It’s been a while since we have had such an interesting bunch of Indian films at the Sydney Film Festival.
India’s only all-female newspaper. A recently widowed north-Indian woman who wants to live it up. A 9-year-old boy transfixed by cinema. Scientist and activist Dr Vandana Shiva.
And perhaps most significantly, an opening night feature produced by Indian-origin filmmaker Sheila Jayadev, set right here in our backyard – in Western Sydney.
The film Here Out West sounds like a great pick for opening night. Produced by entertainment lawyer turned filmmaker Sheila Jayadev, it looks at the lives of a whole range of diverse families that make up Blacktown – Australian, Bangladeshi, Chilean, Chinese, Burmese, Kurdish, Indian, Lebanese, Filipino, Vietnamese. They come together over a single day, following the kidnapping of a baby from hospital.
Eight emerging writers from diverse background got together to workshop and write this film, including Bina Bhattacharya and Arka Das.
From India, Sydney Film Festival brings us the documentary Writing With Fire. Based on India’s only all-female publication Khabar Lahariya, it follows the trials and tribulations of the Dalit journalists not only as they face off a gender-based hierarchy and a ruthless mainstream media, but also the changing nature of the industry itself as they struggle to move from print to digital. Directed by Sushmit Ghosh and Rintu Thomas, the film comes to Sydney after huge acclaim at Sundance Film Festival earlier this year – winning the Audience Award for World Cinema – Documentary; World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Impact and Change, and a nomination for the Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema – Documentary.
In the film Just Like That the recently-widowed Mrs. Sharma decides to live her life to the fullest – despite the cultural traditions and expectations she’ll be breaking along the way. Directed by Kislay Kislay, the film offers a clear and unflinching look at female agency in India. It has been nominated for multiple Best Film awards at various international film festivals.
Critically acclaimed director Pan Nalin’s Last Film Show follows 9-year-old Samay who is fascinated by the world of cinema, unmoved by his conservative father’s views on the ‘immorality’ of the medium.
The documentary The Seeds of Vandana Shiva is based on Indian social activist and physicist, Dr. Vandana Shiva, well-known for her role in the anti-GMO movement. She stood up to the corporate powers at agricultural giant Monsanto by suing them in 1999 for their illegal GMO Bt cotton strain trials in India. Her stance against corporates is just as strong as her push for organic/ local food systems. Dr. Shiva won the Sydney Peace Prize in 2010. The film, directed by American filmmakers Camilla and James Becket, features a cameo by actor Mark Ruffalo.
Together, these films look set to give us a feel of the emergence of a new-look India, one where change is afoot, and the perspective is far-sighted. The shift – indeed the revolution – whether in societal codes and mores or in issues that concern us all as humans, springs from the very basic individual or small group level, ie from regular citizens willing to drive change.
That this change is being spearheaded by women in charge, not at the highest political, business or institutional levels, but at the very grassroots, is incredible.
The Sydney Film Festival 2021 program can be found online at sff.org.au.
READ ALSO: Indian links at APSA 2021