Character depth is rare in Indian festival films: Don Palathara
The Malayalam indie filmmaker's new film, 1956, Central Travancore, was screened in Moscow recently
Don Palathara’s Malayalam film 1956, Central Travancore had its world premiere at the 42nd Moscow International Film Festival recently. In addition to MIFF, the film was screened at the 5th BRICS international film festival too, which also happened in Moscow this year. 1956, Central Travancore is one of two Malayalam films — the other being Sajin Baabu’s Biriyaani — screened in Moscow.
In his speech to delegates, Don said that filmmakers with a distinct voice are facing more competition today than they ever have in the history of cinema. “It is the mainstream industry that creates the audience. So, the expectations and visual sensibilities are informed by these mainstream films,” he said. “But an array of Indian films have been represented in the top film festivals since the 1960s. After the generation of those world-renowned filmmakers like Satyajit Ray, Ritwik Ghatak, Mani Kaul, and Adoor Gopalakrishnan, there was a gap until recently when another surge of filmmakers got recognised globally.”
Don also called attention to the fact that despite more than fifty indie films getting produced every year, only a few engage in detailed character analysis unlike many festival films from the west. “When I am talking about characters, I am not at all talking about protagonists, but three-dimensional characters who give us a deeper understanding of human nature, like how we used to see in the films of Bergman, Fassbinder, Rohmer, Melville, and others,” said Don.
Elaborating further, Don remarked that it is not because nobody wants to make films of that sort. “Take Satyajit Ray’s Nayak, for example. It was an excellent example of a character study. When the filmmakers try to produce films for the available market with mere stereotypical notions about the east and their films, this kind of result becomes inevitable.”
However, he clarified that this is not his way of urging all films to be character studies or a search for truth, but a mere observation of the differences between films that get screened at major film festivals from two different places. Though his film received an invitation to the BRICS film festival this year, he opined that one annual event to exhibit and promote a couple of films would not be enough to compete with Hollywood.
“There need to be more exclusive events or awards for cinematic expressions that dare to differ. Also, more co-productions and film funds would help independent productions from these nations. In 2018, a BRICS co-production happened under the mentorship of the Chinese filmmaker Jia-Zhangke. I sincerely hope that more such ventures happen in the near future,” said Don.