Reel Life: India at Cannes

‘Nauha’ a final year thesis film of a Mumbai film graduate has been selected to compete in the La Cinef section at the Cannes Film Festival this year

A still from 'Nauha'
A still from 'Nauha'
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Namrata Joshi

For a 23-year-old, Pratham Khurana deals with a rather grave and grim subject in his 26-minute short film Nauha (translates as mourning, lamenting): that of death and its consequences on the bereaved.

It’s a theme Khurana confesses being obsessed with. “It had been reflecting subconsciously in the short films that I had been making at Whistling Woods International. My friends used to ask me why everyone was dying in my films. In Nauha I have engaged with it consciously,” says the Mumbai institute graduate on his final year thesis film that has been selected to compete in the La Cinef (Cinefondation) section at Festival de Cannes, the Cannes Film Festival, this year.

Centred on a young caregiver, Kishan, and an old and ailing man, Nauha, is about how unforeseen but often unexpressed intimacies can be stuck between strangers and how solidarities can take roots in unexpected places, amongst colleagues and friends.

Pratham Khurana; (right) A still from 'Nauha'
Pratham Khurana; (right) A still from 'Nauha'

It draws on Khurana’s own life. He lost his mother when he was 13 and aunt when he was 11. “I was the observer, not saying anything but doing what I was told to do,” he recollects the feelings in those traumatic moments. The core relationship in the film parallels that of his own with a friend’s father.

Dedicated to students’ cinema, La Cinef aims to showcase the diversity of filmmaking education in the world. This year it features 13 liveaction and three animated shorts directed by 6 male directors and 10 women filmmakers, chosen from among the 1,528 submissions by film schools from all over the world. Four of them are from schools taking part for the first time. The winners will be awarded in a ceremony on Thursday 26 May, in the Buñuel Theatre in Cannes.

In 2020 Film and Television Institute of India’s (FTII, Pune) Ashmita Guha Neogi had won the first prize at La Cinef with her short Catdog. FTII was represented the first time here by Payal Kapadia with her Afternoon Clouds in 2017. In 2016 Saurav Rai represented Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute (SRFTI), Kolkata, with Gudh.

For the theme of loss that it deals with, Nauha came to life during the pandemic. It was written by Khurana and Lavina Khubchandani in 2019, preproduction happened before the first wave, it was shot before the second wave and the edit, sound and post-production happened after that.

The lead Kishan is played by Khurana’s own batchmate, acting graduate Azhar Khan. Veteran actor Uday Chandra, who Khurana refers to as a “gift to us”, plays the role of the old man. Kishan’s working-class friend in the film, Batti is played by another student Ayush and the role of the security guard Ganesh has been played by Shashi Ranjan who Khurana spotted in a small role of a rickshaw puller in Pataal Lok.

A Delhi boy, Khurana belongs to a business family with no previous connection with world of cinema, other than the fact that his father is a film buff who had been interested in filmmaking. “I am living my father’s dream, carrying it out,” says Khurana.

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India may not have found a place in the prestigious Competition and Un Certain Regard official sections at Cannes this year, but a very strong title represents it at the mecca of cinema in the Special Screenings section—Shaunak Sen’s spectacular documentary All That Breathes.

The film had its world premiere in January this year at the Sundance Film Festival where it won the Grand Jury Prize in World Cinema Documentary Competition. The intricate, multi-layered film packs in a lot in its 90-minute run. It’s about the changing cities in the face of rapid urbanisation, development and progress.

Shaunak Sen & (R)  A still from 'All That Breathes'
Shaunak Sen & (R) A still from 'All That Breathes'

It’s on climate change, ecological imbalance and environmental degradation but most of all its about relationships that flourish in their shadows—the ties that bind two brothers, Mohammad Saud and Nadeem Shehzad, their shared lifelong passion of rescuing and tending the injured kites and the unique bond they have with these birds of prey.

It’s the grounding in this human element, the interconnectedness in life, that elevates the film to a philosophical treatise, that also shines through in its meditative frames and the inventive soundscape. Above all, All That Breathes is about the essential humanism, reflected in odd beliefs like feeding the kites would expel troubles. Most so, it is about a possibility—that poetry can thrive in the midst of toxicity.

Reel Life: India at Cannes

Meanwhile, as we go to press, Cannes has unveiled its jury. With French actor Vincent Lindon as its President, it features Deepika Padukone as one of the eight members. Giving her company are actor-filmmaker-writer Rebecca Hall, actor Noomi Rapace, actor-director Jasmine Trinca, filmmaker-writer Asghar Farhadi, filmmaker-writeractor Ladj Ly and director-writers Jeff Nichols and Joachim Trier.

We are yet to get a confirmation on the big buzz in the film circles: that India will be the country focus at Marche du Film (Cannes Film Market), the biggest film market in the world that runs parallel to the Cannes Film Festival. Nor has there been any corroboration yet from Cannes on honouring, albeit belatedly, Satyajit Ray on his centenary with a 10-film retrospective.

What one does know is that NFDC Film Bazaar, South Asia’s largest film market that takes place annually in Goa, parallel to the International Film Festival of India, is collaborating with the Cannes Film Market for its industry programme: Goes To Cannes.

NFDC Film Bazaar will showcase a selection of feature films in various stages of post-production still seeking a sales agent, distributor or a festival selection. These curated selections will be shown during twohour market screenings alongside talent teams who will introduce their films in front of an audience of industry professionals. The list of projects, however, is yet to be announced.

(This was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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Published: 02 May 2022, 1:40 PM