We’re already through the first quarter of the year, and much like previous seasons, there have already been a tiny bunch of regional and independent films that have hit the screens – some, after making the rounds of festival circuits for years, and some finally finding a brave studio/individual as exhibitors.
Krishnan Hooda’s Osho-Rajneesh biopic 'Rebellious Flower', ex-music archivist Shefali Bhushan’s pulsating 'Jugni', the spunky but uneven boxing drama 'Saala Khadoos', critic-turned-filmmaker Bikas Mishra’s dark cast drama 'Chauranga', Hansal Mehta’s wonderful 'Aligarh', K.D. Satyam’s under-appreciated and fantastic 'Bollywood Diaries', Mozez Singh’s ambitious 'Zubaan', Ram Ramesh Sharma’s web-released surreal chamber drama 'Kaafiron Ki Namaaz', Anup Kurian’s 'Blueberry Hunt' and Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari’s 'Nil Battey Sannata' have been a few noticeable examples of such films. I’m not going to use the much-abused term “little films with big hearts”, but some of them have set the stage for some more festival favorites and highly-anticipated indies later this year.
Marathi filmmaker Nagraj Manjule made the world take notice with the poignant and well-made exploration of social dichotomy 'Fandry' a few years ago, and he is finally back with his next – Sairat (Wild) – which has already created quite a stir with its eclectic compositions and a special mention for acting debutante Rinku Rajguru at the year’s National Awards. The film released this weekend.
Anu Menon’s second feature-length film (which premiered at Dubai Film Festival) after 'London Paris New York' seems miles apart in both language and theme, and will perhaps give us a real peek of the filmmaker’s grasp of her craft. She had directed an underwhelming segment of the doomed indie X: Past Is Present, but has made waves with the captivating trailer of 'Waiting', which stars Naseeruddin Shah as a comatose patient finding comfort in the companionship of a grief-stricken Kalki. The film releases in cinemas at the end of May.
Drishyam Films will distribute the Kannada-language thriller 'U-Turn', directed by Pawan Kumar (of 'Lucia' fame). The trailer, which seems to revolve around a young journalist working on a story around a flyover interrogated about a murder, has gotten a good response. Apparently, Kumar wrote this crowd-funded film in three days and made it while his dream project 'C10H14N2' is on hold.
Prashant Nair's 'Umrika' premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and won the Audience Award. It even played at Jio MAMI 2015, and many festival-goers who watched it had good things to say about this film – about a young rural man (Suraj Sharma) going to America in search of his missing older brother (Prateik Babbar). Again, it’s a Drishyam Films production, and is definitely on the slate for a 2016 release.
The FEDORA prize-winner at the 72nd Venice Film Festival, directed by FTII graduate Ruchika Oberoi, found funding at the 2012 NFDC Screenwriters Lab, and was made by 2014. It had its Indian premiere at Jio MAMI 2015 again, and many came away with high praise for the film, which tells parallel stories of three Mumbai-based souls and explores the city’s contradictions and solitude in a well-assured, solitary manner. Only a person living in this city can understand the abusive and bittersweet relationship they share with it, which is what Oberoi seems to have successfully encapsulated in her storytelling. There is no date for release yet, but one hopes to see the film make it past film festivals and reveal itself to the general public.
26-year-old Raam Reddy’s Kannada-language Thithi, which has scooped up top prizes at last year’s Locarno Film Festival as well as the MAMI, is quite a sight to behold. Made with untrained actors in real locations, the film – revolving around the thithi (final rites) of a 101-year old patriarch in a village and how three generations of his family react to this occasion – has secured an Indian release on 29th May, soon after it won the National Award for the Best Kannada Feature Film. It could well be this year’s 'Court' or 'Masaan' – which is what many, including yours truly, who have watched it, hope it will be.
Maverick Bengali director Q is back with his latest, the Sundance-selected coming-of-age English-language teen sex comedy, which stars Titli’s Shashank Arora and even Sid Mallya, is about a group of young quizzers from ‘80s Bangalore. Not many of Q’s movies find widespread commercial release, but he has acquired a kind of cult following amongst cinema enthusiasts in the country for being an anti-establishment, spunky and no-holds-barred voice. Love him or hate him, it’ll be impossible to ignore his latest again. One hopes it’s just more than a Netflix (which secured rights) watch in India.
RAMAN RAGHAV 2.0
Following Sriram Raghavan’s documentary feature on the notorious 1960s serial killer, Anurag Kashyap has now made his first feature film after 'Bombay Velvet' – starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Vicky Kaushal (who returns to Cannes with this film once again after 'Masaan' last year). This isn’t exactly an “indie” production, coming from Phantom Films after all, but to see Kashyap return to his frugal, dark roots is an encouraging sign – enough for us to include this in a must-watch list. It also releases on the same day as Anu Menon’s 'Waiting' and Kashyap's ex-mentor Ramgopal Varma's 'Killing Veerappan'.
Others: Gurvinder Singh’s Punjabi film 'Chauthi Koot' in May, Amit Masurkar’s 'Newton' and the late Rajesh Pillai’s 'Traffic'.