We often underestimate the medium of cinema and the way it can tell powerful stories. They can help shed light on rifts which were previously hidden in plain sight. In doing so, these films become something else – they become conversations.
While mainstream Bollywood blockbusters often overlook this aspect of filmmaking, initiating conversations is a good first step in helping us rethink and re-examine our positions within the world and perhaps also think of solutions.
The Dharamshala International Film Festival (DIFF) was started in 2012 to give a platform for good alternative cinema to the local community. Today, DIFF has become one of India’s most promising film festivals and draws audiences from across the world.
Here are 6 films from this year’s DIFF that you cannot afford to miss if you have a passion for thought-provoking films and if you are willing to partake in interesting conversations.
The Amit Masurkar film has already been selected as India’s entry for the Best Foreign Film Category at the Oscars next year. Rajkummar Rao has won much critical acclaim for his role as a naïve but sincere rookie government clerk trying to ensure free and fair elections in the conflict-ridden jungles of Chhattisgarh. Dark and satirical in its approach, the film offers a deliberation on the nature of ‘democratic’ elections in the world’s largest democracy.
Konkona Sen Sharma’s directorial debut received much critical acclaim when it was released commercially in June. The film, set in 1979, follows an extended family gathered at a remote rural home to celebrate New Year in the town of McCluskiegunj, Jharkhand. At the centre of the story is shy and sensitive Shutu, played by Vikrant Massey, who is mocked and bullied by his entire family. Even when he’s present, he’s invisible. We think of family as a protective and accepting unit but “A Death In The Gunj” offers that rare insight about the darkness that may lurk behind the façade of cheery and happy family dynamics.
What does a country look like after 20 years of war and unrest? What does it for it to reach peace? Set in Nepal, these are powerful questions that Deepak Rauniyar’s film raises. But the film is careful with its social commentary that’s crafted it around its richly layered characters. Chandra, a Maoist rebel, returns to his village to bury his royalist father. He attempts to reconnect with his ex-wife Durga, a fiercely independent lower caste woman, who, at the same time, stands accused of polluting her father in-law’s funeral rites. The film offers a fantastic glimpse into the lives of people trying to pick themselves up after years of war, and have to contend with the contradictions that are inherent to the traditions that bind them.
It is hard to imagine what it would be like to grow up as a gay man in the confines of a conservative Muslim household. Arshad Khan’s film offers us just that glimpse – the challenges that come with growing up in a family where homosexuality is considered to be shameful and a sin. The title, which translates to ‘father’ in Urdu, was inspired from the death of Arshad Khan’s own father. A stunningly deep and personal tale of self-discovery which also tackles difficult subjects such as homophobia, xenophobia and spans multiple generations, this is one film you cannot afford to miss.
Women’s sexuality is still not a comfortable topic for many. There is still a culture of shame and stigma attached to women expressing their sexual desires. Shailaja Padindala’s 10-minute short film gives us the opportunity to have this much-needed conversation. The film focuses on a woman who is asked questions related to her sexuality and in the process, we get to know her struggles of self-discovery and what it feels like to be sexually curious within a very traditional south Indian surrounding.
“Honeygiver Among The Dogs” is a fascinating ‘Buddhist noir’ from Bhutan by director Dechen Roder. If the idea of a ‘Buddhist noir’ doesn’t already have you excited, the film’s plot centres around an undercover detective, Kinley, who has to investigate the case of a missing nun. During this course, he has to make a risky alliance with a woman who has been branded a demoness by her village. The film not only reinvents the noir genre by setting it within its specific cultural context but also treads into territory previously unexplored by Bhutanese filmmakers.
So if you want a reprieve from the typical masala blockbuster churned out by Bollywood, and if you like films with challenging subject matters, now would be a good time to check out these out.
As the festival states, “Momos in one hand, cappuccinos in the other, film lovers find their way to screenings, Q&A’s with filmmakers, panel discussions and masterclasses. All of the town’s diverse communities come together to make the festival a success.”