Hindi cinema has always dominated the Cairo film festival, but this year, it’s a Malayalam film that’s in the running for the top prize
Chura liya hai tumne jo dil ko by RD Burman from Yaadon ki Baaraat (1973) played in the background, as the official ‘China Night’, organised by the Chinese embassy in Cairo, Egypt, kicked off. “We love Indian cinema,” said Tang Xiufan, the cultural attache at the Chinese embassy. The irony of Hindi film songs playing at an event in honour of China, the guest country at this year’s Cairo International Film Festival, was not lost on festival delegates. “It was surprising to hear Hindi songs at China Night,” remarked young Egyptian filmmaker Mariam Abdalla, who studied at a film school in India five years ago.
For several decades in the past, Hindi cinema dominated the screens in Cairo, forcing the Egyptian government to bring in legislations to protect the domestic film industry. Playing Hindi film songs at China Night may have been a faux pas by the event managers, but Indian films have always made their presence felt at the Cairo film festival, one of the world’s biggest film festivals. “It’s the duty of a film festival like ours to present different kinds of Indian cinema, which is the biggest film industry in the world,” says the festival’s artistic director Youssef Cherif Rizkallah. The 10-day film festival will conclude on November 24.
The Golden Pyramid
At the 38th edition of the Cairo film festival, a Malayalam film will compete for the prestigious Golden Pyramid—the award for best film. Ottayaal Paatha (The Narrow Path) by Satish and Santosh Babusenan, the filmmaker brothers from Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram, is the Indian entry this year at the festival. It is joined by 15 other films from countries like China, Czech Republic, France and Italy. Ottayaal Paatha, the second feature film by the directors, tells the story of a young man running away from the responsibility of caring for his old and crippled father. “The film portrays the modern-day reality of independent India, where children grow up and are forced to leave elderly parents, while they go seek jobs in other cities or countries,” said Santosh. “This reality of an India in transition is stretching the bonds that bind the young and the old,” he added. “It is about opening up to oneself and also how our lives are led by events that we hide from ourselves,” said Satish. “Art is all about exploring one’s conjectures with as much honesty as possible,” he added.
If they win the Golden Pyramid, the Babusenan brothers will join fellow Malayalam filmmaker Santosh Sivan, who won the honour for his Tamil film The Terrorist in 1998. The Terrorist, which also won the Best Director award for Sivan at the festival, is the only Indian film to have bagged the Golden Pyramid till now.
Last year, Indian-American filmmaker Prasanth Nair’s Umrika was the only Indian film in the international competition section of the festival. It failed to win the Golden Pyramid, but took the FIPRESCI award given by the international critics federation. Two other Indian films—Half Ticket (Marathi) by Samit Kakkad and Lipstick Under My Burkha (Hindi) by Alankrita Shrivastava—are part of the festival this year. Based on the hugely successful Tamil film Kaaka Muttai (The Crow’s Egg) by M Manikandan, which premiered at the Toronto festival in 2014, Half Ticket tells the story of two slum kids’ dream about having pizza after their playground is demolished for a fast food joint. “The Cairo festival is important for young filmmakers like me because of the mutual respect of Indian and Egyptian cinema,” says Kakkad, whose first film was Delinquent Dancers (2012). Lipstick Under My Burkha,
starring Konkona Sen Sharma and Ratna Pathak Shah, is about a burkha-clad rural
college girl who wants to become a pop singer.