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10 Films Of 2015 That You Shouldn’t Have Missed At All!

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By Rohini Banerjee

2015 has truly been a great year for Indian indie cinema. Powerful, small-budget and independent films received not just widespread national attention, but also recognition in international film festivals. Though our industry still has a long way to go in giving these films the mainstream appreciation they deserve, but this year was definitely a step in the positive direction. So, if you missed the following films, go watch them now!

Court – Marathi

court
Read filmmaker Chaitanya Tamhane’s interview here.

This courtroom drama directed by Chaitanya Tamhane, which first premiered in the Venice International Film Festival, won tremendous critical acclaim and went on to become India’s official entry for the Oscars. An incisive critique of the Indian legal system, the film follows the trial of an ageing folk singer in a Sessions Court in Mumbai as he battles charges of abetment of suicide, because one of his songs might have incited a man to jump into a sewer. The film also follows the personal lives of the judge, the public prosecutor and the lawyers as the case meanders along for months due to numerous excuses and delays. Narayan’s (the singer) pain, frustration and helplessness is palpable, harrowing and so real that one cannot help but be deeply affected by this film.

Asha Jaoar Majhe (Labour of Love) — Bengali

labour of love bannerAnother film that won accolades at the Venice International Film Festival and later won a National Award, this is an account of the various travails an unnamed married couple faces in their relationship, and in their daily working class lives. The woman works in a handbag factory while the man works the night shift at a printing press; and the film follows the couple as they go about their day, how they stay apart all day long except one brief moment when they get to be with each other. Despite its murky, urban, setting, the film is beautifully lyrical and poetic. Even the silences are filled with so much poignancy, that by the end of it, one can easily draw parallels between this and the works of legendary filmmakers such as Satyajit Ray or Wong Kar Wai.

Umrika — Hindi

umrika posterHilarious in parts, and emotional in others, this film chronicles a young village boy’s journey to the United States to discover what really happened to his missing and supposedly America-bound brother. Starring Suraj Sharma (of ‘Life of Pi’ fame), Prateik Babbar and Tony Revolori (of ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ fame), this film premiered at the Sundance Festival and bagged the prestigious World Cinema Dramatic Audience award. Umrika takes place from the mid-’70s to the mid-’80s, and comments on both political and pop cultural events of the time. It uses Rama’s (the protagonist) lifelong obsession with America as a source of humorous cross-cultural commentary which cuts through an essentially serious narrative. A definite must-watch.

chauthi kootChauthi Koot (The Fourth Dimension) — Punjabi

Screened at many major national and international film festivals (including Cannes), this film looks at the fear and paranoia that pervaded Punjab’s social and political atmosphere in the 80s. Through the story of a farmer and his dog, the film dramatizes the tense stand-off between Sikh militants and the government authorities in the 1980s. Though the narrative is not linear, and keeps shifting between flashbacks and present day, and intertwines many other minor stories into its fabric, the film is gripping from start to finish. This is definitely a film that stays with you even months after watching it.

Killa (The Fort) — Marathi

This has truly been a great year for independent Marathi cinema, and Killa is yet another feather in its crown. This film, which revolves around an 11-year old boy’s life as he struggles with reconciling himself with the death of his father, received rave reviews and awards in the Berlin International Film Festival. The boy, Chinmay, stumbles upon a deserted fort—which is clearly a metaphor for Chinmay’s abandoned and desolate mind—and begins exploring it. His exploration of the fort leads to important self-discoveries. This film delves into child psychology with such simultaneous incisiveness and warmth, that one can help but be charmed by it.

TitliTitli — Hindi

First screened at the Cannes Film Festival last year, and nominated for the Camera D’Or, this film hit Indian theatres in November and instantly wowed critics. In Delhi’s seedy underbelly, Titli, the youngest member of a violent car-jacking brotherhood, plots to escape the ‘family’ business. His struggle to do so is thwarted at each stage by his indignant brothers, who finally try marrying him off to ‘settle’ him down. However, Titli finds an unlikely ally in his new wife, despite her being caught in her own web of dysfunctional dreams. They form a mutually dependent partnership, only to ultimately confront their inability to escape the trappings of their family roots. Its portrayal of the volatility of a society where violence lurks beneath every surface is truly haunting.

Kothanodi. Image source: DIFF India/Facebook
Kothanodi. Image source: DIFF India/Facebook

Kothanodi (River of Fables) — Assamese

This film, which first premiered in the Busan International Film Festival, combines folklore and oral history in retelling popular stories that are an important part of Assamese culture. Based on characters and events described in Burhi Aair Sadhu (Grandmother’s Tales), the four fables referenced in the film are Tejimola, Champawati, Ou Kuwori (The Outenga Maiden) and Tawoir Xadhu (the Story of Tawoir). Starring veteran actors such as Seema Biswas and Adil Hussain, the film evokes such a vast and complex range of emotions, that one really has to watch it to truly experience it.

Placebo — Mixed

PlaceboThis documentary, directed by Abhay Kumar, is a chilling examination of one of the most competitive institutions in the world—All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). Every year thousands of aspiring doctors apply, but only 0.1% of the applicants can actually get in (Harvard’s acceptance rate is 7% in comparison). In 2011, a violent student brawl left Kumar’s younger brother Sahil with an immobile right arm, a year before he was expected to write his final exams at AIIMS. With Sahil’s dreams of a successful career in medicine seemingly dashed, Kumar — equipped with only a Handycam—sets out to understand life amongst the “geniuses” at AIIMS and to investigate why more and more medical students are committing suicide. And this is not just AIIMS, but a reflection of the larger problems within the Indian educational system.Through extensive student interviews over a two-year period and surreal animated sequences, Kumar reveals a student body plagued by overwhelming pressure from parents, faculty, administrators, other students, and themselves. Still, despite the many demons haunting current students, the best of the best continue to strive for the “placebo” of prestige granted by their esteemed institutions.

Aligarh — Hindi

Starring Manoj Bajpayee and Rajkumar Rao, this film is based on the real-life story of Dr Srinivas Ramchandra Siras, who was a professor at the Aligarh Muslim University and was suspended from his post because he was homosexual. The film delves into Siras’ psychology and renders him so humane and real, that his loneliness and pain is palpable and poignant. The film premiered in the Busan International Film Festival where it was met with a standing ovation and had its Indian premiere at the JIO MAMI Film Festival held in Mumbai. In the contemporary Indian climate where Section 377 is still being enforced and homosexuality is still being penalized and discriminated against, this film is even more relevant and heartrending.

Masaan (Fly Away Solo) — Hindi

richa chadda masaanThis film made India extremely proud at Cannes this year, winning two awards and widespread critical acclaim. It tells two parallel stories—that of Devi (played by Richa Chaddha), whose reputation is called into question when she is discovered having sex with a man in a hotel room by the police, and that of Deepak, a Dalit corpse-burner, who falls in love with a Brahmin girl. The way it handles the sensitive topics of both gender and caste is remarkable, moving and often heartbreakingly beautiful. The ending, especially, will leave you both simultaneously crying and smiling. If you haven’t already, do go watch this right now.

Like I said earlier, 2015 was a genuinely wonderful year for independent cinema in India, with such a variety of remarkable films emerging from so many different regions. Amongst more honourable mentions include Gaalibeeja (Wind Seed), the genre-bending metanarrative Kannada road movie, Rajkahini (No Woman’s Land), national award winning Bengali director Shrijit Mukherjee’s feminist rendering of various partition stories, and the Nawazzuddin Siddiqui starrer Haraamkhor (The Wretched), an arresting, uncanny love story.

Here’s hoping this streak of incredible indie films continues and gives us more exceptional, real stories to look forward to in the coming years as a breather from big-budget “masala” entertainers.

You must be to comment.
  1. B

    Top ten films of all time:

    1. A Mother’s Nightmare

    2. Cyberbully

    3. Pyar Ka Panchnama

    4. Body Of Innocence

    5. Mean Girls

    6. Wild Things

    7. Basic Instinct

    8. Aitraaz

    9. Bad Teacher

    10. Daawat-e-Ishq

  2. Tejas Nair

    Masaan ranks #2 in our best Hindi films of 2015: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LnpkJW7Gcn4

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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