Regional Film Festival ’19 was held at Goethe-Institut/Max Mueller Bhavan from August 30 to September 1, 2019. As the name suggests, the three-day film festival was dedicated to the regional Indian cinema. Even as Bollywood continues to dominate the general discourse on Indian cinema, the emergence of middle road cinema is quite evident in various Indian regional languages. Curated by Bina Paul, the well-renowned Artistic Director of the International Film Festival of Kerala, Regional Film Festival 2019 featured films by veterans like Adoor Gopalakrishnan (short film titled Sukhantyam), Buddhadeb Dasgupta (The Flight), and Swarnavel Eswaran (titled Kattumaram). The opening film of the festival was Sherin Govindan’s Malayalam film Ka Kha Ga Gha which revolves around a ritual artist living in the outskirts of a village in Kerala. The artist’s livelihood is dependent on a ritual called Kalanoot wherein people provide the artist with food and money in the hope of avoiding any unnatural deaths in their own families. Rima Das’ National Award-winning film Bulbul Can Sing was also a part of the festival.
Another two very important films screened at the festival, The Sweet Requiem and Widow of Silence, are set in two major conflict zones in South Asia — Tibet and Jammu & Kashmir, respectively. Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam, the directors of The Sweet Requiem, are an Indo-Tibetan couple who have been making films together right from their student days back in the 1980s. The Dharamshala International Film Festival, which debuted back in November 2012, is also their brainchild. The Sweet Requiem, just like their debut feature film Dreaming Lhasa (2005), is a work of immense pain and beauty. It revolves around a Tibetan girl named Dolkar who lives in exile in Delhi. Her present-day struggles in Delhi are poignantly paralleled with the harrowing and ultimately tragic journey she had undertaken 18 years ago along with her father across the Himalayas while trying to escape from Tibet in the hope of finding asylum in India. The Sweet Requiem is a story of love, sacrifice, pain and suffering, forgiveness, and, above all, an undying dream for reclaiming one’s homeland. “It was a conscious decision right from the time I started writing the script to not make a political film. We wanted to make a film that’s universal in its implications and that’s why we chose to focus on one person’s experiences,” said Tenzing Sonam during the post screening conversation with film critic Saibal Chatterjee.
“The idea of having a compassionate view of the world is very important to us,” added Ritu Sarin. Praveen Morchhale, the director of Widow of Silence, has managed to quickly establish himself as an important humanistic voice in the context of Indian cinema. His films have won important awards, both nationally and internationally. Widow of Silence, his third feature film, won the award for the best film in the Indian Film Competition at the 2018 Kolkata International Film Festival. The film revolves around a Kashmiri half-widow (a woman whose husband has disappeared) who lives with her 11-year-old daughter and ailing mother-in-law. Every frame of the film, shot by noted Iranian cinematographer Mohammad Reza Jahanpanah, oozes with the splendour and beauty that one generally associates with Kashmir. The long takes remind us that the filmmaker is in no hurry to finish his job. He is fully aware that there is so much beauty for the eyes to capture. But there is also great pain in seeing what this woman and her family go through.
Morchhale, who likes to work with non-actors, has made an exception by casting noted theatre actor Shilpi Marwaha in the lead role of Asiya. “I don’t like manipulating my viewers and that’s precisely why I rely on a lot of long takes. Now there is long scene in the film between the mother and the daughter which we have done in a single take. With a non-actor, I wouldn’t have managed it in a single take and so that’s one of the most important reasons why I chose to cast a trained actor like Shilpi in the central role,” explained Morchhale. A total of nine films were screened during the festival, including three short films. Shazia Iqbal’s short film Bebaak, starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui, was the closing film of the festival. The film throws light on the day-to-day issues faced by Indian Muslim girls who aspire to break free of the boundaries of a patriarchal society.