By Gautaman Bhaskaran
The Silk Road or Route is an ancient communication network of trade and culture that was key to the interaction between the East and the West. The route ran through Asia, and merchants, monks, pilgrims and soldiers from mostly India and China used the Silk Road during various points in history. Almost 6,000 kilometres long, the road got its name from the lucrative trade in Chinese silk that was carried out since the beginning of the Han Dynasty (206 BC).
It was this Silk Road that China decided to celebrate by organising a festival of movies from countries that lay on the route. The Second edition of the Silk Road International Film Festival, which ended on September 26, had India as the country of focus, and screened 14 movies from different States. Two of these were part of a competition along with 12 others.
Ashwini Iyer Tiwari’s The New Classmate was a charming story of a single mother, who undertakes backbreaking work to fulfil her dream of seeing her daughter cross the line. Highly representative of the aspirations of a large number of Indians — who want their children to flourish both professionally and financially — The New Classmate plots the struggle of a young mother (played with wonderful natural ease by Swara Bhaskar, who also won the Festival’s Best Actress Award), who enrols herself into school only to provoke her lazy daughter to work harder and give up the idea of becoming a maid — as her mother is. Though the little girl’s rebellion merely worsens at the sight of her mother sitting behind her desk in class, things begin to ease later. Indeed, a wonderful study of today’s India with its generational conflicts and rising ambitions.
The other Indian movie in competition was Gurvinder Singh’s The Fourth Direction. Set in the 1980s Punjab that was in the grip of the Khalistan Movement, demanding a separate nation for Sikhs — a bloody insurgency which finally led to the storming of the Golden Temple by the armed forces and flushing out of the militants holed in there — The Fourth Direction reminded me of a Hitchcockian trait. Singh recreates fear with just a hint of violence. While we see plenty of anxiety on the faces of the actors, we see virtually no bloodshed and just a trace of physical brutality.
The film pictures two unrelated stories. The first focuses on how three men force their way into the guard’s compartment of a train that has been ordered by the military to run between two stations absolutely empty. The men, one Sikh and two Hindus, having missed their last train are left with no choice but to finally push their way into the coach. In the second story, which is the main one, Singh takes us to a farmhouse, far removed from habitation, where a family of father, mother, son, daughter and their grandmother, lives in mortal fear of not just the militants but also the armed forces. Their pet dog, Tommy, is a source of irritation for the insurgents, who find its barking a giveaway as they pass by the farmhouse under the cover of darkness. They walk into the house one night, accept the family’s hospitality and suggest (maybe order) that the animal be put to death. The family abhors the very idea of doing this. The following morning, the troops arrive, search the house, turning it upside down, and even rough up the man there in their vain effort to find arms or even militants hidden away.
There was another movie at the Festival (which ran from September 22 to 26) that caught my fascination: the Russian work The Puppet Syndrome, which walked away with the Best Film honours, on the closing night. The story is based on the Dina Rubina 2010 novel, Petrushka’s Syndrome, adapted to the screen by Alena Alova and directed by Elena Khazanova. It stars Yevgeny Mironov as Peter, who since childhood had been fascinated by puppet theatre and a living girl named Liza. He creates a life-like puppet version of her and becomes her father, friend and husband.
Who would not remember Mary Poppins, that delightful British American musical fantasy which wowed the world in 1964. Produced by Walt Disney and directed by Robert Stevenson, the film, loosely based on PL Travers’ book series of the same name, garnered 13 Academy nods, but clinched only five Oscars, one of them for Best Actress. That was Julie Andrews, who played the title role, and went on to storm cinema with her brilliant voice in the 1965 musical, The Sound of Music, and later, in Alfred Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain.
Now, Mary Poppins is all set to pop out of the cans in a brand new version — also to be produced by Disney. This new film will be helmed by Rob Marshall — celebrated for musicals like Chicago (with Richard Gere) and Into The Woods (with Meryl Streep).
It is not yet clear who will essay the magical nanny of the Disney original, but the new movie will unfold in London two decades after Mary Poppins began her adventures with the Banks family. Poppins was a role that was literally immortalised by Andrews.
The 1964 classic — which also starred Dick Van Dyke — told the story of a nanny who came to work in the dysfunctional Banks’ household in a pre-World War I England.
The film was a huge hit, grossing $100 million at the box office.
Disney has been on a re-making spree in recent years turning their classic animated works like Alice in Wonderland and Cinderella into live action hits. The company is now focusing its attention on live action movies. Mary Poppins is the first in this basket.
Gautaman Bhaskaran served on the jury of the Second Silk Road International Film Festival, and may be e-mailed at email@example.com
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