Independent cinema often gets a bad rap as ‘boring’. Why watch independent cinema? Well, for one, unlike the average masala blockbuster, independent cinema can explore spaces that fall outside mainstream comfort zones. They can explore characters living on the margins of society, shed light on injustices previously hidden in darkness and give us alternative perspectives. But most importantly, independent cinema, instead of providing easy and comfortable answers, makes us ask questions.
Questions open us up to new ways of looking at the world and deepen our understanding of it. Questions not only help us to learn, they help us unlearn. Always embedded within a question is the potential power to transform.
Keeping that in mind, let’s take a look at six independent Indian films which raised important questions.
Gender discrimination is a reality in several Indian colleges. In 2015, the Kerala State Higher Education Council had commissioned a report called “Samaagati” which focused on gender discrimination in college campuses on Kerala. The report revealed patriarchal notions regarding how girls should behave and dress prevalent within most colleges. Bina Paul’s film specifically focuses on campuses across Kerala. The film not only breaks the culture of silence that surrounds such instances of injustice by providing a voice to women students but also provides a glimpse into their daily lives and the routine discrimination they have to put up with.
Heritage walks are supposed to tell us about the history of a city but do they tell the whole story? Which details are remembered and which are the ones left out? Gouri Patwardhan’s film focuses on Pune and raises a very pertinent question: how exactly is a city made? The film contends that heritage walks in Pune, while claiming to represent the whole city, mostly look at the city through a narrow upper caste lens. Instead of relying on conventional historical narratives, the film instead looks at the historical details which have slipped through the cracks and what such erasure has meant for the Dalit Bahujan community.
Most films concerning drug abuse either descend into preachy holier-than-thou sermonising or they look at the issue entirely in a vacuum, divorced from any social context. Not so with Iram Ghufran’s “Bulbule”. Focusing on a state-run community clinic for de-addiction, the film questions the traditional narrative of drug users as ‘morally corrupt’ and instead empathises with the struggles of drug users to regain their dignity in the face of social isolation and marginalisation. Unlike several other Indian films focusing on drug abuse, “Bulbule” is not a tale of reform. Instead, it looks into the social context which gives birth to the world of drug abuse and how that intertwines with the idea of moral luck.
Vrindavan is considered to the land that gave birth to lord Krishna. And yet, who are the women who wait there for death? Patriarchal societal norms and the politics of inheritance often result in women getting the short end of the stick. Many such women migrate to Vrindavan, some finding solace in spirituality and sisterhood. But the vast majority of such women are forced to resort to begging on the streets. Kavita Bahl and Nandan Saxena’s film looks offers us a glimpse into the lives of these women and what Vrindavan means for them.
Anirban Datta’s “Kalikshetra” is an intricate look at the history of the city of Kolkata and the various developments it has undergone from the pre-colonial era to the colonial and now in the post-colonial era. Kolkata was born with the goddess Kali embedded in its name (Kalikata) and the title of the film alludes to that (roughly translating to place of Kali). In various creative ways, the film connects the past with the present, exploring both familiar and unfamiliar historical narratives and the shifts in polity over time. The film is an attempt to revive forgotten threads and map out a local history of the city that was once the capital of British India.
Uma Chakravarti’s film is set in Firangi Mahal, an institution for rationalist Islamic scholarship. Stories of personal struggles often tend to fall by the wayside during the time of dramatic political changes. The film, although set during a tumultuous period, is a personalised account of two women – Sughra Fatema and her niece Khadija Ansari. Both chose to express themselves but through different paths – one became a poet and the other a revolutionary student activist.
If you are fed up with commercial masala films and run-of-the-mill action blockbusters, these six films might pique your interest.
These six films, along with many others, are going to be screened at Public Service Broadcasting Trust’s (PSBT) Open Frame 2017 film festival. The festival aims to engage with these films “as creative pursuits, modes of expression and enquiry, intervention strategies for social change, powerful alternatives to dominant visions, voices of the marginalised and disenfranchised and manifestations of independent art practice.”
The film screenings start from September 17 and is spread over three days. If you like thought-provoking films which intersect across various topics like religion, class, caste and gender and encourage the viewer to ask questions, then this festival is something you cannot afford to miss out on.
You can find the full festival programme here.