Come September, three Indian films will roll into Venice
August 04 2015 10:40 PM

POLICE BRUTALITY:  A poster for the 60-minute-long Visaaranai, which documents police brutality.   Right: TRANSFORMATION:  Johnny Depp has transformed himself to play Whitey Bulger in Black Mass.

By Gautaman Bhaskaran

This may well be an Indian summer at Venice. Three movies from the country have made it to the Venice Film Festival, running from September 2 to 12.
Tamil director Vetrimaaran’s Visaaranai (Interrogation) will screen at the 72nd edition of the Festival, the oldest in the world that predates Cannes by almost a decade and a half. While Venice rolled its inaugural edition in 1932, Cannes came on the scene only in 1946, soon after World War II ended.
Visaaranai will be part of Orizzonti or Horizons — the section second in importance to Competition, and which is akin to Cannes’ A Certain Regard showcasing experimental cinema.
Visaaranai is certainly not the first Tamil work at Venice. In 2010, Mani Ratnam’s Raavanan played there along with the Hindi version, Raavan.
Incidentally, Visaaranai follows Dheepan — a Tamil language work about Sri Lankan refugees helmed by the renowned French auteur, Jacques Audiard — that competed at Cannes in May and clinched the Festival’s highest prize, Palm d’Or. Vetrimaaran — whose Aadukalam (Playground) centred on a subject as novel as rooster fight — has based his latest movie on Chandra Kumar’s novel, Lock Up, which evoked a fiery debate on police brutality soon after it was published in 2006.
A wayward teenager, Kumar ran away from home, and as he wandered in southern India doing odd jobs, he was picked up by the police from an Andhra village on grounds of suspicion and incarcerated in a tiny room for 15 days. Kumar once said: “It was horrifying how vulnerable people living on the margins were to police atrocities... There I was in a 10x10 room in the sweltering heat of March. I can never forget those 15 torturous days.”
His frightful experience gave birth to Lock Up, Kumar’s first novel — 160 pages detailing police brutality on vulnerable men and women. Published in 2006, the book received the ‘Best Document of Human Rights’ award the same year, and the stories in it of Kumar’s own travails and those of fellow prisoners will be part of Vetrimaaran’s surprisingly short film, Visaaranai, with Samuthirakani playing a cop. It will be just 60 minutes.
Ruchika Oberoi’s Island City will be part of the 21 titles — 18 world premieres included — in Venice Days, an important festival sidebar often compared to Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight.
Starring Vinay Pathak, Amruta Subhash and Tannishtha Chatterjee and produced by the National Film development Corporation of India, Island City is a string of three stories set in contemporary Mumbai’s uneasy times.
The first focusses on a middle-aged man who wins an office prize that entitles him to a day of fun. There is no question of not accepting this award, for the company he works for feels that its profits are diving because of dispirited employees. The second segment traces the life of an autocratic man, whose family brings home a television set when he is critically ill and away in a hospital. The third part narrate the listless life of a woman, who one day finds it all changing with the arrival of a love letter.
This year’s Venice Days offers a rich variety. The section will open with Spanish Director Dani de la Torre’s car-chase drama, Retribution, and close with The Daughter (based on Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck), the feature debut of the noted Australian theatre director, Simon Stone.
Some of the other promising titles in Venice Days will include Matias Bize’s The Memory of Water, a plot about a young couple trying to rekindle their relationship after the death of their 4-year-old son; Vincenzo Marra’s fourth feature La Prima Luce, which stars Italian A-lister Riccardo Scamarcio as a lawyer tracking down his young son in Chile after an acrimonious divorce; Australian director Michael Rowe’s intergenerational love drama Early Winter; and Tunisian director Leyla Bouzid’s As I Open My Eyes, set against the backdrop of Arab Spring.
Guru Dutt’s immortal classic, Pyaasa (1957), will be part of Restored Classics. One of the greatest cult romances ever made by Bollywood, starring Dutt and Waheda Rehman, the movie is in many ways the director’s own story of longing for love and recognition. The Venice Festival, held on the island of Lido in the Adriatic Sea, has this unenviable position of being sandwiched between Cannes in May — with its hugely-lucrative-for-buyers-and-sellers market, its amazing glamour that only gets brighter every year and its impressively auteurist cinema — and Toronto, that colossal platform for the awards season, including the Oscars, in September.
Yet, in recent years, Venice has held on its own strength. In fact, the Venice opener has reached a kind of unique status during the past few years with Birdman and Gravity doing extremely well at the later awards. This year, Baltasar Kormakur’s Everest, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Robin Wright, fictionalises the true story of mountaineers trapped in deathly snowstorms. The film promises an adventure as exciting as the George Clooney-Sandra Bullock space odyssey, Gravity.
In all, the festival will have 55 features in various sections (Competition, Orizzonti, etc) that will have star power and auteur value. The 11-day event will close on September 12 with Guan Hu’s Mr Six — about an ailing gangster tempted back into business by his son.
The 21 titles competing for the top Golden Lion include Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl, a love story inspired by the lives of artists Einar and Gerda Wegener; Drake Doremus’ Equals, starring Kristen Stewart, Nicholas Hoult and Guy Pearce — a futuristic romance set in a world sans emotions; Heart Of A Dog, the feature debut of experimental performance artist and musician Laurie Anderson; Cary Fukunaga’s Beasts Of No Nation, starring Idris Elba; Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa; Scott Cooper’s gangster flick, Black Mass, starring Johnny Depp; and Thomas McCarthy’s Spotlight, starring Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo, the true story of how the Boston Globe revealed a child molestation cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese.

* Gautaman Bhaskaran has covered
the Venice Film Festival for over
a decade, and may be e-mailed at [email protected]

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