Saturday, October 22, 2005
The Asian Film Festival Pune, 2005 – Day 1Posted by Aditya Bidikar | 11:28 am
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As I said in the previous post, I am attending the Asian Film Festival of Pune. And I thought that rather than reviewing the films like I did with the PIFF 2005, I should write about my experience of the festival itself – including the films, of course.
In spite of the fact that when I got back home I was chilled to the bone by the theatre air conditioning, and my left knee hurt because I had rested my right leg on it most of the time, I must say that I completely and utterly enjoyed Day One, and I am rather optimistic about the rest of the festival.
I saw four films today: Mr. & Mrs. Iyer (India – Aparna Sen), 36 Chowringhee Lane (India – Aparna Sen), Pak Pak Pakaak (India – Gautam Joglekar), 15 Park Avenue (India – Aparna Sen) – the festival has an ‘Aparna Sen Special’ of sorts.
I saw the first movie with a pair of little old ladies who wanted to practice their English with me, and were spouting each and every vowel as if their lives depended on it. The other three films I watched alone.
All three Sen movies were wonderful, albeit rather depressing. Sen’s outlook is realistic yet elegant, but it is also bleak. I would advise cine-enthusiasts to limit Sen films to two a day. Any more could be damaging.
The music in Sen’s films is also very good, and very fitting to the film’s atmosphere, although I do think that the music in 36 Chowringhee Lane does get a bit loud and oppressive at times.
Mr. & Mrs. Iyer is a film about communal violence. I don’t think I need to say much about it. The film begins rather predictably, and doesn’t really get into its stride till halfway through the bus trip, when the sense of foreboding grows on you bit by bit. But after that, words fail me. I will, however, say that the manner in which Sen used still photography after the bus incident is jawdroppingly good.
36 Chowringhee Lane, with Jennifer Kendall playing an old Anglo-Indian teacher in Calcutta, is about loneliness. It is a good film, with bits and pieces of good acting and imagery but I personally feel that the first part should have been even more sedate than it is. The second part is quite acceptable. And Geoffrey Kendall’s performance as Jennifer’s older brother Eddie, while a very obvious take on a stock character, is funny and sad, just like it needs to be. However, I will always remember this film for featuring the funniest (unintentionally) kiss I have yet seen on celluloid. The characters (a young couple) are kissing with their lips tightly and firmly closed. It is like someone was knocking two dolls together and making kissing noises. Indians really don’t know a lot about the facts of life, do they?
Pak Pak Pakaak is a light and fun film about a jungle ghost who is troubling a village. I would call this a children’s film made for adults – the handling is that of a children’s film, but the subject matter (the relationship of humans with nature) is all adult, as is the dialogue, and this feels rather odd. But I didn’t get bored, so I’m not complaining. For me, the most interesting thing about the film was that in the first half, I predicted twice what the film would turn out to be, and both times I turned out to be wildly wrong. That, I believe, is a reason to like the film. It isn’t an essential film in any way, though. The original concept is by Sai Paranjpe, and you can feel her touch, albeit very slightly.
15 Park Avenue is about schizophrenia, and it’s easily better than most Indian films made about mentally ill people. The script is detailed and meticulously written, and the performances are ... Well, actors have no right to be this good. It negates the concept of acting if you never feel like they’re acting. Everyone from Shabana Azmi and Konkona Sen-Sharma to Rahul Bose and Waheeda Rahman do their absolute best. The performances Sen extracted from them were so good that I spent the whole first half with a finger between my teeth, for two reasons – to keep from crying out and to constantly remind myself it was only a film. The ending, however, blows, because there just is no ending. I hate any narrative with a proper end (a ‘closed ending’, one might call it), as if the lives of the characters ended with the end of the film, but I do think that a film should have an ending (an ‘open ending’ – if you get the difference). And this doesn’t have one. What it has got is some weird pseudo-mystical pap that doesn’t make any sense, but is probably supposed to be ‘disquieting’. But the rest of the film is still worth it.
The first day isn’t much to base my opinion of the whole festival on, but there are some things I noted. The entry management is better than the one at the PIFF 2005 (at least in my experience), and they didn’t ask for a photograph to put on your pass (I never understood why the PIFF did that). However, the projection department could use a lot of improvement. I saw the first ten minutes of 36 Chowringhee Lane stretched horizontally at 2.35:1 when it was supposed to be 1.85:1 (that meant the people looked like so many fat dolls running about). The sound kept disappearing in Pak Pak Pakaak, and we had to endure three five-minute long intervals for no apparent reason. The other two showings were fine, though.
About the success of the festival in general, I’d say that there were very few people here, and only 36 Chowringhee Lane was actually packed. To compare, I had to sit in the aisle for four films in the PIFF. Also, the crowd here didn’t seem very enthusiastic. And I heard at least six or seven people criticising Aparna Sen’s films for being boring. That, I feel, is a word that results from a context that shouldn’t even be applied to Sen’s films. It’s like saying that Mike Leigh’s films don’t have exciting plots.
There is, however, a simple explanation, at least for the lack of attendance, if not for the lack of enthusiasm. The multiplex where this festival is going on is a very new one, and it is rather out of the way, especially for students, who are usually the primary targets for film festivals. And also, this festival is limited to Asian films. (My theory on this is that students, surmising astutely that Asian films would have a lot less nudity than films from all over the world, stayed away. I like this particular theory because it neatly and elegantly combines both my points – students and Asian films.)
Lastly, but most importantly, today I decided that I have fallen in love with Konkona Sen-Sharma. Before this, I had always liked her, but the films I had seen – Page 3 and Amu – never really gave her a chance to shine, Page 3 being an ensemble film, and my appreciation of her in Amu being impeded by her weird accent (also, that film wasn’t really about the acting anyway). In her two films today, I was astonished by the way she inhabited the two totally different characters with utter ease (especially the one in 15 Park Avenue). It’s her talent, her personality, her sheer ‘her’ness – I totally and completely love her. And I hear that she’s single these days, so ...