Despite the best efforts of the organisers, the Cinefan closing ceremony tends to be a messy, chaotic affair year after year. Even with the introduction of the ticketing system and registration for all guests in the last two editions of the festival, it proves difficult to keep the vast crowds under control on the day of this very high-profile event (held on a Saturday evening to boot).
I usually stay away from the closing ceremony but I went this year, mainly because of the closing film, Mumbai Cutting, a collection of 10 shorts made by some of the most interesting directors in the country - Anurag Kashyap, Jahnu Barua, Ruchi Narain and Kundan Shah among them. The experience of getting into the hall was as trying as expected: I won’t go into the murky details, but suffice it to say that despite being at the venue at 5.15 pm (the closing ceremony was scheduled for 6.30, the closing film for 7.30) and despite being assured well in advance that my media pass would carry the same weight as the regular pass for the event (which I hadn’t been able to get, since it had been in short – and erratic – supply), I eventually found myself in the distant right balcony, watching the screen at an angle of 135 degrees. Further, my view of the closing ceremony was blocked by the bobbing heads of creatures who stumbled into the hall more than an hour after I had diligently stood in the queue outside the doors. (In Delhi, we call this the survival of the latest.) In one of the shorts in Mumbai Cutting, a narrator points out that during rush hour a local train compartment in Bombay might carry 400 people instead of the 90 it was designed for. This is pretty much what was happening in parts of the Siri Fort auditorium that evening. Long before the film began, the right balcony was stuffed to the point of exploding.
All this probably affected my experience of the film; also, when I go to see a movie in a hall, I expect it to begin within an hour of my having taken my seat. Like many other films in the short-story format, Mumbai Cutting was a hit-and-miss affair, with the hits marginally outweighing the misses. The opening short, Sudhir Mishra’s “The Ball”, was predictable story-wise but interesting in its execution, with the camera mimicking the perspective of a confused observer on a chaotic street in the aftermath of a young man’s murder. But my two favourite films in the collection by far were the ones directed by Anurag Kashyap and Kundan Shah, both of which have for protagonists “little heroes” - people who are the heroes of their own stories.
Kashyap’s excellently written and performed “Pramod Bhai 23” is about an actor-cum-teacher forming a bond with a disturbed little boy in a remand home: the boy, nicknamed Chand, weaves fantasies (about being friends with the gangster Chhota Rajan; about meeting big filmstars) to boost his self-esteem but withdraws into himself when another boy cruelly bursts the bubble. Shah’s “Hero” begins with a charming shot that had me thinking of this director’s past work about individuals struggling against the system: a cheerful young man with a spring in his step saunters towards a railway station before being almost washed away by a sea of humanity that has just surged out of a train. This dialogue-less film – shot in the slapstick style of Chaplin and Keaton, and wonderfully performed by Deepak Dobriyal – is about the rigours of the daily commute in Mumbai and a tribute to “the real heroes” of the city, those who brave the local train every day.
Another highlight was Ruchi Narain’s “Jo Palti Nahin Woh Rickshaw Kya”, in which a young girl’s experience of being an immigrant in Mumbai is defined by her travels in auto-rickshaws. Great absurdist opening scene where a rickshaw turns on its side and its driver promptly recites a verse about how this is the true test of being an autorickshaw on Mumbai’s roads. Then there’s Rituparno Ghosh’s slow-paced “Urge”, which is more interesting in its concept than in its execution. Early on, I realised the story wasn’t set in Mumbai (it’s probably Calcutta and this is a Bengali family, though cinematic licence allows them to speak in Hindi) and briefly wondered if Ghosh had independently made a short film that someone had bunged into this collection at the last minute. But one gradually realises that this is a film about the effect of Bombay’s popular culture (primarily the movies but also the melodramatic TV serials) on the rest of the country – in this case, on a missing young man (who has taken a flight to Mumbai, perhaps to become a film star), on his worried family (who occasionally speak and behave like characters on a telly-soap) and even on the local policeman who “solves” the case in the style of a self-conscious movie detective, before returning to his copy of Stardust magazine.
A decent collection, all told. Incidentally the official website of Mumbai Cutting says there are 11 short films. The one directed by Rahul Dholakia wasn’t included in the version we saw - perhaps it'll be in the commercially released one. (Update: turns out the Dholakia film was shown after all but we missed it - see the Comments.)
P.S. Here are my earlier Cinefan posts from this year: Greed and Bioscope, Ramchand Pakistani, Schlondorff’s Ulzhan, Zibahkhana. I haven’t written about a couple of the films I saw, including one that I enjoyed a lot, The Satanic Angels, about a group of Moroccan musicians who are arrested for doing anti-Islamic things like owning “bizarre books and CDs” and wearing black T-shirts. Talky film but very well-paced, with some potent things to say about individuals rights vs crippling traditions. Might write something about it later.