By Rohini Banerjee:
With the recent successes of films like ‘Masaan’, which bagged two prestigious awards at the Cannes Film Festival and ‘Court‘, which won critical accolades and became India’s Oscar entry, independent cinema in India, is slowly coming of age. Now, more than ever, the time is ripe for India to have more independent film festivals, and promote the fresh cinematic voices that are slowly trying to carve a niche in our mainstream movie culture. Mumbai’s MAMI film festival and Goa’s IFFI have already made a name for themselves in offering platforms to such voices, and these prestigious ranks are now being joined by the Dharamshala International Film Festival (DIFF), an important step in recognizing the country’s burgeoning indie filmmaking talent.
Independent cinema, in our country, is shrouded by the misconceptions of being “too intellectual”, and hence, shunned by a large majority which looks to cinema as a larger-than-life wish-fulfilment. Creating a culture where cinema is an instrument for social reform rather than instant gratification is something India sorely needs, and more film festivals that celebrate real-life stories are an important step towards achieving this. Dharamshala International Film Festival, which is to be held from the 5th to 8th of November, is making important leaps in this respect. Undeterred by the absence of movie theatres in Dharamshala, festival directors Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam are dedicated to bringing the best of domestic and international independent cinema to this quaint Himalayan town.
The impressive lineup of the films being screened includes critically acclaimed international hits like ‘The Wolfpack‘ (USA), ‘Birds Of Passage‘ (Belgium), ‘Celestial Camel‘ (Russia), ‘The Boy And The World‘ (Brazil), ‘The Monk‘ (Czech Republic, Myanmar) alongside films showcasing Indian talent such as Sujoy Ghosh’s ‘Ahalya‘, Neeraj Ghaywan’s ‘Masaan‘, Abhay Kumar’s ‘Placebo‘, Bhaskar Hazarika’s ‘Kothanodi‘ and Ruchika Oberoi’s ‘Island City‘. These films all bring to light important social realities that need addressing; for example, Masaan deals with caste and gender-based discrimination with great sensitivity, Placebo looks at the issue of student violence in one of the toughest educational institutions in India, while Chauthi Koot documents the socio-political tensions of Punjab in the 1980s.
Apart from screenings, DIFF will also organise masterclasses, panel discussions and special programs focussing on various aspects of cinema and filmmaking. This, in itself is an important endeavour, as the popular discourse surrounding cinema in our country often lacks critical insight. It is essential to break out of the fantastical canvas mainstream ‘commercial’ Indian cinema often paints and to promote films that give us a real insight into lived experiences of real life people. To uphold the integrity of such films (which, in our country, are often neglected), the festival has a fellowship programme, where it offers aspiring independent filmmakers from the Himalayan area the opportunity to attend the festival and its various masterclasses, with a few candidates getting the chance to receive one-on-one mentorship from visiting filmmakers. The fellowship might help bring newer and more unique voices to Indian independent cinema.
Only with platforms like this can Indian cinema break new ground, and become more versatile. A newer tradition is already developing within our cinematic sphere, but the challenge is to give it the right space and scope to reach its climax. DIFF is a step towards creating such a space, and hence, an important initiative in furthering the reach of independent cinema in India.
You can register for the festival here.