This year started with a list of must-do things and a host of goals to fulfill. Although there are a number of things I am yet to complete, or will sadly remain unfulfilled, I’m happy to say that travelling out of the city for a festival can be struck off the list. Check!
I had been wanting to visit the Dharamshala International Film Festival since a few years, but I’m a reluctant traveller and well, always in debt. This year, the currents changed their course and well, I managed to not just plan the entire trip but also book tickets and everything, dragging my good friend M from the pile of work she’s usually buried in. Logistics and transport just give me the heebie-jeebies. I surprised myself at the initiative I took and managed to work all this out.
DIFF for me was my first film festival, and an opportunity to break away from my everyday life. Up in the mountains, at an ordinary auditorium of a Tibetan school, the festival was brought alive by a team of effervescent participants, people from all walks of life could be seen busy in deep conversations, huddled near the warm food stalls.
There did not seem much fanfare at the festival as is wont to have at other festivals, or so I’ve heard, but the lineup of movies was astounding. Although I was unable to watch the film I wanted to, I definitely do not regret seeing the ones I did. M bumped into a colleague while the shuttle from McLeodganj took us to the venue. (Just a point, this shuttle was such a lifeline for us.) He suggested we watch Abu by Arshad Khan, and was marked as a do-not-miss.
Abu, a documentary based on director Arshad Khan’s life, his evolution from a carefree boy to accepting his sexuality and his relationship with his father, a devout Muslim. Arshad had copious footage of his early life, a well-to-do life early life in Pakistan where his family and extended relatives and friends would get-together for occasions and weddings. It was interesting to see the typical large families of those days, women carefree and dancing, anglicised and enjoying a life I’ve only heard about. Arshad’s father was always indulgent in having the latest technology at home, and the family had a video recorder at a time and age many hadn’t even seen one. The documentary traces their lives from Pakistan to Canada, and Arshad’s battle with recognizing his true self.
As Arshad’s father could never gel well in the landscape of Canada and moved towards the religion. However, the bit where he falls ill and is hospitalised, I found myself crying. I just couldn’t stop the tears. They just came streaming down my cheeks. I remember the time when I saw my brother in the hospital and the memories came screaming back. I repress these memories, but sometimes it gets difficult to tamp them down.
Anyhoo, after this wonderful documentary, we had quite a lot of time on our hands. I made a beeline for a cappuccino, while M started wandering around the many stalls. We picked up a couple of bags, notebooks and Tibetan prayer flags. Difficult not to shop when on a holiday.
The second movie, well, this one just left me stumped. It has a stellar cast, fabulous storyline and the visuals… crazy beautiful. Who knew such brilliant movies are being made in this country when all we get to see are those chirpy idiots all taken up by their song and dance. The Hungry directed by Bornila Chatterjee has Tisca Chopra, Naseeruddin Shah and Sayani Gupta among the faces I could recognise. A modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s play – Titus Andronicus – was astounding. It was pure bliss to watch this film. I do not want to dwell on the storyline too much, other than mention how money, greed, love, lust and jealousy all come into play in this adaptation of the bard’s work.
Though I was able to only see two films, nevertheless I know this is just the beginning for me. I will definitely try to visit the festival next year with more time to spare.
The energy of that space, feeling the chill in my bones my still excited about lineup, waiting patiently for the gates to open and the low hum of chatter, excited about the arts, about cinema and how life meanders in strange, delightful ways.