A scene from Fig Fruit and the Wasps. Right: A still from Labour of Love.
By Gautaman Bhaskaran
Over the past few years, one of the most interesting sidebars of the International Film Festival of India has been the Film Bazaar, organised by the National Film Development Corporation of India.
The Bazaar — which ended last week — has been attracting veterans in cinema as well as novices. Both arrive at Goa’s Panaji — the Festival venue — with either their scripts or movie projects under production — seeking financial sponsors. This segment of the Bazaar is called Co-Production Market, where producers and directors pitch their stories or scripts to potential funders from all over the world. Here are three fascinating scripts I came across at the Bazaar.
Bengali helmer Aditya Vikram Sengupta was at the Bazaar with his second work, titled Memories and My Mother.
As Sengupta said in the course of a conversation the other day, his new film would be an “emotional response” to a city — Kolkata — where he grew up.
The work is all about an ageing metropolis, where his story unfolds, a story that has been inspired by true events. Kolkata with its teeming millions and confusion confounded will present a study in contrast.
Sengupta’s protagonist will be Manu, who lives in a crumbling old mansion, his ancestral home, and one night he gets on to the top of his building to meet his deceased relatives. As the director quipped, he planned to paint a picture where tradition and modernism would mix and mingle to create “magic realism”.
Sengupta’s first feature, Labour of Love, premiered at Venice in 2014. It won the Fedora Award for Best First Work. Later, the movie travelled to Rotterdam, Busan and London before hitting Indian screens in June 2014.
The first thing that strikes about Labour of Love, is its wonderful silence. In an India which is bombarded with the noisiest of sounds, this work has no dialogues. Yes, it has musical scores in the background, but not many.
Helmed with sheer lyricism, Labour of Love or Asha Jaoar Majhe is about a young Bengali couple living in a recession-hit Kolkata, their humdrum middleclass existence filled with monotonous jobs and punctuated by meal breaks and sleep. They never meet each other. For, the man works at night in the printing press of a newspaper, and his wife during the day in a handbag factory.
With Ritwik Chakraborty as the husband and Basabdutta Chatterjee, wife, the film chugs along sporting only two characters, the tedium of their lives coloured by the couple’s love for each other. Which is exemplified through her cooking and his washing up.
During a chat with this writer last year at Venice, Sengupta said that this kind of marital existence was not exactly rare — lives led with the two people hardly meeting each other or being able to communicate. This could have been one reason why there were no dialogues in Labour of Love.
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Sri Lankan auteur Prasanna Vithanage’s Children of the Sun is in the Sinhala language. Vithanage is undoubtedly a master moviemaker, known for his powerful anti-war cinema. Though seen as a political filmmaker, he is in fact a compelling storyteller whose plots often veer towards humanism. In an essential way, they are love stories that convey guilt, affection, friendship and so on.
The Children of the Sun will be Vithanage’s first work of history, and during a brief breakfast meeting at Panaji last week, he told this writer that his movie might well be called a “historical road film”.
Set in the Kandy of 1814 during the dark days of a rebellion by Sinhala nobles against the Tamil king, the movie elaborates on a law that required Sinhala women whose husbands were missing to walk to a river and make one of the two choices on offer. They could jump into the water in a sacrificial ritual or they could marry one of the scavengers waiting across the river.
Vithanage’s narrative focusses on a young girl, who decides to wed a scavenger rather than give up her life.
But having married a scavenger, the girl is not willing to become part of her husband’s community that will, among other things, require her to go about bare chested. A woman in the scavenger clan was not allowed to wear an upper garment.
The husband, by now passionately in love with his beautiful young wife, decides to escape with her from his community, and The Children of the Sun will follow the couple as they go on a long road trip in various disguises — and in search of a dignified life.
The film will probably help us understand the genesis of the Tamil-Sinhala conflict in the picturesque island nation of Sri Lanka, a war indeed that raged for well over three decades and killed thousands of men, women and children.
Vithanage’s earlier movie, With You Without You, screened at the Festival some years ago, was a deeply moving piece of work which intimately portrayed love, guilt, remorse and a sense of desperation through the lives of a Tamil girl and a Sinhala man, a former soldier.
With You Without You was not allowed to be screened in Tamil Nadu, where there is an overwhelming sense of Tamil patriotism. Although, the film was not anti-Tamil in any way and in fact, it was a movie that attempted to soothe wounded feelings, screening rights were denied to it in the face of hostility in Tamil Nadu.
Even directors like Shoojit Sircar and Santosh Sivan have had problems releasing their films in Tamil Nadu, because they dealt with Sri Lankan subjects.
* * *
M S Prakash Babu’s Mysterious Men (Nigudha Manushyaru) from Karnataka was yet another riveting script.
Like Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Nizhalkkuthu (Shadow Kill) in Malayalam, where the palm tree becomes almost a character, Prakash Babu’s film will have a mountainous terrain as a character. Based on a 1973 short story by K P Poornachandra Tejesvi, Mysterious Men begins on a rainy night in a forest where an excise inspector and his writer friend find themselves stranded when their car breaks down after hitting a muddy bog.
Mysterious Men then takes wings, so to say, and goes on a trip of fantasy with tribals and a village landlord stepping in to rescue the two men and get them moving again.
While most of the actors will be non-professionals, Kannada actor and Prakash Babu’s wife, Bhavani, will play a small but significant role as Shaari in the movie.
Prakash Babu told this writer over dinner one night last week that he had only used Tejesvi’s story as a starting point for his film. Babu had added a lot more to the story — an aspect that one has seen even with some of Gopalakrishnan’s works which have been based on literary works — like, for instance, author Basheer inspired Mathilukal (The Walls) and Paul Zakaria’s novella, which was made into Vidheyan (The Servile).
Mysterious Men will be Prakash Babu’s second feature, the first, Fig Fruit and the Wasps, premiered at the Beijing International Film Festival last April.
Unlike, many, many Indian movies, Prakash Babu’s debut feature was neither loud nor exaggerated. What is more, it is entirely believable, and there is this rare authenticity about it — something that Indian films never care about.
And so what do we have in Fig Fruit and the Wasps? Ninety minutes of imagery which appears to emerge from a colourful palate of paintings — paintings that Prakash Babu had brought alive on his canvases during his days at Tagore’s Abode of Peace, Shantiniketan. He studied art there, like Satyajit Ray had, and a touch of pride is discernible when he talks about the great master whose work once put India on the international map of cinema. Earlier, Prakash Babu was in Ahmedabad where he studied sculpting in addition to painting.
Asked whether his sculpture or painting — mostly oils, sometimes water colours — was abstract, Prakash Babu averred that “life itself is abstract...and this is what I am exploring through cinema too”.
There is one shot in his movie of a bottle turning into sand, and “this idea came to me from the Italian painter, Giorgio Morandi (1890 to 1964)”, who spent his entire life painting flowers and landscapes on vases, bowls and bottles. One of his favourite observations was that nothing was more abstract than reality. “I explore this, not just in my paintings, but also in my film,” Prakash Babu said.
Fig Fruit and the Wasps is a great example of this. The movie starts with a car being seen at a distance. We only see its headlights in the beginning, before the car finally comes into our view. It takes a while for the car to be actually visible. There are two people in the car — documentary film makers, Gowri (essayed with admirable subtlety by Bhavani) and Vittal (also an impressive performance by Ranjit Bhaskaran) — out in the countryside to try and meet a classical singer. But when he is not to be found, the two decide to wait for him. They hire a room and while away their time — oblivious to the sounds of the region that by themselves form rhythmic patterns, nay melodious notes.
l Gautaman Bhaskaran covered the Film Bazaar, and may be e-mailed at
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