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Experiments with regional cinema during lockdown. Here’s the list

It was around March 2020 when we were forced to go on a complete lockdown as a response to the coronavirus outbreak. Like most of us, I stayed at home all day continuously looking for things to do- cooking, reading, playing games and watching old episodes of F.R.I.E.N.D.S. I don’t really remember how but one day while surfing YouTube, I made a resolution. Before I spill it out, let me emphasize that I love meaningful movies rather than commercial cinema with the likes of the mainstream Bollywood. During my college days, I spent my free time exploring Indian art films and commercial movies with great stories (mostly Hindi). I enjoyed movies like The Lunchbox, Mr and Mrs Iyer, Raincoat (2004), 15 Park Avenue to name a few. All these years, I had been ignoring most of the commercial Bollywood dramas and selectively watching those few good movies that come each year.

The slimmer of hope

However, Raj Kumar Rao, Vidya Balan, Kangana Ranaut, Sushant Singh Rajput, Manoj Bajpayee among others gave me hope that the industry is changing and adapting to the needs of the current generation. Anurag Kashyap movies were like that breath of fresh air that was badly needed in the industry. Off late, mainstream actors also acted in a few meaningful movies such as Drishyam. Even though the majority kept making illogical dramas with predictable plots where twenty-somethings-hero-without a job-travels-by-private-jets-to-various-destinations-in-Europe-falls-in-love-breaks-up-cries -gets-back-or-moves-on and reviewers kept giving them inflated ratings. The audience kept giving them 200 Crores every time.

The regional cinema emanciptaion

Coming to the point, I resolved to spend my quarantine only with regional movies as an experiment. Regional cinema grabs attention when one gets a national award or get nominated for some international award. Other than that, audiences keep distance due to variety of reasons such as language barriers and niche marketing by regional movie makers. I was firm. Every week I would choose a language, do a quick Google+ IMDB search of movies from that language that is available on free platforms.

Here is my experience while experimenting with regional cinema.

01. “Shala” (Marathi)

The movie starts with a quote, “Let’s revisit school”. A story of a 14 year old boy in love with his classmate in 9th grade. The plot revolves around a village school or ‘Shala’ detailing the mundane activities as well as tender relationships between friends as they explore their first love. There are times when the movie leaves reality and goes into philosophical questions regarding love, liberty, emotions and the contrasting realities of life set in the backdrop of 70s when India was under emergency. It is directed by Sujay Dahake and written by Milind Bokil. The characters of Joshi (Anshuman Joshi) and Shirodkar (Ketaki Mategaonkar) stays with the viewer long after the movie has ended.

02. “Bela Sheshe

It is a well-known fact that Kolkata produces some of the most iconic movies and influences many Bollywood movies with its art. Be it Devdas or Kahaani, there is admiration for Bengali film industry. Beyond the normal grandeur of Bengali cinema, I personally loved the movie ‘Bela Sheshe’ because of the concept. The movie is about the practicality of marriage after 50 or as they say “Silver separation”. I have never seen a movie where the utility of marriage is discussed after kids grow up and start their own family. Lead actors Soumitra Chatterjee and Swatilekha Sengupta are superb, the casting is top-notch and comic timings add to the viewing pleasure. It is directed by Shiboprasad Mukherjee and Nandita Roy.

Also read: The saga of discrimination continues for the LGBT community

03. “Aamis” (Assamese)

Closer home, a recently released critically acclaimed movie grabbed my attention. Another gem of a movie which explores a concept that is unheard of in Bollywood or any other industry (reach out to me if you find a similar plot).

It has never happened before that a movie has attacked me, haunted me or started a string of thoughts in my mind regarding what is right and what is wrong (in context of food). Aamis was a first. It made me perspire while watching the story unfold and wrenched my gut. It is not a horror movie and yet it is not for the faint hearted. Aamis starts as cute movie showcasing variety of cuisines from north-eastern part of India. Gradually, Aamis pushes boundaries of a food movie or an unconventional romance and ventures into weird territories. The literal meaning of the word ‘Aamis’ is non vegetarian person. There are moments in the movie where you might feel cringed but it’s so gripping that you won’t dare to look away. The brilliance of story, screenplay and acting by debutants Lima Das and Arghadeep Baruah is a delicious treat to ‘savour’. It is directed by award winning Bhaskar Hazarika.

04. “Vikram Vedha” (Tamil)

A policeman is following a gangster from many years and intends to encounter such a gruesome killer but the gangster makes an unconventional move that derails the thought process of the cop. The gangster, with his actions and contrasting stories confuse the cop to an extent that everything that remains is a gray area. A neo-noir action thriller with many similarities to the mythological story of Vikram-Betaal. It is an intense, action packed movie that is cerebral and keeps you hooked with its sudden twists.

05. ” A Death in the Gunj ” ( English/ Occasional Hindi and Bengali)

A thriller set in the year 1979 at McClouskieganj which used to be an Anglo-Indian township. The movie is directorial debut of Konkona Sen Sharma who is known for her art films. The movie is gripping, offbeat and weird at times. The movie progresses well and ends abruptly, in a way that may be unsatisfying to some viewers. The movie is subtle, explores grief and depression. The highlight for me was the performance by Vikrant Massey.

06. ” Bangalore Days ” (Malyalam)

Three cousins from Kerala move to Bangalore for various reasons. They have a close bond since childhood. As they journey through life in Bangalore, they discover new elements of life, love, fun and grief. The movie shows Bangalore’s culture, youth lifestyle where tradition & modernity are intertwined. The details of every character is very well presented, subtle emotional moments in otherwise joyful movie are well crafted. The comic moments perfectly balance the problems they encounter in the city. It’s a happy movie that summarises life in Bangalore.

I am going to continue this as an alternative to Bollywood’s commercial flicks that are shoved down our throats with shallow understanding of Indian society, its problems and prospective way outs from those. I believe movies should be a reflection of society and celebration of art. Sadly, Hindi film industry is not giving that content.

I decided to document this experiment after the tragic death of Sushant Singh Rajput whose bright mind, scientific temperament and passion for the craft couldn’t find a place amongst mediocrity, nepotism and groups in Bollywood. How can you and I change that? By encouraging true cinema, the art, the artists. What better way for the future? Maybe one day, (Just a tiny possibility ) Bollywood would outgrow itself to be a better, fairer place which celebrates talent, pushes creative boundaries and entertains with content.

Written by Snehal Deb, Guwahati. Graduate in civil engineering from VIT Vellore. Selected in RRB JE 2019. Interests: Engineering, Poetry, Art and Politics.

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