Last week at the New York Indian Film Festival presented by Indo-American Arts Council, the sheer force of the often overlooked short film was on full display as the Village East Cinema on 12th and 2nd Avenue transformed into the venue for the enviable gathering of Indian and international cinephiles, whose tastes for Indian cinema stretch beyond the Bollywood masala film.
There were more than twenty-five films shown through the weeklong festival and I was able to attend only half. Of the ones I saw, the following five were standouts. I have chosen not to rank them because of the following number: ninety-four. Between them, the films serve up themes ranging from friendship, isolation, masculinity, death, and hope, just to name a few. But together, they add up to a running time of ninety-four minutes, shorter than an average feature length film. A tall order.
Here are the films (in no particular order):
- Yari Road – Three friends and aspiring actors re-unite in a Mumbai apartment. Egos, insecurities and yearnings collide in a short film that feels close to home because of Samrat Chakrabarti and Gaurav Dwivedi’s deeply felt performances. The actors lend more than their names to the characters, they lend their psyches. In Chakrabarti and Dwivedi, one can feel the entire gamut of what it means to be an artist – the wide spectrum between success and failure. The film unfolds in Hindi and English, employing both languages seamlessly and for those who live between and within these two ways of speaking and living, the film’s last lines will have an even deeper impact.
For information on screenings and other information on Yari Road, visit http://laughistan.com/yari-road-short-film/
- Hechki – Kartik Mehta’s short rests on a simpler premise than Yari Road. Shankar (played by an impossibly endearing Roni Mazumdar) sells roses on the streets on Mahattan and has an incurable case of the hiccups. After many attempts by his friends to rid him of the hiccups, a stranger (played with just the right mixture of grace and impetuousness by Mahira Kakkar) comes to his aid. Even though the story is ‘cute,’ what makes Hechki irresistible is Mehta’s restraint, which keeps the story from veering into sentimentality as does Hesh Sarmalkar’s rendering of the frustrated and concerned friend and ally.
- Should Tomorrow Be – A documentary short about her father’s impending decision to choose a life as a vent-
dependent quadriplegic or exercise his right-to-die by ending life sustaining treatment, lawyer and filmmaker Malini Goel has crafted a moving tribute that extends beyond the personal. Her father, Dr. Goel, humanized via humor, espouses nuggets of wisdom such as don’t marry a “cool jerk,” and forms the emotional crux of the film. The film does favor a certain side of the debate heavily, sometimes succumbing to the situation’s emotional gravity, but Goel succeeds in her attempt to capture not simply a moment in time, but a timeless dilemma.
You can find out all about the documentary via the website – http://www.shouldtomorrowbe.com/ OR the facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/Shouldtomorrowbe
- Mardistan – The opening line – “While growing up I realized, there are certain kind of men I would not like to become” – still haunts me, reverberates in my brain like the first coin in a beggar’s bowl. The short documentary by Harjant Gill features an unlikely cast of Indian, specifically Punjabi men – a middle-aged writer, a father of twin daughters, a college student and an openly gay man. What makes the men, as well as the documentary, unexpected is the focus on the pressures men feel to live as a “man” in India as a way to address women’s issues. Gill intersperses stories with feminist ideology, making a clear argument against rigid gender identity, but the work is most successful when the stories do the telling.
You can read all about the documentary here: http://www.tilotamaproductions.com/Tilotama_Productions/MARDISTAN_%28MANLAND%29.html
- Letters to the City – In the noise that is Delhi, women, and rape, a new way of looking and listening emerges in this short documentary. Director Gorav Kalyan cuts between images of Delhi – the wires in the air in Old Delhi, the lush depths of Lodhi Gardens, the posh enclaves of New Delhi – and letters written by Delhi-ites to loved ones in the future about their city, Dilwalon Ki Dilli. Etched with affection, passion, sorrow, disappointment, nostalgia, and hope, the documentary serves as a reminder that Delhi, transformed into a symbol of all things terrible, is still a place people call home.
Roger Ebert said – “the movies are like a machine that generate empathy.” And the short film, as seldom celebrated as it is, can act as a powerful and efficient machine. These films exemplify how the form leaves to the viewer a larger world to be imagined beyond the narrative’s contracted time. In that space between the apparent and the probable, they show us just how satisfying a short film can be.