes, is a major draw, his films personifying the fury and angst of today’s India. The director tends to attend with cast and crew, his stylish stars also attract attention. They were on hand, Nawazuddin Siddiqui in a white suit as the cynosure, his striking co-star Vicky Kaushal and three leading ladies, Sobhita Dhulipala, Anuschka Sawhney and consummate Marathi actress, Usha Yadav, shimmering in a pearl white sari.

‘Psycho Raman’ has all and more of the sizzling Kashyap stamp. Its opening credits describe the dreaded serial killer of the 60s, Raman Raghav. The very next card debunks this, saying the film is NOT about this man. In the end, you realise why this is indeed true. As in ‘Ugly’, the film points more towards why the murders, the abuse, the brutality and less, the act of killing. The police and the culprit are two sides of the same coin. ‘Psycho Raman’, though is on another plane, delving dark and deep into psychological tunnels as it probes the murky mindsets of both.

Set in present day Mumbai, the film starts at a furious pace in a loud smoky disco joint where one wiry coke-infused young man (he is the police officer Raghavan) is eyeing a sultry, doe-eyed lass. They zoom off in his car to clever talk and their sexual tryst. To continued ritzy pacing, trendy soundtrack of Indian percussion, songs that swing from folk to classical, a plot unfolds that is chilling, brutal, bloody (not actually shown – only the act is), but seemingly pointless. Kashyap introduces a literary device of chapters to link the film episodically.

We are then introduced to Ramanna (actor Nawazuddin in mesmerising control), evil lighting up his quizzical, all-knowing eyes. We find him first in police custody, beaten and starved for all of three days. On his escape, he visits his estranged sister and we get our first glimpse of the man’s contorted mind and killer instincts. We then meet the police squad in search of him, led by the inwardly tormented, outwardly drugged-out, Viagra powered Raghavan. He progressively typifies a tragically doomed loser as the film unfolds. Vicky Kaushal gives his all here in a role that needed more levelling, more human sides to it.

Kashyap told the audience that the film questions how we perceive a killer. Ramanna killed for the love of it. In other words, he was a pure killer. But what about the killings that have a reason behind it, as in today’s India, backed by religion, terrorism, caste, creed, avarice, rape, and the like? How does one define that kind of killing as opposed to the kind carried out by compulsion, no strings attached?

Cannes gives the film a head start, the critics appreciating the finer points of the film, with two reservations though. One is the terrible way women, every one of them, are trashed and brutalised, asking for humiliation and also so accepting of it. The second is a wish that Kashyap should turn to another genre. Can we now hope for a reflective, incisive film from this volatile director?

From the known to the new; contrasting in every way is the film ‘Gudh’ (The Nest) by young Saurav Rai competing in Cin√©fondation with 17 other contenders. This section promotes student films from the world over. Saurabh, who hails from a small village in Darjeeling district near Kalimpong, is a final year graduate student at the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute, Kolkata (SRFTI) and ‘Gudh’ is his diploma film. The film, reflective and nostalgic, looks at a childhood remembered in a remote area that is endeared by insurgence. The film shows snippets of the life of a youth, from his babyhood, to snippets of being carried through forests hidden in a big truck, of a mother’s deep love, and of being forced to leave and go to a city for his education. The pacing is measured as memories usually are. The style of the film is self-assured and moving. All in all a highly commendable effort and one that can eye the prize.

Postscript: Nawazuddin Siddiqui is cutting quite a figure at Cannes. ‘Psycho Raman’ is his seventh film being screened at the festival. Nandita Das who is here, announced today that Nawazuddin will play the lead in her next film as director, which is based on the life of the Indian writer, Saadat Hasan Manto. Vivek Kajaria of Holy Basil Productions and US based investor Robin Raina are on board as producers.

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


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

40 Filmmakers, 25 Countries, 1 Film

The art of filmmaking has never been very simple or straight forward. It takes an ensemble of creative and tech professionals coming together  to make a film successfully . Collabfeature, a group of global filmmakers, is however toying with this complexity and increasing it in multifold.  In 2012, they premiered their first collaborative film, ‘The Owner’, which follows a backpack around the world, intersecting the lives of characters from it’s every region. It ties together 25 interconnected segments, each directed by a different filmmaker. The film screened in theatres and film festivals  worldwide and has received the German IPTV Award for “Most Innovative Platform,” a Guinness World Record as well as extensive media coverage.

 Their second project however is even more ludicrously ambitious. ‘Train Station’ follows a single character, “Person in Brown”, through cities like Tehran, Detroit, Berlin, Athens, New Castle, Chicago, Dubai, Barcelona, Mumbai and over a dozen others across five continents. The main character is played by 40 actors, ranging in age, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation. Along his/her journey, he/she is presented with choices that trigger different paths, giving us a universal story of fate, decisions and destiny.


One of the many filmmakers on this project is Mumbai-based Surya Balakrishnan, a graduate from the New York Film Academy and a director at Little Lamb films. It started way back in 2011 for Surya and her fellow filmmakers. Together, it took  them almost two years to write the script, film each section, edit individually and then the master edit and not to mention music, sound design, colour grading, etc. Not only did they have to work together without ever meeting each other but every one of the forty also had to agree at each step towards completion. “Its been one crazy ride working virtually. What really helped the process was a beautifully designed website which helped us write and communicate with each other at every point on all areas of work on the film.” says Surya. 
The section directed by her comes in the later half of the film, a couple of parts after his wife cheats on Mr. Brown and is now trying very hard to fix their marriage, which is falling apart. It was shot by cinematographer Saurabh Goswami and has theatre actors Ankur Vikal and Rasika Dugal in the main roles. “It was a conscious decision to choose these lovely actors, also to set it in a space and costumes which culturally stands out when we see the film in entirety. Its wonderful to see one section seamlessly flow into another one inspite of the character, language and space changing.” she says.

Train Station” is set to premier at the March√© du Film (Film Market) at this year’s Cannes film festival.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Cannes Halfway Point: Female Sexuality Dominates



CANNES:Five days and it is midway through the Cannes festival. Among the films screened so far it is astonishing to see so many of them on women who need and seek personal freedom, predominantly in managing their sexual life.

The Korean film ‘The Handmaiden’ leads here with its steamy and sensuous lesbian love scenes.

The very next day, the American film ‘American Honey’ by British woman director Andrea Arnold, in which a stifled, miserable 18-year-old girl makes a living by caring for the three small children of another woman and living with a boorish lover. The film opens with her searching garbage bins for food. She decides to free herself from her enslavement and escape into a freewheeling life on the road with a group of young people who sell magazines door to door, region to region.

The film is forced and unconvincing except for the actress who plays the lead role. Her devouring need to be free, makes her turn to the fast life in every possible way, especially towards the handsome male colleague she is strongly attracted to. She knows he is weak and a cheat, but her larger goal is to be honest to her libido because that, the film seems to say, is the creed of the American youth today. At the Press Conference, the director skirted around uncomfortable questions about why magazines would sell anyway in this day and age, why would people open their doors with such trust, etc. She said she experienced it all firsthand in what turned out to be the recce for the film.

The France-Belgium competitive film ‘The Land of the Moon’ went to extremes on the same subject, a woman determined to satisfy her strong sexual desires in her own way. Set in a cloistered village of the 50s, the film follows the wayward yearnings of a pent-up young college student, who throws herself with abandon at her professor, insulting him publicly when he rebuffs her, and then goes into a nervous breakdown. She is totally unable to control her physical needs.

With no other choice in her small conservative village, she agrees to marry a local farmhand, who is taken by her beauty as well as her family providing the means for him to go to a bigger city and start a business there. Her condition is that he should not sleep with her and he stoically agrees. When he goes to prostitutes every weekend, she dresses up like one at home and she says he can do the same with her for what he pays them.

The man gives in to her every whim. Finally her crippling cramps (could be fake, her mother says) sends her to a hospital where she meets a severely ill ex-soldier. She tends to him, nursing him day and night until they enter a physical relationship. Her lover is sent for further treatment to another hospital. She believes he will return to her. Her letters come back to her in a bundle one day. She believes she is now pregnant by him.

The film’s ending has a surprise twist (lots of them this year), one so contrived that it casts a shadow on all that precedes it. The actress Marion Cottilard seems hemmed in by this unpleasant role which she attacks hysterically. It is difficult to bond with a character that does not elicit any feeling of worth or appeal.

There are films that support fatherhood. Maren Ade’s comedy ‘Toni Erdmann’, the German film in competition, deals with crazy parenting by a kinky, well-meaning father trying to bring some humanity into the life of his work-driven daughter. Surprisingly this film has got the highest rating so far by a panel of critics who evaluate the films in competition every day.

After being barraged by films that present extreme oddities of behaviour in people, it was soothing to see American director Jim Jarmusch’s delicate and charming ‘Paterson’. Paterson is the name of the city in New Jersey where the protagonist by the same name resides (played by Adam Driver). The film is driven by the name and poetry of William Carlos Williams, who too hails from the same city.

Poetry hovers in the air in this film as it whimsically follows the small, humdrum lives of a handful of its inhabitants, mainly the amiably silent bus driver, Paterson. His face reflects an inner melancholy as he goes about his daily routine, a smile emerging as he overhears the telling exchanges between his passengers and surprise at the many identical twins he sees around him. His own inertness is offset by his wife’s constant inventiveness, whether in her cooking, sewing or learning the guitar. The villain here is their surly pug dog, who sidelined as he by the loving couple, takes revenge.

Nothing really happens in this film except the way it depicts people facing their day to day worries. But it unfolds with such warmth, wisdom and amusing asides on the human condition that it has a vision of its own. Reassuringly, the film comes pre-sold in many territories, ensuring that it will be seen widely as it deserves to be.

Cover Photo: Still from American Honey

Photographs:Land of the Moon, Staying Vertical,Peterson

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

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Ken Loach's Magnificent Comeback to Cannes

Sunday, May 15,2016
CANNES:  The admirers of Ken Loach’s work sighed with relief, when after constant references to his imminent retirement, he is back in Cannes for the nineteenth time with his film ‘I, Daniel Blake’. 

The film comes ten years after Loach won the Palme d’Or for ‘The Wind That Shakes the Barley’ and two years earlier he was at Cannes with ‘Jimmy’s Hall’. His latest film underlines the fact that the close-to-80 director is back on track in what he presents so movingly on screen, the fate of hapless people confronting an indifferent regime.

The content of Loch’s films resonate well with India because their subjects connect with India. ‘I, Daniel Blake’ cries out for an Indian adaptation, if only we could do it with Loach’s minimalist style and masterful simplicity, which make his characters so credible and alive.

Ken Loach’s latest film is on the Citizen vs the State. It delves into the mindless ways in which the middle class are mowed down by the British welfare system. The script written by Loach’s regular collaborator Paul Laverty, although at times overly dramatic and didactic, manages to pull at the heartstrings because of the bristling intensity with which it rests its case. Loach’s concerns may be predictable; more so as his film unfolds, but it is the way he presents them that give them another tone, another colour.

The film follows 59-year-old Daniel, a middle-aged, skilled British carpenter (brilliantly portrayed by actor Dave Johns), who lives in Newcastle. He immediately strikes one as a decent, honest working class man with a quiet sense of humour. Daniel suddenly suffers a heart attack and his doctor says he cannot return to work until he gets better. He now has to apply for the government allowance that will sustain him through his unemployment. With that, he embarks on several humiliating encounters with an infuriating bureaucracy, which, finally, kills him. 

The film starts with amusing, tell-tale touches as it observes the unfortunate man’s predicament. It sees claimants like him dealing with obdurate government lackeys mouthing bureaucratic inanities. Daniel faces ridiculous delaying tactics, such as applying for a series of jobs in order to prove that by not being selected he could indeed be handicapped. Their evaluators are like a brick wall, stolid, unbending, unfeeling. Daniel sees a young single mother with two children, newly arrived from London and in search of housing, being rebuffed for being slightly late. He intervenes on her behalf. The two then start an unlikely friendship.

What happens so relentlessly to this man ends with a low-key homily that speaks simply and directly for the character and resilience of the under-privileged. All the way though, the film upholds the dignity of those who are suffering at the unfeeling hands of the government. It sees the protagonist as an honourable man making a living through the dexterity of his hands, however inept he may be on a computer or the internet. Most of all he is kind and caring, looking out for others at every opportunity. Not for a moment does he invite pity. The film, like most of Loach’s work, looks at the marginalised and the helpless with a loaded, pointed anger and compassion. The main actor’s performance is being tipped as a Palme d’Or winner. 

On quite another plane and tone, hard to see consecutively, is the competitive entry from South Korea, ‘The Handmaiden’ directed by Park Chan-wook. Lavish and lusciously filmed on a grand scale, the film revels in human duplicity at every level, the poor hand in glove with the rich, for gaining the kind of life they want. The film also flaunts lesbianism as every woman’s right (Park’s earlier film was noted for its sexual flamboyance), with prolonged sensuous love scenes between the two women that are as breathtaking as the film’s sweeping landscapes.

The film, ‘The Handmaiden’, based on the novel titled ‘Fingersmith’ written by Sarah Waters set in London during the 19th century, moves to South Korea of the 1930's when it was ruled by Japan. What begins as a seemingly genteel story of intrigue veers into steamy sensationalism and unhinged kinkiness. The film starts with a young girl being hired as the maid to a Japanese heiress who lives in a dark secluded mansion where she is guarded by her domineering uncle. Little do they know that the maid is a former pickpocket recruited by a swindler who poses as a Count. She has been planted to help him seduce the heiress and have her locked in a mental home, while he escapes with her fortune. The film is in three acts, each one belying the conclusions of the previous one. The last is brutal in its blood-letting torture contrasting with scenes of the two ladies escaping to their love nest. Bizarre, but also compelling, and so beautiful to look at. 

Park is the new face of contemporary South Korean Cinema.

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