Three Indian movies will be part of the Cairo International Film Festival, running from November 15 to 24. What is most remarkable is that one of them, The Narrow Path (Ottayaal Paatha in Malayalam) by brothers Satish and Santosh Babusenan, has been included in the main International Competition. The film will compete for the festival’s top honours along with 15 other titles from several countries like Egypt, Poland, France, Spain and China.
Shockingly, Babusenans’ work has not been selected by the International Film Festival of India (IFFI, to be held in Panaji from November 20) for its Indian Panorama. Lauded as a section that showcases the cream of Indian cinema, the Panorama this year is conspicuous by two other misses. And mind you, these movies have been helmed by masters: Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Malayalam work, Pinneyum (Once Again), and Buddhadeb Dasgupta’s Bengali creation, Tope (The Bait). While any major film festival -- like Cannes, Venice or Berlin -- will always programme the work of a master if it is submitted (and let the critics and audience decide how good or bad it is), IFFI appears to have ignored this cardinal rule.
The Narrow Path is a fascinating study of guilt and sacrifice, supreme sacrifice. Narrated through sparse frames and economy of words, the movie tells us the tragic story of how a grown-up son, Akhil (played by Sarath Sabha), is caught between the love for his girlfriend, Nina (Krishnapriya), and his affection for his old father, Vikraman (K Kaladharan). The elderly man is practically bed-ridden with complications arising out of diabetes severely restricting his mobility. When out of bed, he has to hop on to a wheelchair, and he needs constant care. And when Nina, hailing from an upper class family, suggests to Akhil that the two go away to Bengaluru, the invitation is tantalisingly tempting. For him the new city will be like a breath of much-needed oxygen, but the son is wracked by dilemma. Could he possibly leave his infirm father behind to be taken care of by paid employees?
The second Indian film, Half Ticket (in Marathi by Samit Kakkad), is a remake of the riveting Tamil work, Kaaka Muttai. Kakkad, whose first feature was Aayna Ka Bayna, told this writer some months ago that he would not touch the soul of the original, but would merely carry out some cosmetic changes to include certain nuances of the Marathi language. The setting would be Mumbai, not Chennai as it was in Kaaka Muttai, whose music director, GV Prakash Kumar, had been roped in for the Marathi edition as well.
Kaaka Muttai was a delightful movie about two little boys from the slums who go to the quirkiest of extent to earn that Rs 300 needed to buy themselves a pizza from an outlet which opens next to their shanty. It is both novel and hilarious when the two get a makeshift pull-cart to transport sozzled men from the roadside bar to their homes -- in order to earn a few rupees. At other times, the children pick coal that drops from passing steam engines to feed their family of a mother (played with extraordinary ease by Iyshwarya Rajesh) and a grandmother. The father is in jail, and the wife is struggling to get him out on bail -- grappling as she is with crooked lawyers.
The third Indian entry, Alankrita Shrivastava’s Lipstick Under My Burkha (Lipstick Waale Sapne in Hindi), which won a prize at the recent Tokyo International Film Festival, paints the painful lives of four women in Bhopal bearing the brunt of societal prejudices. Despite being unfulfilled and unhappy, they are gutsy enough to dream. With an excellent star cast that includes Ratna Shah Pathak and Konkana Sen Sharma, Shrivastava’s work was a hit in Tokyo -- and may well prove as popular in the historic city by the Nile.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran will cover the Cairo International Film Festival.)