BMO IFFSA Toronto 2019 message by festival Ambassador Anup Singh

IFFSA 2019

Even as you read these words, the words … ahead … are uncertain. Reading now becomes slower, careful, more alert. Abruptly, there is uncertainty, anticipation. There is some surprise … and rising suspense.

This reading is volatile with possibilities. Every word you read could now instantaneously take you anywhere. Without warning, our casual sense of time is being altered and an adventure opens before us. You’re no longer on a neutral journey of reading a sentence, making a meaning and moving on. You’re now implicated in what might emerge next.

As a film festival, every year our attempt is to surprise you, to take you on an adventure. This year we are attempting something more. We’re hoping to startle you. 

To begin with, we, at IFFSA, are over the moon to have the opportunity and honour to share with you, as part of our celebration of the ‘Hundred Years of Bengali Cinema’, masterworks by two legendary filmmakers. I promise you, these films, Titas – Ekti Nadir Naam by Ritwik Ghatak and Pather Panchali by Satyajit Ray will transfigure your life. 

These films come to us from Criterion, US, and we’ll remain eternally grateful to them for making it possible for us to share them to you. Special thanks to Shivendra Singh Dungarpur for all his help.

In many ways these two films invoke the two divergent paths Indian independent cinema follows to this day. Ritwik Ghatak, traumatized, outraged by the 1947 Partition of India, sculpted a cinema of questions. His films carry the cosmic and existential dialogue we find at the heart of myths, but also the rapture and affirmation of life as a journey. He constantly asks, “Who is not a refugee?” and does not leave us comfortable in any space that we would like to call “home”. 

While he summons the memories of established communities in his cinema, he simultaneously interrogates not only these very same communities’ memories but the very idea of community itself. He is just as critical of the traditional notion of family as he is of relationships we believe are sacrosanct – as between parents and children, siblings, husband and wife, lovers, every variable relationship of the self with the other, or even our relationship with what we accept as our own self. 

Not surprisingly, then, he questions his own craft and art, what pictures and sounds we compose, what hierarchies and power-relationships we build between what we name and what we allow to reside in silence. Like Shiva, he initiates the rhythms between creation and destruction. As I suggested above in terms of reading, Ritwik Ghatak’s films alter us, implicate us, make us responsible for the creation and destruction in our own life, our relationships, our world.  

Amongst the films screening at IFFSA this year, there are two, it seems to me, both made by women film-makers, that take some of their inspiration from the path suggested by Ritwik Ghatak. These two films have a stimulating, hand-made, uniquely personal craft, while they also probe into our expectations of just what is it that we call a story. 

These films are Namdev Bhau by Dar Gai and Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane Le Ja Riya Hoon (Taking The Horse To Eat Jalebis) by Anamika Haksar. Both are delightfully droll even as they wend their  way through the harsh, urgent questions of our time.

The other film to mention in this context is: Bhonsle by Devashish Makhija, which, in fact, takes on some of Ritwik Ghatak’s disturbing questions – “who is a migrant? What defines someone as an outsider? Where is that line that demarcates boundaries?”.  It’s a film that Manoj Bajpayee, our very special guest at IFFSA this year, makes even more compelling with his ferociously unsentimental performance.

Satyajit Ray’s Pather Panchali, the other master-work being screened as part of our celebration of the ‘Hundred Years of Bengali Cinema’, remains deeply inspirational for many filmmakers today. It interlaces, with a lyricism never seen before and, bluntly, never again as yet in Indian cinema, the human condition within the stream of nature. Both, in a way, mirror each other, and the exchange expresses a belief that the verities of the cosmos are not so different than the reality within us.

The film’s lyrical realism, supported by the use of non-professional actors, particularly children, finds exciting adherents among the younger filmmakers whose films are also being screened this year at IFFSA.

In multi-award-winner, Rima Das’ Bulbul Can Sing, children seek to puzzle out their own nature in their relationship with rain, streams, trees as well as the wisdom and constraints of a traditional Assamese village life. The children slowly begin to apprehend in the film that their own nature as well as the nature that surrounds them is both creative and destructive. And how they choose to live is a question of choice. 

Here, I would also like to mention Rohena Gera’s Sir. The film becomes incandescent with the exuberance and desolate yearning brought to it by the extraordinary actress Tillotama Shome. The film, set in contemporary Mumbai, carries a delicate, but insightful look into class conflict — and not in the usual clichés of power-struggle and exploitation. But, more perceptively, it shows how the acceptance of belonging to a certain class leads to a deep-seated cowardice, an inability to break through the barriers even when there is a clear realization that this  holding-back will wreck one’s life as well as the life of the beloved.

Even as you watch these films, and you have to come watch them because they’re so full of life, made with unwavering passion and simply like nothing else you’ll see elsewhere in the cinemas, on TV or on the Net, even as you come watch these films, IFFSA has still other spectacular films to astonish you.

In fact, a film that took even us by surprise, a film that has us walking on air with joy, a film that is slated to be this summer’s blockbuster worldwide, and the film that is now one of our Opening Films, is Gurinder Chadha’s Blinded By The Light. Said to carry the magic of Gurinder’s earlier film, Bend It Like Beckam, this film presents a second-generation Muslim immigrant in London who finds a balance between his father’s fierce demands and his own sense of independence and dignity in the larger world through the music of Bruce Springsteen. 

And then, we have for you The Extraordinary Journey Of The Fakir, by Ken Scott, and starring the top-notch actor from the South, Dhanush. Don’t miss this hilarious entertainer that starts off with street magic and fakir stunts, gambols through Paris and London, frolics momentarily in the the allurements of love before setting out on more adventures.

Also not to be missed is London Singhs, by Manjot Singh, about a Sikh school-boy’s struggle in London to not only defend but celebrate his identity.

I would also like to mention Visions of Mookajji, by P. Sheshadri, based on the Jnanapeetha award-winning novel by Dr. K. Shivarama Karantha. The film tells the tale of a child widow’s struggle to live with self-determination in a society that would rather neither see nor hear her. Later, in her 80s, the new generation begins to recognize and respect her for her brave commitment to fighting for basic human rights for all whom society seeks to victimize. With humour and simple rational arguments, she changes the petty-minded and the hardhearted and becomes an icon for the younger generation.

Finally, it gives me great pleasure that we are able to present  actor-producer, Abhay Deol’s The Odds, a coming-of-age episodic series directed by Megha Ramaswamy. At IFFSA, we have a special 90-minute presentation. This is a slice-of-life tale  about a young boy and girl, who’ve made their escape from an important exam at their school and live through some outlandish adventures in the city of Mumbai. A must-see not only for the unexpected twists and turns in the tale, but also for the pleasure of watching actors that I hold in very high esteem, Abhay Deol and Priyanka Bose.

As mentioned at the beginning, IFFSA is fraught with possibilities this year. Continue to challenge the filmmakers and yourselves by not missing out on some of the master-classes we’ve organized for you. There is a master-class with one of the finest Indian actors of our time, Manoj Bajpayee. A master-class with the internationally-loved filmmaker, Gurinder Chadha. And there is an Actor’s Workshop with Anup Singh. There are also producer’s and music workshops. 

So, you now have before you the treasure-map of IFFSA. Start your adventure and gather all the treasures you want! Surprise yourselves, watch and experience what you would not usually consider. But, this year at IFFSA, rest assured, we promise to astonish you at every step and transfigure your days to come! 

Looking forward to seeing all of you in the cinemas, at the parties, in the master-classes and workshops in the days to come! 

For now, my salutations to all,

Anup Singh