Watched four films at Cinefan today, two of them really, really terrible. First there was Anjan Das’s Faltu, which I fear may have been intended as an allegory for the rape of Bengal by communists, or the rape of something by someone. What can one say? This film is a compendium of some unusual camera angles (e.g. a tracking shot taken from ground level as a boat approaches a little dock), unnecessarily repetitive close-ups of the faces of sundry men as they shuffle about and looked awkward when asked the question “So who is Faltu’s father?”, and scenes where a madwoman writhes about on the ground while ugly bald men rape her or make plans to rape her. (By the way, don’t expect a CD of this movie’s soundtrack to be out anytime soon. The aural experience is almost unbearable for anyone who has delicate ears – enormous quantities of moaning, grunting and screaming.)
I had just about decided that the acting in Faltu was the worst I’d ever seen in a film, but then I popped across to the next hall to catch a film titled It Could Be You (in the Indian Competition section, no less), and the ranking had to be promptly re-thought. This is an unbelievably bad NRI movie that takes every imaginable cliché, blows it up, and smears it all over the viewer’s face (and I’m speaking here as someone who’s witnessed some very extreme NRI behaviour firsthand, and who knows how filmi it can get in real life). Watching this film is as edifying as two hours spent watching a man trying to milk a long-dead cow on the roadside; after just 20 or so minutes I was crying out for the restrained, tasteful sensibility of a Govinda-David Dhawan movie. It meanders from unfunny slapstick comedy to unintentionally funny morality tale about the relative importance of family and money, to an inept hired-killer yarn with a family solemnly planning the demise of their patriarch (in a scene that’s around 15 minutes longer than it needed to be).
There’s Kirron Kher doing a pathetically contrived accent: pronouncing “you” as “jew” and “wishes” as “bishes”, and declaiming each sentence as if she’d just finished rehearsing it in her mind four or five times – which she probably had. And I’ve lost faith in Naseerudin Shah, or at least in his choice in films; could it be that he’s become overenthusiastic about this supposed “experimentation” that’s happening in Indian cinema (the crossover blah blah for instance), and is agreeing to be part of any nonsensical project that comes his way? He’s in at least four of the movies being telecast at the festival, and I have no idea whether the others are any good. (Incidentally, Soumitra Chatterjee was in Faltu, which made it a generally bad day for great actors. Last year, sitting in exactly the same hall, I watched him in Charulata and Sonar Kella. What a fall.)
The day was salvaged by Paradise Now, a powerful, moving film about two young men training to be suicide bombers in the Palestinian cause. This description probably makes it sound very political (and violent), but it isn’t; it’s a simply told story about two youngsters struggling for a cause, struggling to make sense of their lives and impending deaths. It manages to be thoughtful and fast-paced at the same time, and is even lighthearted about a couple of things without detracting from the poignancy of the subject matter. Excellent end to a mixed day. Note to anyone who doesn’t know anything about the films being screened and is confused about what to watch: the Arabesque section is always a good bet. (Aruna Vasudeva makes a special point of mentioning it each year and she’s right: in my years of watching Cinefan, I haven’t yet been disappointed by any film in this section.)
Reviews of Paradise Now here.
Emcee (introducing Conrad Rooks’ Siddhartha, starring Shashi Kapoor and Simi Garewal): “In this film, Simi Garewal is unrecognisable from her present-day avatar.”
Anonymous shouts from audience: “She better be!”
Update: Nikhil weighs in with some tips for Cinefan-goers. To which I'd like to add that I'm happy about the addition of a canteen this year. (It's another matter that at one point today I found myself eating seekh kabab with kulcha - no typo - and tomato ketchup. Quite experimental even by my high standards.)