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A fresh crop of films from India dispels the Bollywood-only myth at Cannes

Still from Gurvinder Singh's 'Chauthi Koot'
Still from Gurvinder Singh's 'Chauthi Koot' © The Film Café

Two films in the Festival’s Un Certain Regard section come from India this year. In this competition section, the entries are nearly always first or second auteur features, i.e. written, or co-written by the directors themselves. Chauthi Koot (The Fourth Direction) is a second feature while Masaan (Fly away Solo), is also vying for the first-feature award at Cannes, the Camera d'Or (the Golden Camera).


Neither of the two films from India in the Un Certain Regard section is a Bombay-Bollywood product. Both come from the north. This is a sign that the way Indian film is regarded at Cannes, is changing. It’s also a sign says Gurvinder Singh, the director of Chauthi Koot, that the other regions are starting to make a comeback in independent films.

“I am sort of making films out of nowhere today. Most independent films are made in Mumbai because the producers there are more willing to take a risk, and to give the directors the freedom to make the films the way they want.”

Click here for our coverage of Cannes Film Festival 2015

Chauthi Koot takes place in Punjab State in 1984, the year prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards and which led to communal bloodletting in India.

Singh considers his film resonates elsewhere today. In other regions of India, he says, “conflicts continue in some regions over identity for example, and the countryside is under threat because of the new land laws which will enable easier access to farm land for industrial projects for example. It has a meaning in all the conflicts going on anywhere in the world where people are caught between militants and the army.”

Soldier’s boots pace a railway platform, three men, two Hindus and one Sikh, miss a train and force their way on board another one reserved for the military, and a dog barks when either regular soldiers or militants come near a family farm.

These sounds are the keys to The Fourth Direction, Gurvinder Singh’s second auteur feature (the first was intriguingly called Alms for a Blind Horse). Singh chose to work with lesser-known actors, who create suspense with minimal dialogue. It’s made of quiet strong stuff. Dialogue is sparing. “There’s dialogue,” says Singh, “only as much as is needed.”

Singh delves into the treasure chest that is cinematography. Wide shots of the countryside contrast with the enclosed space in the train guard’s uncomfortable compartment with the action alternating between the two and accentuating both.

“Most Indian films use Hollywood-style lighting. I don’t. I am also a plastic artist, I use this experience in films. Cinema is like music also, it has to have the right pace, the right rhythm. I avoid showing too much violence. I prefer to use metaphor,” he says, managing to build suspense from the look in people’s eyes and the movement of the train, and the sound of the movement of the train. Without letting the proverbial cat out of the bag, suffice to say that Singh’s story is a tinderbox.

Masaan  a debut feature by Neeraj Ghaywan is set in Varanasi. It screens on Tuesday as part of the Un certain regard section. Both Chauthi Koot and Masaan are Indo-European  co-productions. Singh says that “I have to look for international financing, I can’t find it all in India. Perhaps ten years ago it wouldn’t have been possible for me to make my films.”

If European producers maintain their support these young filmmakers may manage to dispel the misconception still widely held in this part of the world that Indian film these days is all about Bollywood.

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