Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Of dead seas and Indian independent films - Bollywood

Mumbai: "Whether we see our wives or not, we see a dead body every day," complains a policeman inspecting the body of a fisherman who has been shot at sea by the Sri Lankan Navy. That one line in Leena Manimekalai's film 'Sengadal' ('The Dead Sea'), the only Indian film in the international competition in the just-concluded Mumbai Film Festival, seems to sum up not just this movie, but Indian films in general.
Whether you see good cinema in India or not, you invariably get to see tactless blockbusters every Friday, could be a common complaint of any cinema fan in India.
And nowhere is this metaphoric example more evident than in Manimekalai's film, which from many perspectives, like technical aspects and even scripting may not be one that is up there, but there is no denying that this is an important film that needed to be made.
Of dead seas and Indian independent films
"Sixty percent of the film was illegally shot. We had to resort to guerilla style of filmmaking to finish it," Manimekalai's told IANS.
'The Dead Sea' is a tale of Sri Lankan Tamils fleeing to India, only to face persecution here.
Secondly, the fishermen community of Rameshwaram who venture out to sea, are blatantly shot, beaten and in a few cases, have even sexually assaulted by the Sri Lankan Navy for no apparent reason. They also do not get much support from the Indian authorities. With over 600 dead or missing fishermen, it is an extreme example of living in the fringes.
Manimekalai wanted to show an honest story. Hence you have real people almost playing themselves and their lives to the T. The result is a film that may be far from cinematic accomplishment, but the one accusation that cannot be levied on it is of being dishonest.
If you were to see footages of film stars, you'd obviously want them in HD. Yet on the same TV, you don't mind the grainy images of a terrible atrocity that makes breaking news. In that light, 'The Dead Sea', that gives voice to the most marginalised of the marginalized lot, becomes an extremely important film.
In an ideal world, it would have enjoyed better resources. But neither has the film been made in an ideal world, nor is Indian cinema in a similar state with most film made and released only solely commercial intentions.
Yet, this year's Mumbai Film Festival provided an interesting contrast and an example of where Indian cinema is headed. Around 15 percent of films in the festival were Indian. They were put in three sections 'Indian Frame', 'New Faces In Indian Cinema' and 'Film India Worldwide'.
The range of films in these sections reflected the variety of films which sadly, like the fishermen in the film, lie on the fringes of Bollywood.
Despite receiving rave reviews from festival viewers, the fate of most of these films are doubtful, just like the fishermen in 'The Dead Sea'.
"The fishermen of this community on which this film is based, are facing extinction," says Manimekalai. One hope this is not the case with these independent films.
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