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August 06, 2015

7 Incredible Indies of India

By Tanisha Choudhury

View India through the lens of 2015’s best Indian indie movies to date

This year has seen the release of a barrage of indigenous indie gems. And it’s only just August! They have made us laugh and made us cry. They have been distinctive, refreshing and thought-provoking. And most of all, they have all showed us with authenticity and intimacy, new ways to look at the myriad faces of India.

Movie: Court
The tale: A sewerage cleaner’s dead body is found in a manhole in Mumbai, and an ageing folk singer and activist is tried in court on charges of abetment of suicide. Chaitanya Tamhane’s debut film follows his trial and the mundane lives of the lawyers fighting for and against him and the judge presiding over the case.
The roots: The film is set in Mumbai and deftly reflects the diverse neighbourhoods and lives that co-exist in this bustling metropolis.
Why it’s unmissable: The film is intense, while being superbly understated and without any melodrama. As it peels back the layers of smog covering the city, it shows the conflicting, ugly sides of life and politics in Mumbai – from the lack of infrastructure for the lowest class to the immigrant debate.

Read what Chaitanya Tamhane has to say about his debut film here.

Movie: Qissa: The Tale of a Lonely Ghost
The tale: In 1947, Umber Singh, a displaced Punjabi Sikh, loses everything and wishes desperately for a male heir. When his youngest daughter is born, he decides to wage a war against destiny.
The roots: Set in the Punjab of 1947, the film captures the social and physical destruction caused by the Partition. It also lays bare the psychological landscape of the time with all its anguish and desperation.
Why it’s unmissable: It is a film with a simple story at its heart but it touches upon a wide range of issues from patriarchy and displacement, to memories of loss and the consequences of obsession and delusion. However, its most intriguing and distinctive quality (that will haunt you long after the film is over) is its exploration of the fluidity of gender and identity.

Movie: Asha Jaoar Majhe
The tale: This Bengali film with almost no dialogues depicts a mundane day in the life of an ordinary married couple who stay apart all day long, except for a brief moment when they meet.
The roots: The film’s visual language captures the romance and charm of Kolkata along with the hardships endured by its middle class, as they battle a spiralling recession. It does both with nuance, depicting visuals that distinctly and characteristically represent the essence of this city suspended in time.
Why it’s unmissable: The film makes inspired use of background score and sounds from everyday life in Kolkata. It provides a taste of cinema very different from what the country usually offers up. The gripping but subtle performances of its cast only add to its stunning lyricism and visual poetry.

Movie: Dum Laga Ke Haisha
The tale: This romantic comedy is the story of a boy and girl whose marriage has been arranged by their families and who must now figure out a way to live with each other. Prem is a shy young man still badgered by his overbearing father, runs a cassette store and hasn’t yet passed his class 10 English paper. Sandhya is his overweight and feisty wife, about to become a teacher.
The roots: This film is set in small town India of the 1990s, specifically Haridwar and Rishikesh. The film brings alive the spirit of these towns and the times, from Kumar Sanu’s melodious voice streaming out of the dusty tape recording store and the rickety scooter in narrow crooked by lanes to the shakha that our hero is a part of. The film’s stellar supporting cast with their authentic accents and mannerisms further enhances the local North Indian flavour of the film.
Why it’s unmissable: There are many things about this film that will charm you. The authenticity and rootedness of the film, the squabbling intrusive families, the mohallas it depicts, the wave of nostalgia that it is likely to elicit and Ayushmann Khurrana’s performance as an unlikeable but sympathetic young man. However, none of them are as charming as newcomer Bhumi Pedneker as the self-assured and sassy Sandhya, an unlikely heroine who appears like a breath of fresh air on screen.

Movie: Killa
The tale: This small gem of a Marathi film is about an 11-year-old boy and his mother who relocate from Pune, after the death of his father. The film shows how they both deal with their loss and adjust to their new surroundings.
The roots: The small town that the film is set in happens to be on Konkan coast. All senses, touch, taste, sights, sounds and smells are evocatively used to bring alive this part of India. Frames are awash in the lush greenery of the Konkan and the blues and greys induce the moodiness of the monsoons.
Why it’s unmissable: Killa is a beautifully shot, wonderfully nuanced film that depicts the wondrous joys and growing pains of childhood better than any Indian film of recent times has. The film’s superb cast will make you laugh out loud and tear up and stay with you long after the film.

Movie: Masaan 
The tale: Four lives, in hope of a better future, intersect on the banks of the Ganges – a low caste boy hopelessly in love, a daughter wracked with guilt after a sexual encounter ends in tragedy, a father who has lost his moral compass and a young boy searching for a family.
The roots: Set in Varanasi, Masaan captures the heart of the city and the heat of its eternally burning pyres. It also depicts, almost without sentiment, the thick fog of death that hangs over the city and its inhabitants. Masaan’s Varanasi is as beautiful as it is ugly.
Why it’s unmissable: The film is an assured debut by director Neeraj Ghaywan and tells the poignant story of a city and its people caught in the push and pull between the old and the new, life and death. Much like its characters, Masaan – a film that won two awards at Cannes this year, isn’t flawless, but it is moving nonetheless.

(Read about the idea behind Masaan here)

Movie: Kaaka Muttai
The tale: The film revolves around two slum kids who wish to eat a pizza bought with their own money, from a newly opened pizza shop.
The roots: The film, an understated but powerful comment on globalisation and class divides, juxtaposes two facets of Chennai – the modern metro with malls and pizza parlours and the one with the slums.
Why it’s unmissable: The film, with its heartfelt portrayal of life in the slums and its humourous depiction of the boys’ quest to get pizza will surprise you with its profoundly sad undercurrents, which are underplayed but potent.

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