For the first time, there are two Malayalam films—The Elder One by Geetu Mohandas and Jallikattu by Lijo Jose Pellissery—in Toronto, a validation of what film lovers and critics have been saying about the quality of filmmaking in Kerala these days.
Toronto film festival’s joint-head and artistic director Cameron Bailey missed his date with Mumbai this year, but that hasn’t stopped the festival officials from selecting Indian movies in its vibrant programming. Bailey, who scouted for films in Mumbai’s elusive corners and once on the editing table of a broke documentary maker, apparently kept a watch on what is happening in Indian cinema.
For the first time, there are two Malayalam films—The Elder One by Geetu Mohandas and Jallikattu by Lijo Jose Pellissery—in Toronto, a validation of what film lovers and critics have been saying about the quality of filmmaking in Kerala these days. Both Malayalam filmmakers are young and creative artists trying to make sense of contemporary society. Writer-director Mohandas has represented India at big stages before. Her debut feature film, Liar’s Dice, was India’s entry to the Oscars in 2015. Pellissery won international acclaim when he bagged the Silver Peacock for Best Director at the Goa film festival last year for Ee. Ma. Yau.
The two Indian entries at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)—The Sky is Pink by Shonali Bose and Bombay Rose by Gitanjali Rao—are in Hindi and by Mumbai-based directors. While Bombay Rose will have its North America premiere in Toronto (it is the opening film at the Venice Critics’ Week sidebar on August 28), the other three movies are world premieres at TIFF. Bailey, who discovered Assamese filmmaker Rima Das for the cinema world through Village Rockstars, which premiered at TIFF in 2017, continues to push gender parity in cinema. Three of the four Indian filmmakers in Toronto this year are women.
All four Indian films at TIFF are pushing the boundaries of filmmaking. Mohandas casts non-actors in Elder One. “The film begins in Lakshadweep. We filmed there for 16 days,” says Mohandas, who lives in Kochi. “It is about a young boy in search of his elder brother (hence the title) landing in the underbelly of Mumbai,” adds the director, who shot the film in Mumbai’s red light district of Kamathipura. “We shot in real locations with real people,” she says.
The Elder One, the first film shot in Lakshadweep to travel to a major international festival, is a many-layered drama. “Alternating between scenes of bracing violence and heartbreaking tenderness, it is an epic story of familial bonds and underworld misadventure, infused with urgent questions regarding gender, sexuality and tolerance,” says Bailey. Pellissery has adapted a Malayalam short story, Maoist, written by S Hareesh for his new feature film Jallikattu. Set in a remote village in Kerala, Jallikattu tells the story of a villagers chasing down a buffalo that breaks free.
The Sky is Pink, Bose’s latest offering at TIFF after Margarita with a Straw in 2014 and her debut feature Amu in 2005, is about a teenage girl reminiscing about the relationship between her mother (Priyanka Chopra) and father (Farhan Akhtar). Zaira Wasim, who has since quit acting, plays the role of the daughter, who is afflicted with immune deficiency.
Inspired by true events, Bombay Rose is the second Indian animated feature film to be screened in Toronto. Escaping from child marriage, a young club dancer living in the streets of Mumbai must choose between fending for her family and finding love with a Kashmiri boy orphaned by militancy. The film explores the ruthlessness of a society where the love and life that reigns on the big screen can crush you in its mean streets. “I have always wanted to tell the stories about the unsung heroes who live and love in Mumbai, never become success stories, yet their struggle for survival makes heroes out of them,” says Rao, a self-taught animator and actor-director, whose short animation True Love Story, also a love story on Mumbai’s streets, was part of the critics’ week in Cannes in 2014.
The festival, from September 5–15, will screen 333 films, including 245 features, from 84 countries and in 87 languages and dialects, 36% of them directed, co-directed or created by women.
The writer is a freelancer