INDIAN FILMMAKERS have found their match. And it’s not in the emerging talent in fellow Asian countries like the Philippines, South Korea or Thailand, but in the widely distributed Indian diaspora. At the ongoing Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) this year, there are more feature films from Indian-origin directors than domestic ones. Leading the list of diaspora directors are Mira Nair and Deepa Mehta. While Nair’s Queen of Katwe is a biographical sports drama, Deepa’s Anatomy of Violence is based on the 2012 Delhi gangrape.
Among the domestic filmmakers, Malayalam director Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Bengali filmmaker Buddhadeb Dasgupta both have their new films in the ‘Masters’ section of the festival. While Gopalakrishnan is showing Pinneyum (Once Again), a statement on a materialistic middle-class, Dasgupta makes a powerful political statement with Tope (The Bait), a sharp comment on India’s economic divide. Then there is actor Konkona Sensharma, who follows in her mother’s footsteps with her directorial debut A Death in the Gunj. The film is set in the late Seventies in the resort town of McCluskiegunj in undivided Bihar.
The other two Indian entries are both documentaries: The Cinema Travellers, about the dying tradition of mobile movies in India, by Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya; and An Insignificant Man, a portrait of the new politician in town, Arvind Kejriwal, by first-time directors Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla.
Three Mehtas—siblings Deepa and Dilip Mehta, and the unrelated Richie Mehta, all Canada-based Indian-origin filmmakers—focus their cameras on India, with topics ranging from gangrape to the life of a porn star. Deepa returns to TIFF with Anatomy of Violence, a year after showing her last film Beeba Boys there. Presented in an experimental format in collaboration with Chandigarh-based theatre director Neelam Mansingh Chowdhury, the film probes the psyche of the men involved in a brutal gangrape. Part of the Masters segment at TIFF, the film is the result of a workshop in Chandigarh where 12 actors improvised their roles to answer the question, “What makes monsters?”
“I am happy to be in the presence of my two filmmaker heroes,” Deepa says, referring to Gopalakrishnan and Dasgupta sharing screen space in the Masters section. “Gopalakrishnan and Dasgupta are very much in the same mould as Satyajit Ray,” says TIFF director Piers Handling, adding, “Both of them comment on what is happening in India in a beautiful way.”
Besides Deepa, the other two Mehtas, Dilip and Richie, too, have gone back to India for their projects. “Dilip and Richie see themselves as Indian filmmakers,” Handling says. In Mostly Sunny—part of the documentary section at TIFF—Dilip looks at the prejudice in Indian society against women. Based on the life of actor Sunny Leone, Mostly Sunny was shot mainly in Mumbai and other settings of Leone’s previous films to measure the star’s past and present. When former IPS officer Kiran Bedi comments in the film that porn is emerging as a “catalyst for rape” in the country, Leone, a former actor in the adult entertainment industry in the US, deadpans, “Rape was there before me.”
In India in a Day, Richie assembles hundreds of images of India he and his executive producers Anurag Kashyap and Ridley Scott commissioned along with Google last year. On October 10, 2015, Richie, Scott, Kashyap and Google had asked Indians to film a day of their lives to tell the world about life in an evolving India. The result is 86 minutes of raw footage from across the country. “India in a Day uses crowdsourcing to create an exciting new form of non-fiction filmmaking,” says TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey. “The result is not only a breathtaking, kaleidoscopic view of a fascinating country, but a testament to the ways in which the Internet and the digital realm are reshaping our view of the world, one day at a time.”
On the other hand, US-based Vikram Gandhi’s Barry, part of the Special Presentations section at TIFF, traces the life of US President Barack Obama. But essentially, Barry is the story of a young man in search of something. “It just so happens that what he’s searching for is the very sense of diversity and acceptance that his country is still trying to find 35 years later,” says Bailey.
Faizal Khan is a freelancer