Voices, diverse and distinct

India has never had as big a slate of films in the Berlinale as it does this year

Saibal Chatterjee

Two new Mumbai films will be showcased in the 69th Berlin International Film Festival, which opens on February 7. Both titles Zoya Akhtar’s rap drama Gully Boy, starring Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt and Kalki Koechlin, and Ritesh Batra’s off-mainstream romance Photograph, featuring Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sanya Malhotra and Jim Sarbh will screen as part of the Berlinale Special.

Gully Boy, about a rapper who has to fight stiff odds to make it big, will premiere in Berlin ahead of its release on February 14. Photograph, revolving around an unlikely interfaith relationship between a struggling Mumbai street photographer and a shy young student, arrives in Berlin after playing in the Sundance Film Festival.

India has three other Indian titles in the Berlinale, including Udita Bhargava’s Indo-German production Dust. Set in central India against the backdrop of violent political conflict, Dust is the director’s graduation film made at the Film University Babelsberg Konrad Wold.  Its multinational cast includes Morten Holst, Kalyanee Mulay and Vinay Pathak. Dust will be unveiled in the Perspektive Deutsches Kino, a section devoted to unearthing new German talent.

A German diplomat travels to Madhya Pradesh to look for traces of his dead photographer-girlfriend. He arrives in the city of the woman’s birth and runs into a cynical old doctor who turns out to be a leader of a leftwing outfit. The past and present intersect in Dust as the protagonist seeks the truth.

Two Indian films — Rima Das’Bulbul Can Sing and Prantik Basu’s 27-minute Rang Mahal — will compete for awards at Berlinale 2019, the former in Generation 14plus, designed for children and young adults, and the latter in Berlinale Shorts.

Kolkata-based Prantik Basu, who studied direction and screenplay writing at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, is no stranger to festival recognition. His 2016 short film Sakhisona won the Tiger Award for short films in the 46th International Film Festival of Rotterdam.

Basu’s latest film, Rang Mahal, a Public Service Broadcasting Trust (PSBT) production, is among the 24 titles that will compete for the Golden and Silver Bear in this year’s Berlinale Shorts. This unconventional documentary turns the spotlight on the Santhal tribal community, which does not have a written script of its own. They have for centuries been transmitting their culture and heritage through their oral traditions. Rang Mahal captures a little-known aspect of the tribe: the fact that they use a colourful chalk-stone hill in Bengal’s Purulia to draw murals on the walls of their houses.

The Berlin Forum will screen a restored version of writer and filmmaker Ruchir Joshi’s early 1990s documentary Egaro Mile (Eleven Miles), which puts the traditions and lives of several Baul singers under the spotlight. Besides, Forum Expanded includes Joshi’s 1993 film, Tales from Planet Kolkata, “a personal portrait from the point of view of cinema”, as well as restorations of two films by Yugantar, India’s first feminist film collective, which was founded in 1980: one on female factory workers (Tambaku Chaakila Oob Ali, 1982) and the other on domestic violence (Idhi Katha Matramena, 1983).

The Indian participation in Berlin is rounded off by Shadow Circus, an exhibition by the Dharamsala-based filmmaking duo of Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam. The exhibition, presented in Forum Expanded as a joint project of Savvy Contemporary and Arsenal-Institute of Film and Video Art, will be inaugurated on the opening day of Berlinale 2019. It will run until March 10. The exhibition has its roots in a BBC-commissioned documentary that Sarin and Sonam made in 1998 after researching the Tibetan armed resistance against Chinese occupation and CIA’s involvement in it for many years. The film, The Shadow Circus: The CIA in Tibet, focused on US intelligence agency’s support to and betrayal of the Tibetan freedom fighters.

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