IFFI 2019 Day 6: A family separated by distance
The columnist writes about his experiences of Day 6 at the ongoing International Film Festival of India 2019 in Goa
Filmmakers rarely get to meet and exchange notes. It happens sometimes at award ceremonies, or as has happened many times at IFFI, at film festivals. A panel discussion called Director’s Forte was held between three terrific filmmakers, Manju Borah, Ram, and Sriram Raghavan, on day 6 of IFFI, moderated by yours truly. While plenty was discussed, if the hour-and-a-half conversation had to be condensed to one main insight, it would be that despite being filmmakers who operate in regions that are at least a thousand kilometres from each other, they are all, in a sense, the same. As director Ram remarked after the session, “It’s fascinating, isn’t it, how despite us operating in different corners of the country, it’s almost like we are all doing the same.”
The three filmmakers began by emphasising the importance of film festivals, with Manju Borah noting that it helped people from other regions get a theatrical experience of her films. Ram remembered how at the time of the release of his first film, Kattradhu Thamizh, he had had no idea of film festivals or how to apply for them. Sriram Raghavan and the two filmmakers then united to convey their distaste for the ‘festival film’ label, noting that the only real division that can be made is between ‘good films’ and ‘bad films’.
The noon also provided a chance for the filmmakers to delve into their approach towards cinema. Manju touched upon her interest in keeping cinema firmly rooted in the North East, in trying to familiarise the world about its people and politics. Ram landed a punch or two at critics who he said are mistaken in trying to analyse his films through their male protagonist. “My films are theses, and I’m trying to convey a certain truth I have felt. My main characters are not heroes; they are tools to convey this truth with,” he said.
The conversation veered towards the star system and how it appears that the presence of actors like Varun Dhawan and Ayushmann Khurrana seems to suggest the emergence of a new type of hero who doesn’t flinch from experimenting. Sriram Raghavan, who has worked with both actors, wasn’t too sure if this was true though. “We must remember that I began working with them at a time when they hadn’t yet become as popular or successful,” he noted. “I’m not too sure if it’s true that there are new stars out there who are happy to experiment, but I hope it’s true.”
The filmmakers united again in conveying their distaste for the label ‘female filmmaker’, noting that it created more damage than utility. Manju touched upon her filmmaking experiences, sharing that she is hardly aware of her gender when she’s making films—till someone makes that observation. The trio also refused to buy that gender could have anything to do with the ability to explore certain types of characters. “I’m a woman, but I don’t know if I can write all types of women well,” said Manju. Ram, for his part, noted that among the best written female characters is in a film by a man: Satyajit Ray’s Charulatha.
The filmmakers went on to speak about the importance of locations in their films, and their metaphorical significance. Ram credited Tolkappiyam, the oldest surviving work of Tamil literature, for being a big influence. “It has taught me that time and place are important aspects, and I always prioritise them more than characters,” he said. “It is said that if a person were to get enraged, how he would express his anger on a cold winter morning would be different than on a scorching summer noon—like you see in Albert Camus’ The Outsider.”
The illuminating discussion went on to filmmaking influences, with Sriram Raghavan speaking about the impact Alfred Hitchcock has had on his career. “I could talk for two hours about the effect of his films, but above all, let me just say that they helped me understand how to shoot something cinematically,” he said. The session came to an end with the directors noting that it’s vital for a storyteller to have boundless empathy. In the words of Manju, “If you would like to be a creator, you cannot judge.”