First things first, we love Mumbai Film Festival, especially the way they have revamped it in the last few years. They get the best films from all all the top fests of the world. This year the fest seems to be in trouble because of sponsors. As of now, they fest is trying to gather fund via crowd funding. Some of us have already contributed as we want to see the fest alive and kicking. We hope that you do contribute too. Click here to go to make your contribution. If you have enjoyed films at MFF in last few years, we hope you will do your bit. This city needs a film fest.

Once you are done with your contribution, let’s move ahead. The fest gets the best films from across the world but there’s a whole lot scope for improvement. Here’s why and how.

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“Bhala hua mori gagri phooti, main paniya bharan se chhooti re”

 (Thank God my earthen pot got shattered. Spares me the job of filling water in it.)

Am sure most members of Mumbai Film Festival organizing committee felt like dancing to this old sufi qawwaali when this year’s festival got called off.

Of course it’s the best festival we have in terms of film selection and venues (as compared to the horribly inadequate auditoriums of Siri Fort in Delhi for OSIAN or sarkaari-babu horror story that IFFI-Goa is where one year old films which have already released in theatres are “premiered”) but still, it’s an open secret that MAMI/MFF is way behind in terms of professionalism when it comes to organizing.

Every year, like Tim Robbin’s Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption, film fans wade through piles of organizational shit to reach the freedom of festival movie-watching experience. It’s the most awaited annual event on a movie-buff’s calendar in India (film buffs fly down from various cities to attend it) and we all have that tacky-yellow sabzi-jhola (with MAMI logo on it) full of memories from the festival.

But nostalgia can be deceptive at times…making us forget the pains we took, thanks to the shortsightedness of the fest organizers in the last few years. And that’s why, when the news came of this year’s festival being called off, the first wave of reactions was sweet nostalgia with a cold sigh. People talking about the films they saw at the fest and friendships they made over the years. Now that, in my opinion, is a totally wrong reaction.

The valid reactions are:

  1. HOW FUCKING INEFFICIENT one has to be to bring a successfully running festival in the movie-capital of the biggest movie-consuming nation of the planet to an abrupt halt?
  2. HOW ABSOLUTELY OUTDATED one has to be to just give it up and not even try raising funds when one corporate has walked away, and just announce that festival is not happening this year? And…
  3. HOW FUCKING ARROGANT one has to be to not allow donations less than INR 10K for saving the festival? (OK, this has changed. Now they have cut it down to 5K and have given their reasons why and how)

Let’s analyze these three reactions in detail. Because therein lies the story of MAMI’s near-death-experience this year. And we are not even sure if it will survive, and if it does, then for how long.

HOW FUCKING INEFFICIENT:

The festival started in 1997 and barring a couple of years, it took place every year with changing venues inside Bombay. It manages to get a great selection of films and international filmmakers for master classes or discussions or just an ‘exotic holiday’ to India and I have rarely seen (in the last 6-7 years) a single show of even a half-way decent film going empty. There are always long queues, and especially for big ticket films (even hardcore art-house like Bela Tarr’s Turin Horse), people wait for 2-3 hours in the queue to get in. The point being – there is no reason this festival can’t be sold to the corporate or film fraternity for an annual contribution of just INR 5 Crores. But every year, the news of it running into cash crunch raises its head and we wonder how random engineering colleges manage to sell their annual fests for huge budgets year after year, while this film festival (with names like Karan Johar and Farhan Akhtar and Anurag Kashyap in trustees) runs out of sponsors regularly.

The difference, I think, lies in the lack of will. The festival is running in auto-pilot mode for a long time. With the exception of Festival Director (Mr. Srinivasan Narayan), who has always been hands-on and humble in trouble-shooting during the festival, the rest of the team is comprised of people who don’t want to learn anything from the world around or take the festival to the next level. Pure fossils or morons. You just have to attend some of the events planned and executed by them to realise they really have no clue – from opening ceremony to film/filmmakers introduction by college kids who have no clue about the film or the filmmaker, press conferences to masterclass to closing ceremony – almost every event embarrasses you. I know many friends who have stepped in and taken charge of the events before embarrassing the filmmaker any further.

As the rumor is doing the rounds – a very big corporate house was willing to step in and take over the festival reins but some of the festival’s members  couldn’t put together a PPT pitch in time and the deal fell through.

Yup, you read that right. The festival team was late on the PPT and hence we are not having our festival this year. I am hoping it’s not true and is just a rumour, but it brings me to…

HOW ABSOLUTELY OUTDATED:

The news of festival shutting came in at around 7 in the evening. By 8 pm, some of us had started tweeting individually that we will be happy to contribute money to save the festival. By 10 pm, Vivek Kajaria (producer of Fandry) started putting together a collaborative effort and tagging other producers, people with influence in the industry to contribute. Within 3 days, over INR 1.5 Crores were raised (thanks to contributions by Manish Mundra (producer of Ankhon Dekhi), Anand Mahindra (CMD of Mahindra Group), and Rajkumar Hirani-VVC-Anupama Chopra combine). All of this, just by people coming together.

And what does MAMI team do when faced with such a situation? Just nothing. They didn’t even make an announcement or appeal for help. Just let the news out through back channels that fest won’t happen. In this age, when kids are trying to crowd-source money even for their education and holidays, a worthy cause like MFF could have easily done that. But they didn’t. Mostly because they are a bunch of outdated people with no idea where the world has moved to in the last 17 years.

It seems even the ideas are crowd funded for the festival. Once the word spread, people were willing to contribute, and after then the MFF team has put together a page with all the details. Woah! That’s unheard of. You realise what I am talking.

And that’s why it’s difficult to get sponsors. Because they don’t how to create properties that can sell –  No star attendance, not even representation of respected filmmakers of the industry, no hyped event, so the press coverage is abysmal, and so no sponsors. Their film mart is a joke where filmmakers have been refunded money because nobody worthy enough came to see and buy the films. Learn it from NFDC Film Bazaar how they have built it up in the last few years. Learn from film fests across the world. Create properties, create your usp, create one thing that nobody has, make it attractive for the sponsors. why is it such a difficult thing to do?

In the last few years, they have been able to built only one property – the competition for under 25 filmmakers. But that’s limited in its reach. The topic is Mumbai centric, entries are only from mumbai. why so? Make it wide. Open it. You might discover the top best U-25 filmmaking talent of the country. And few years later when they make their feature,  people will say he was discovered at MFF. That’s how film fests brands are built worldwide. They discover the talent, nurture them and put them on the world map. why so myopic?

Once in a while they manage to get some good filmmaking talent from world cinema. But then, that’s it. No filmmaking event or hype around it. And mostly there are those who have past their prime and have nothing new to offer. Why will the sponsors come? Aim for one big filmmaker, just one to start with – make an event around him. Have a screening of his film with a masterclass, get a desi filmmaker who knows his films, put two of them together, make it the big attraction of the fest. What attraction MFF has now for sponsors? Nothing. Great films? Yes. Badly organised? Yes, Yes, Yes!

Also, moving the fest to South Mumbai is a terrible, terrible idea. You don’t cut off ties with your own industry. When the industry is in suburbs, all your filmmaking talent is in suburbs, nobody except the film buffs are going all the way to the other planet to watch films. You need the industry, they don’t need you. They are happily making bollywood films which makes shitload of money and have no connect with MFF, so no contribution either. Make MFF attractive to them as well. Don’t sell out, but there are ways to involve them. Just for the sake, here’s an idea – say sneak preview of 10 mins or 30 mins of RajKumar Hirani’s PK or any such one of the most anticipated films of the year. You will see how the media and sponsors will fall in line. There are million ideas to create that you will get it going. Learn from the ComiCons and CinemaCons of the world. And get the fossils out who are completely useless. The world is moving at the speed of light-years.

Another great proof that MFF team is full of inefficient, vile, completely out-of-touch-with-the-times nutjobs – look no further than Rajesh Kumar Singh, a man responsible for selecting films for the festival. A bitter, homophobic, misogynistic, censorship-loving guy who MFF refuses to let go of. Here’s his review of SLB’s Ramleela, or his open letter to Aamir Khan here. And the best – here‘s his call to people all over to protest against Ramleela. Why? Because “Had Sanjay Leela Bhansali abused prophet Mohammed and Quran, like what he has done to Ram and ‘Ramleela’, Islamists would have beheaded him”. There’s no end to his priceless gems. Google, you will be amazed. These are just the tip of the gigantic moronic iceberg.

 HOW FUCKING ARROGANT:

So the instant appeal to #SaveMFF helped and people started trying to find ways to collect money. Seeing this reluctance of people to let go of the festival easily, MFF started accepting money. INR 1.5 Crores came via 3 individual donations, and then MFF put up this page.

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Yes, look at it closely to see the mission statement, how much money they need, why they need it, and how they plan to spend it. Also see closely if you can find any rewards (as is the norm nowadays for even smallest of contributions to indie film projects – eg. “A shoutout on twitter for contributing Rs. 100 for our film”) on the page for giving money to MFF. And if you look real close, you will find a big bold lettered ‘thanks’ too. NOTHING. MFF just wants your money jaise ki uska haque hai.

(As I write this, the page has been updated with a 20-second video of festival director’s appeal and an FAQ, so may be they are still putting together this section of rewards and thank-yous and other logistics. But still, it’s just another symptom of the problem – they have either no clue or take things for granted or both.)

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Also, as you go to the next page to contribute, you realize they are taking contributions of only INR 10K or more. Why? (Now they have cut it down to 5K. FAQ says because time is less.) Should we ask why time is less? Whose fault it is? And this random arbitrary figure of 10K is a huge hindrance for people who would want to contribute 2K or 5K (fairly big numbers for somebody contributing in “such little time”.) Yet again, arbitrary people running a show with no regard for the viewers, who now want to become stakeholders too.

This was a great opportunity, this is a great opportunity – to make it a festival of the viewers, to involve us in raising funds and (maybe) curating the festival too. (We can chuck modesty and say with full confidence that we follow world cinema very closely and can suggest great hidden films from around the world without even being sent to big festivals on MFF money like Mr. Rajesh Kumar Singh. And nobody has covered MFF like we have done in the last few years. Here’s some proof.) But, if MFF wants my 10K, without even thanking me for it, at least show me some hope that things will improve, the outdated people and systems will be thrown out, the veil of vagueness about funding and expenditure will disappear.

Give us some stake and say in the festival, and see how more people will join happily. For starters, check out TIFF website and how many kinds of donations they allow and in how many ways they let the viewer interact with the festival. You got the films, that’s great, now get everything else sorted. It’s already too late. People won’t contribute every year if you guys remain lazy morons who can’t sell a film fest to sponsors.

All the best.

 - Nicolas Bourbaki

(PS: Now that my gyaan is done, let me make my contribution for MFF.)

 

FPRSI

Film Heritage Foundation has announced its first major initiative to save India’s cinematic heritage – Film Preservation & Restoration School India – to be held from February 22nd -28th, 2015 at Films Division, Mumbai.

Film Heritage Foundation is a not for profit organization set up in 2014. Recognizing the urgent need to preserve India’s cinematic heritage, the foundation is dedicated to supporting the conservation, preservation and restoration of the moving image and to develop interdisciplinary educational programs that will use film as an educational tool and create awareness about the language of cinema.

This is a pioneering initiative of Film Heritage Foundation in collaboration with Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation, Cineteca di Bologna and L’Immagine Ritrovata.

The purpose of the school is to address current issues surrounding film preservation and restoration including practical training of current restoration and archival best practices by a faculty that includes some of the leading international experts in the field.

Given the colossal loss of India’s cinematic heritage and the fact that we continue to lose more of our cinematic history every day, this school is an important first step in our foundation’s long-term goal to create an indigenous resource of film archivists and restorers that will work towards preserving India’s cinematic heritage.

FILM PRESERVATION AND RESTORATION SCHOOL INDIA

- An intensive course including hands-on training in the latest techniques of film preservation and restoration by some of the leading international experts in the field
– Dates: February 22 – 28, 2015
– Venue: Films Division, Mumbai.

Indian Cinema – A Lost Heritage

- For a country that currently produces the largest number of films in the world — over 1700 films a year in 32 languages, our record of film archiving and preservation is abysmal.
– India made 1700 silent films of which only 5 – 6 complete films survive today.
– By 1950 we had lost 70 – 80% of our films including India’s first talkie Alam Ara
– No full-fledged film restorations have been done in India
– The school is the first step in the Film Heritage Foundation’s long-term goal to create an indigenous resource of film archivists and restorers that will work

PROGRAMME DETAILS

- The purpose of the school is to address current issues surrounding film preservation and restoration including practical training of current restoration and archival best practices.
– 40 students from India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan will be selected on merit.
– The programme will comprise daily sessions from 9 am – 9 pm over 7 days including screenings, lectures and practical hands-on lessons.
– Course content will include modules on film comparing, film repair, film scanning, digital restoration, colour correction, sound restoration and film mastering.
– The faculty will comprise experts from Cineteca di Bologna, L’Immagine Ritrovata,  and the Film Foundation and filmmakers and guest lecturers from around the world.

APPLICATION PROCEDURE

- Applications are open to India, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Nepal.
– Application forms will be available online on the following websites from September 15, 2014:
www.filmheritagefoundation.co.in
www.film-foundation.org
www.cinetecadibologna.it
www.immagineritrovata.it

CERTIFICATION

On completion of the course, participants will be awarded with a certification as the school is internationally recognized and under the patronage of FIAF (The International Federation of Film Archives).

FIAF brinsg together the world’s leading institution in the field of moving picture heritage, comprising more than 150 institutions in over 77 countries. FIAF members are dedicated to the rescue, collection, preservation and screening of moving images.

Danis Tanovic’s desi film Tigers starring Emraan Hashmi will have its world premiere at Toronto International Film Festival this year. Synopsis, cast & crew, and other details of the film is out.

Film

Director: Danis Tanovic
Country: India/France/United Kingdom
Year: 2014
Language: Hindi/English/Urdu/German
Premiere Status: World Premiere
Runtime: 90 minutes
Rating: 14A

Synopsis (from TIFF)

Devastated when he discovers the effects of the infant formula he’s peddling, a young salesman challenges the system and the powers that be, in this based-on-fact drama from Academy Award-winning director Danis Tanovic (No Man’s Land).

Multinationals’ activities in the developing world come under harsh scrutiny in Danis Tanovic’s hard-hitting new drama Tigers. No stranger to controversy, the Academy Award-winning director is unafraid to stick his nose into contentious subject matter. Here, he explores Pakistan’s fascination with Western drugs, basing his film on a true story — its real-life protagonist lives in Toronto — involving a corporation aggressively trying to increase its market share through the sale of baby formula to new mothers.

Ayan (Emraan Hashmi) is a young, recently married salesman who gets a job peddling locally made drugs to pharmacies and doctors. Despite the fact that the Pakistani-manufactured pharmaceuticals he sells are much cheaper than those sold by Western competitors, no one will trust or buy products that lack major brand names. His wife encourages him to apply for a job with Lasta, a large multinational, and Ayan is hired on a trial basis. It’s not long before his natural charm and knack for glad-handing make him into a minor star, and Lasta expands his responsibilities. However, one day he is devastated to see first-hand what the selling of baby formula really means in certain cases. Shocked, Ayan sets out to challenge the system and the powers that be.

In a neat piece of narrative structuring on Tanovic’s part, this David-and-Goliath story is told partially through the eyes of a film crew making a documentary on Ayan’s astonishing findings. But the power of Tigers lies in his willingness to push his film out onto the streets of Pakistan and into the face of a system where narrow interests prevail, and an honest man doing the right thing is castigated and threatened, and finally sees his life endangered.

Cast & Crew

Executive Producer: Karen Tenkhoff, Michael Weber, Praveen Hashmi, Achin Jain
Producer: Prashita Chaudhary, Kshitij Chaudhary, Guneet Monga, Anurag Kashyap, Cedomir Kolar, Marc Baschet, Andy Paterson, Cat Villiers
Production Company: Cinemorphic Pvt Ltd, Sikhya Entertainment Pvt Ltd, A.S.A.P. Films
Principal Cast: Emraan Hashmi, Geetanjali, Danny Huston, Khalid Abdalla, Adil Hussain, Maryam D’Abo, Satyadeep Misra, Heino Ferch, Sam Reid, Supriya Pathak, Vinod Nagpal
Screenplay: Danis Tanovic, Andy Paterson
Cinematographer: Erol Zubcevic
Editor: Prerna Saigal
Sound: Anthony B J Ruban
Music: Pritam
Production Designer: Rachna Rastogi, K.K Muralidharan

Danis Tanovic was born in Zenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and attended l’Institut National Supérieur des Arts du Spectacle in Brussels. His feature films include No Man’s Land (01), which won Best Screenplay at Cannes and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film; L’enfer (05) and Triage (09), both of which premiered at the Festival; and An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker (13), which screened at the Festival and won the Silver Bear at Berlin. Tigers (14) is his latest film.

Viewing Room & WiP 2014

NFDC Film Bazaar 2014 is calling for entries for the Work-in-Progress (WIP) Lab and the Viewing Room.

- For the first time at NFDC Film Bazaar, there will be two WIP Labs: WIP Fiction and first WIP Documentary. In each WIP Lab, four projects in their rough-cut stage will be selected to be presented to a panel of international film experts for their feedback. The newly introduced WIP Documentary will only consider creative feature length documentaries in the rough cut stage which are aimed at a theatrical release.

Submission deadline : September 30th 2014.

Film Bazaar Dates/Venue : November 20-24, 2014 at the Goa Marriott Resort alongside the International Film Festival of India 2014.

- Feature-length films of any genre in the rough-cut stage are invited to apply to the WIP lab.

The Viewing Room : will present films seeking finishing funds, world sales, distribution partners and film festivals to investors, world sales agents and film festival programmers attending the film bazaar. Here, films are viewed on individual computer terminals in private booths via a specially designed software which allows the users to contact the director or producer of the film via email. Films of all genres and lengths in rough or final cut are invited to apply to the Viewing Room.

- Feature length films in the rough cut are eligible to apply to both WIP lab and Viewing Room

- Please visit http://www.filmbazaarindia.com for Application Forms and more details.

- For further queries, write to: films@filmbazaarindia.com.

- The films that were a part of the previous Work-in-Progress Labs at Film Bazaar have had their world premieres at leading international films festivals and some have even gone on to enjoy a successful theatrical run. These include Kanu Behl’s Titli (Premiered in the ‘Un Certain Regard’ section at Cannes Film Festival 2014), Avinash Arun’s Killa (Premiered at Berlin Film Festival 2014 where it won the Crystal Bear), Ashim Ahluwalia’s Miss Lovely (Premiered in the ‘Un Certain Regard’ section at Cannes Film Festival 2012 and National Award winner), Anand Gandhi’s Ship of Theseus (Premiered at the Toronto Film Festival 2012), Sange Dorjee Thangdok’s Crossing Bridges (National Award winner), Gyan Correa’s The Good Road (National Award winner and India’s selection for the Oscars) and Ajay Bahl’s BA Pass (Premiered at and won Best Film at the 12th Osian’s Cinefan Film Festival and also had a successful theatrical release in India).

Crossing Bridges (PVR 3)

Sange Dorjee Thongdok’s Crossing Bridges is all set to release in Mumbai, Delhi, Pune and Bangalore on 29 August, via PVR Director’s Rare. It’s the first feature film ever to be made in Shertupken, a dialect and tribal community from Arunachal Pradesh. It previously showed at the Mumbai Film Festival and Dharamsala Film Festival where it was warmly received. Here’s the synopsis and trailer of the film:

Tashi, a man in his early thirties is forced to come back to his village in the remote northeast region of India after eight years when he loses his job in the city. As he stays in the village waiting for a new job in the city to go back to, he experiences the life and culture of his native place and his people, which he never paid attention to before. As he rediscovers love, friendship and his roots, when Tashi gets the news that he has found himself a new job in the city, he must decide whether to go away or stay back home for good.

 

You can read more about Crossing Bridges in these interviews with director Sange Dorjee Thongdok (here and here) and DOP Pooja Gupte.

 

 

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The 2014 edition of Toronto International Film Festival has added 2 more Indian films in its schedule.

Margarita, with a Straw directed by Shonali Bose will have its world premiere Contemporary World Cinema section.

From fest site – In this inspirational love story, a Delhi university student and aspiring writer afflicted with cerebral palsy (Kalki Koechlin, Dev.D, That Girl in Yellow Boots) leaves India for New York University, where she falls for a fiery young activist.The programme presents the latest works of some of the most provocative and important voices in cinema from around the globe. Bose’s debut film Amu had also been screened at Toronto in 2005.

Cast, Credit and other details

Country: India
Year: 2014
Language: Hindi/English
Premiere Status: World Premiere
Runtime: 100 minutes
Rating: 14A
Producer: Shonali Bose, Nilesh Maniyar
Production Company: Ishan Talkies, Viacom18 Motion Pictures, Jakhotia Group
Principal Cast: Kalki Koechlin, Revathy, Sayani Gupta, William Moseley, Hussain Dalal
Screenplay: Shonali Bose, Nilesh Maniyar
Cinematographer: Anne Misawa
Editor: Monisha Baldawa
Sound: Resul Pookutty, Amrit Pritam
Music: Mikey McCleary, Prasoon Joshi
Production Designer: Somenath Pakre, Prasun Chakraborty

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The second film is Megha Ramaswamy’s Newborns. It’s part of the inaugural Short Cuts International programme.

From fest site – A hauntingly beautiful documentary that follows female survivors of acid attacks, who bravely defy the trauma and fear that will always accompany them.

Cast, Crew and Other Details

Country: India
Year: 2014
Language: Hindi
Premiere Status: World Premiere
Runtime: 8 minutes
Rating: STC

Producer: Anand Gandhi, Sohum Shah, Ruchi Bhimani
Production Company: Recyclewala Labs
Principal Cast: Laxmi, Nasreen, Sapna, Daya Kishan, Usha, Rupesh Tillu, Heena Agrawal
Screenplay: Megha Ramaswamy
Cinematographer: Satya Rai Nagpaul
Editor: Anand Gandhi, Rohit Pandey
Sound: Ajit Rathore, Aditya Jadav
Production Designer: Megha Ramaswamy

Trailer

The Festival will run from September 4 to 14, 2014.

STEVE-LOPEZ-1

“The crucial thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die” Søren Kierkegaard

I begin with Kierkegaard because Rajeev Ravi begins with Camus. “Every act of rebellion expresses a nostalgia for innocence”, his title slate declares. But before that we get a hint about the road the film might take from the title, ‘Njan Steve Lopez.’ I am Steve Lopez.

Steve Lopez is your regular, middle-class, Malayali college-going youngster of Trivandrum, used to singing songs of innocence. Angst and truth do not bother him, he not escaping nor seeking either. His angst limits itself to communicating his love for his childhood crush Anjali (Ahaana Krishna) and displaying mild abrasiveness to his aged grandfather. Anjali returns his affections and the grandfather isn’t a much of a threat yet Steve finds life boring, a mark of a mind seeking something more, finding it in temporary erotic pleasure by peeping at neighbourhood women from his bathroom window and then, well, moving on. As Camus said in The Plague, “The truth is that everyone is bored, and devotes himself to cultivating habits.” Back to boredeom.

Minutes into the film we realise Steve is an onlooker, a spectator of life as it passes by. He doesn’t seem too keen on engaging with it but he does seem to be nursing a placid wish to understand it, even if it is from the fringes. Farhaan Faasil’s big clear eyes and soft looks reflect a certain innocence as did Fahaad Faasil in Rajeev’s debut, ‘Annayum Rasoolum’, help him incredibly in this task. Son of a DYSP who is also a protective father, Steve, by the looks of it seems to fall in that category of dreamy youth who, wasting away, remain lost in their own self-doubts. Hanging onto the fringes of life they keep drifting, out of touch within and without.

But Steve springs to life one day, when a random accident involving a daylight murder leaves a man bleeding to death in front of him. He rushes the man to the hospital only to be admonished by his father later. Clearly, there is a gangwar on and he doesn’t wish his son to be involved in it. Steve doesn’t see the logic but takes his father’s reprimands silently. As though he is trying to understand this part of life as well.

However, Steve decides to punctuate his silences with uncomfortable questions revolving around the culprit Hari. Questions his father and his subordinate do not wish to entertain. Questions that won’t let Steve be in peace. Gnawed by the need to know, he sets out on his own search for tenuous truth. He could just as well have been Sisyphus. Intuitively then, Ravi weaves the web of humanism across all the characters of the film, binding Steve and Hari together with one simple device, both their lady-loves are called Anjali. Hari is nothing like Steve but to Steve, Hari and he don’t seem much different. With this leit motif of the name, it’s almost like Ravi is nudging us to look closer at our own selves, and around; at others whose essence we share…

Njan Steve Lopez must probably be the simplest and least dramatic tale of existential angst ever told. Of course, it is sentimental using music, slow-motion, poetry at is evocative best. But in the sum of it, it is the internal world of Steve that it urges us to explore, a world that isn’t dramatised by form or style, simply reflected in his persona. A world built for us through a linear narrative, one that is as simple and straightforward as the milieu it belongs to, a mileu Ravi knows as well as he does his protagonist. Steve is quite a template character for the theme – sober, moody, innocent, aloof, reserved and prone to pathos. Yet, Rajeev Ravi paints him intuitively, almost seeming to know the next flick of his hair or twitch of an eye before it will happen. And because Ravi seems to know him so well Farhaan portrays him with more sincerity than sheer talent. And this sincerity is spread across the canvas, across the various actors fresh and experienced. Performances are given to a certain amateurishness and direction seems to be a little raw, something that one did not see a glimpse of in Ravi’s refreshing debut, ‘Annayum Rasoolum’, a Mani Rathnam-ish love story of common people busy loving each other the very common way, who find themselves caught in the web of ganglords and crime. However, Njan Steve Lopez is a more personal story, individuated by the search of this young man for truth and his inevitable coming-of-age. It’s a loaded theme, told subtly, even ponderously, something like Udaan what did, and that precisely draws us in, the deceptive simplicity. There is less deftness of skill but more depth of thought, there is less brilliance of craft but more heart and that is heartening for those whom linearity doesn’t appear as simple-minded. Unfortunately, the sensitivity of Steve’s search and the gentle, even motherly manner with which the film looks at him isn’t nurtured into a fully-formed film to give us something we may call satisfying cinema because of a certain hesitation in direction and performances that tags along throughout. There are times when the sincerity and good intentions alone aren’t enough.

Yet, the film appeals due to its personal nature and maybe that is due to the authenticity of the milieu Ravi creates. The middle class Malayalis of Trivandrum that the film is populated with, with their earthy ambitions and homely habits, cloistered morals and systemic conformation. People who have the ringtone of their phone set to the song in which their beloved’s name appears. People who admonish but take care of each other. People who seem very very real. (However, some of my Malayali friends from the region have bemoaned the fact of unripe accents of the actors mar the authenticity of the film.) Going by his two films, Rajeev Ravi, the film-maker, seems to be drawn to small, individual stories that is punctuated by an ethos and operate in a specific socio-politico-economic environment. Like in ‘Annayum Rasoolum’, he is happy speaking of and to a niche audience one that he knows very well. And maybe, because of this very choice Steve’s dilemmas are more palpable to us than they would have been in a universalised, sterile, lowest common denominator type of palette we are used to. Small town stories, regional stories, stories of India’s very common people, if we won’t tell them who will?

How one acts is, from the ethical perspective, more important than any matter of fact, truth is to be found in subjectivity rather than objectivity.” Kierkegaard’s subjective truth becomes Steve’s and in a metafictive universe seems like it is Rajeev’s own aim too.

- Fatema Kagalwala

(To read more posts by Fatema, her blog is here)

The film has got a multi-city release with English subtitles.