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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



RIFF films, seen and unseen

RIFF films, seen and unseen

Arriving at Jaipur on the 20th afternoon, I plunged into the 5th Rajasthan International Film Festival (RIFF) fare at the INOX multiplex, Crystal Palm, minutes after checking in at my hotel. Unfortunately, I had missed a whole day and a half, since the festival began on the 19th and screenings commenced in the morning itself, after the inauguration ceremony. These were the films shown on the first day, and some of them bagged awards too, as you must have read in my last posting:

Coming to Day 2, the schedule looked like this:

For me, the first ‘film’ was the video launch of the 8-minute song ‘Baisara Beera’, an impressive folk song in the Rajasthani language, executed with flair and finesse by Rapperiya Baalam Ft. Ravindra Upadhyay and Swarna Ghosh, starring Honey Sharma and Priyangani Rathore.

Rain of Homs, the well-made Syrian film, I had seen earlier, so I decided to try out the first Sindhi film of my life, Tuhinje Pyar Mein. The film, which dealt with clashing values and mores of three generations of a Sindhi family, was too stereo-typical and amateurish to hold my attention, and I could not sit through it. Hijrat, based on a Sadat Hasan Manto short story, included in the recent biopic on the Bombay-Lahore based Urdu writer of the 1940s, was passable fare and paled in comparison to its big brother enactment. Saving Neta—Broken Wings is an Israeli film directed by famous Nir Bergman which loosely, vaguely connects episodes in the life a man called Neta, involving four women, of different backgrounds. So ended the 20th of January.

The next day had a workshop on screen-writing by Mayur Puri, who showed us his film Firdaws as part of the proceedings.

Firdaws is Puri’s humorous and satirical take on Kashmiri militants who pick-up arms against Indian soldiers, on the promise that they will attain firdaws (heaven) on martyrdom. Not suitable for audiences under 18, the 15-minute short is not censored and Puri is not keen on getting it certified either. Following the workshop was The Making of the Mahatma, a 177-minute epic directed by Shyam Benegal. Rajit Kapur, who played the titular role, was present. I saw the first part, of about 90 minutes, and, though the film was a fine calibre, found it a bit too much to sit through for the second part. Living Idle, a 15-minute short, directed by Ramana, was next on my menu. This was an over-the-top depiction of a drunkard sculptor and his encounter with divine justice. Also playing was the Iranian film Where Are My Shoes, which I had seen earlier. Worth seeing stuff. To round off the day, some European, Australian and South American guests and I walked into the auditorium where Load Wedding (Pakistan/directed by Nabeel Qureshi/138 min) was playing. We had a whale of a time, watching this satire on marriages and reality shows in Pakistan, with the foreign delegates bursting out laughing, time and again. Time to call it a day.

Day 4 of the festival brought us Halmidi (Kannada/directed by Sivanadam N./97 min), highlighting the issue of linguistic parochialism in the border areas of TamilNadu and Karnataka. Not an outstanding film, it was not too bad either, considering the issue-based theme. An interesting film awaited us in the shape of Surjo Prithibir Chardike Ghore (Bengali/directed by Arijit Biswas/116 min). This is the cinematic adaptation of the theory propounded by a man called Tapan Chandra Pal, who has been roaming the streets of Kolkata for decades, armed with papers that proclaim ‘the sun goes round the earth’. As expected, he is shunned and even abhorred, for propounding such an incredible theory. Not to be cowed down, he cites the examples of great scientists who were called lunatics in their lifetimes, only to be revered when their theories turned out to be true. Continuing the recent trend of trans-gender movies, Khejdi (Hindi/directed by Rohit Dwivedi/92 min) was a hard-hitting look at intolerance in rural north India and the fate of a child who grows up as a woman but has male physicality. The Last Supper (Hindi-English/directed by Sanjeev Mohapatra/30 min) gets its title, obviously so, from the Biblical episode where Jesus and his disciples shared the table for the last time. The subject, however, is the predicament faced a husband and wife when she decides to leave him and marry another man, and he insists on cooking a last supper for all three. It was touching, though a bit too long, with an understated performance by Rajesh Jais as completely heart-broken hubby. Must mention two other films in passing, since I could not see watch them in their entirety: I Am Zero, which deals with religious tolerance and secularism and is inspired by a true story, and Rakkhosh, which is claimed to be India’s first point of view (POV) movie and explores the horrors and fantasies of a patient trapped in a mental asylum. End of Day 4.

Day 5.Gadhedo means donkey in some Indian languages, and is the title of a short (directed by Jai Sharma/20 min). A parable turned into a film, it is funny and enjoyable. Village of a Lesser God highlights the healthcare problems of a village near Mumbai and the efforts of a Mumbai-based doctor to make regular visits there, rendering yeoman’s service. The film was to be appreciated not for any cinematic brilliance but a service to society. I might mention Mulk too, although I had seen and reviewed it a press show some months ago, as an above average film that featured in the RIFF awards. The closing film, Once Again, was again one that I had already seen, so I decided to grab some lunch, talk to some of the delegates and prepare for the closing ceremony and awards function, scheduled a for a while later at the INOX Insignia GT Jaipur. You have already read the list of award winners in my last post.

Somendra Harsh (Founder-Director, RIFF), K.L. Jain (patron, RIFF and Honorary Secretary, Rajasthan Chamber of Commerce and Industry), Ram Kamal Mukherjee (journalist and author), Honorary Award-winner and veteran actress, Jayaprada, Anshu Harsh(Founder-Director, RIFF) and Lalit Ojha (Regional Director, INOX Leisure), at the closing ceremony.

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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