For the five world premieres from the worlds largest film-producing country, the Toronto scouts have certainly flown far and wide, and scoured even a wider spectrum of the countrys celluloid wealth. The result: the Tamil film industry has something to cheer about, while the makers of the often glossed-over short-film genre can take heart.
With an emerging crop of young and brave auteurs in recent years, the Tamil presence at a major festival abroad was waiting to happen. A 31-year-old director, who stayed in a slum on the outskirts of Chennai for more than a month to train his non-professional cast, will be presenting his first film in Toronto this year. M Manikandan, the director of Kaakkaa Muttai (The Crows Egg), is backed by Kolavari star Dhanush, who has co-produced the film with another talented member of the Tamil film fraternity, Vetrimaran.
Kaakkaa Muttai, the story of a group of slum children, will be joined by Newborns, an eight-minute movie on victims of the dastardly acid violence. Bollywood actor Emraan Hashmi stars in Tigers, an India-France-UK co-production directed by Danis Tanovic, who made No Mans Land, which won an Oscar for the Best Foreign Language Film in 2002. Priyanka Chopra will be sparring it out with Hashmi in Toronto for attention with Mary Kom, which is following the new sports biopic trend in Bollywood.
Spreading wings wisely
Deftly-managed co-productions are doing the Indian film industry much favour these days. High-flying film executives from Mumbai are eager to taste further success after the roaring business done by The Lunchbox, which was sold in every continent. Qissa, a Punjabi Partition drama by Anup Singh, which took the Best Asian Film prize in Toronto last year, did well to sell the distribution rights abroad. Originated in India, Tanovics Tigers, too, has taken the same route, though through Pakistan. The film tells the story of a Pakistani medicine salesman (Hashmi), who challenges the system after discovering the devastating effect of cheap, locally-made drugs on sick people. Part of the Contemporary World Cinema section along with the Kalki Koechlin-starring Margarita, With a Straw by Sonali Bose, Tigers is an attempt to push the recent Indian global success story further, for a few more dollars in the vast international market. The business script is not Mumbais alone. Part of the prestigious Discovery section at TIFF, in which directors like Christopher Nolan and Steve McQueen have shown their first feature films, Kaakkaa Muttai, too, is ready for a global release.
Says Manikandan, Fox Star Studios has already bought the rights of the presenter and distributor.
Film honchos like Guneet Monga, co-producer of Tigers, will be present in Toronto, providing a balance in showcasing glamour and flexing financial muscles. Chopras Mary Kom, the story of the Manipuri boxer, is included in the Special Presentations section at TIFF this year, bracketed with the galas comprising new Hollywood films vying for Oscar attention.
Boses Margarita, With a Straw, too, is in familiar financial territory, thanks to Viacom 18, the co-producer. The award-winning director of Amu casts Koechlin in a wheelchair from where the patient of cerebral palsy travels into a world of sexual desire and discovery.
This is an intensely personal film dealing with a subject that hardly any film has touched onsexuality and disability, emphasises Bose, who studied direction in a Los Angeles film school. Bose, whose own cousins life mirrors that of Koechlins in the film, adds that her protagonist, however, finds the wherewithal to take the lemons life had thrown at her and turn them not just into lemon juice, but margaritasfrothy, heady, buoyant. Drunk by a girl with cerebral palsy. With a straw. Toronto festival director and CEO Piers Handling agrees. Cinemas collection and transformative experience lives at the heart of our festival, says Handling, referring to the Contemporary World Cinema section, which includes both Margarita, With a Straw and Tigers.
Slicing up the slums
If Bose is making a bold attempt at unravelling the sexual desires of a disabled woman, Manikandans brave handling of a bunch of kids from a Chennai slum dwelling, too, is personal, as it is professional. I found the story for Kaakkaa Muttai when I took my seven-year-old son to a pizza outlet in Chennai, says the director, who is a trained cinematographer. There, I saw some poor children peeping inside with their innocent eyes at something they obviously could only dream of, he adds.
Manikandan then sat down to write the story of how a new pizza outlet intrudes on a nearby childrens playground, upsetting their lives and dreams. Once the script was ready, he promptly sent it out to Dhanush and Vetrimaran, enclosing a copy of his work profile. Both of them responded immediately and said they loved the story, beams Manikandan, who represents a resurgent Tamil cinema driven by young talent. In the next three years, Tamil cinema will emerge stronger, he says, alluding to the support established filmmakers are extending to the new generation.
In the larger Indian scenario, the new generation also includes makers of short films like Megha Ramaswamy, whose Newborns paints a different image of acid attack victims in India. Are they really survivors asks Ramaswamy, arguing that recovering from the tragedy is a distance fiction for these women, who are deprived of medical insurance and care by the establishment. Part of Short Cuts International, a section introduced this year, Newborns will certainly help bring the burning issue back on the table. Some of the best filmmaking is happening in the short form, says TIFF special projects director Shane Smith. The introduction of this programme allows the festival to identify talented filmmakers and connect them to the rest of the world, he adds.
Faizal Khan is a freelancer