The Tongues on Fire UK Asian Film Festival has been celebrating the art of storytelling by bringing in local masterpieces, right from the Western Ghats of Maharashtra to the sister states in the Northeast of India.
This year’s selection for the festival, which runs until this weekend, brings together an eclectic selection of regional Indian cinema which captures the emotions and resilience from different parts of the country.
Here is a snapshot of three such gems that resonate with the core theme Ray of Hope of the festival this year.
Sthalpuran (Chronicles of Space)
Starring: Neel Deshmukh, Anushree Wani, Rekha Thakur
Director: Akshay Indikar
In this Marathi feature film, young Dighu relocates with his mother and his tai (elder sister) from the vibrant city of Pune to a picturesque town along the Konkan coast. Like most eight-year-olds, the boy’s curious mind leaves him either buried in his own thoughts or introverted towards reality. Sometimes pondering over his father’s whereabouts- “Is he alive?”, “will he come back?” and sometimes distracted by a small earthworm on his way to school.
At his grandparent’s, Dighu is strengthening his familial bonds while being tutored by his grandfather, cared by tai or simply engrossed in his grandmother’s stories. However, it seems to be a struggle for him to adjust to the village just like Indikar own experience. The minimal dialogues bring the audience closer to Dighu’s inner thoughts through his diary entries and gives us a glimpse of a child’s understanding of the world.
To make his audience feel connected, Indikar has kept the cinematography “natural so that the energy of the space will come with the contemplation. I stayed away from the characters to unfold the charm, enigma and emotions.”
Whether it was the deafening or roaring sea waves or the pitter-patter of raindrops in the background, Director Indikar has nicely wrapped these elements of nature into the film. On our screens, we can see a simplistic way of living in a typical village home- tiled roofs, earthen pots, brass utensils.
Jonaki Porua (Fireflies)
Starring: Benjamin Daimary, Bitopi Dutta, Nibedita Kalita
Director: Prakash Deka
This Assamese film portrays the journey of Jahnu, a transgender in a remote town in Northeast India. From the beginning, Jahnu has been cautiously embracing her femineity which is often trolled by the villagers. Her attraction to jewellery, wanting to apply henna and wear the traditional sari gives her immense happiness.
In this piece, director Prakash has encompassed the injustice and vulnerability to sexual assaults and relentless eve teasing faced by the community. When Jahnu opens up about being molested by her professor, much like the society, her family holds her responsible for this horrendous act. Jahnu blasts, “always blame the girl! It is never the boy’s fault.”
After facing rejection from her surroundings, Jahnu falls in love with one of the villagers who accepts her sexual orientation and supports her . This gives her the courage to challenge the status quo and perception that society holds against transgenders. The director also throws light on the male-dominance in the society, when Jahnu is forced to leave the village.
Actor Benjamin has mesmerised the audience with his performance and has won him a National Film Award for his portrayal.
MORE LIKE THIS…
Gutter Boy: A Journey to Hell
Starring: Ajeet Kumar, Laxmi Kant Baswal, Sarit Kataria
Director: Anupam Khanna Baswal
Just like the title suggests, this film is a fictional story of the not so fictional lives of “manual scavengers” who clean human filth which makes our lives easier, only to never be acknowledged.
Belonging to a poor family, Sandeep dreams of going to a big city to get a respectable job unlike his father who is a day worker. Sandeep to the capital city of Delhi in his search for a better livelihood. He learns about the social divide where a tiny stretch of trashed sewage separates the slums where “his people” survive from the sky-scraping towers of the rich.
Irrespective of his , Sandeep is unable to get a desk due to his position in the so-called strata of the society. At his new job, Sandeep is forced to get down a sewer, barely clothed, where he not only felt human faeces and other waste but the foul smell had contaminated his soul forever. Abstract poverty drags individuals to risks their health and mental stability for a meagre amount.
Director Anupam treads the ugly truths about caste systems and unemployment that exist in the Indian society. Despite the rapid modernisation, we still have humans getting down the disgusting gutters and not machines. This film leaves us reflecting on our evolvement as human beings and how little empathy we have for our own kind.