India Brings Its Unconventional Best To Toronto Int. Film Festival
Indian film director and producer Anand Gandhi, and documentary filmmaker Khushboo Ranka are having a banner year at the Toronto International Film Festival this year. They have two films at TIFF, on issues that are very topical back home.
Gandhi and Ranka share credits on Right To Pray, a seven-minute documentary that is among India’s first virtual reality or VR films, and is playing as part of TIFF’s POP VR event. The film directed by Ranka and produced by Gandhi, takes the viewer right into the eye of the stormy debate over the admission of women into religious places. Although an atheist herself, Ranka came away impressed by the attempt of activists to enter the sanctum of the Trimbakeshwar temple near Nashik earlier this year. But the subject was not chosen specifically for VR, she said in an interview in Toronto.
The location is extremely scenic, but specifically there was nothing that would have made it better or worse for VR. It was just that as a filmmaker it was a new way of looking at the canvas. For me I tried to do what I was comfortable with and just plug in this new technology into that and then experiment with storytelling methods and techniques that were presented by this entirely new way of looking at the narrative.Khushboo Ranka, Filmmaker
Gandhi, who is also in Toronto for TIFF, added that he no longer even viewed VR as a novelty medium.
I think of VR as the obvious next step of the evolution that has started all the way from cave doodles to Renaissance painting to the invention of photography to the invention of the motion picture camera. I think all stories can now be told through virtual reality. It will only be more immersive, more experiential and more empathetic if we use this as a medium.Anand Gandhi, Filmmaker
Ranka, along with co-director Vinay Shukla, also brings to TIFF An Insignificant Man, a feature length documentary that followed Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and the emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party or AAP three years ago. The filmmakers were given access to embed themselves within the movement for over a year, capturing Kejriwal and AAP volunteers at rallies, party meetings and protests. The film was originally supposed to premiere at Toronto’s Hot Docs film festival during April-May this year, but was not ready then, and premiered on Sunday, September 11. Ranka was elated at getting a platform at one of the world’s biggest film festivals.
There was nothing that had prepared us for having two films at TIFF. I think that both films are very singular and very distinct from each other and not just in terms of content, but also the fact that one is a fly on the wall documentary and the other one is a VR piece which is by itself an exhilarating experience to try and weave a narrative in that form, and how people react to the ability to turn around and interact with different elements and things like that.Khushboo Ranka
Despite the topical subjects of her films, Ranka was not concerned about events overtaking them, like for instance, the inevitable slide in AAP’s popularity after its heady start. Some of the leaders featured in An Insignificant Man have already made an acrimonious exit from AAP. And the Bombay High Court’s judgment granting women the right to enter the inner area of the city’s Haji Ali dargah came after Right To Pray had been shot.
The Haji Ali judgement – it’s interesting because it means the story is still unfolding. What we captured was just one chapter, which is specific to the Trimbakeshwar temple in Nashik and the fact that it continues its narrative outside of just the geographical boundaries of those particular temples but into the courts, it’s a big movement towards a more egalitarian way of looking at things and the right questions are being asked. And I think in that sense it will remain relevant for a while.Khushboo Ranka
The major Indian feature films at TIFF this year include Konkona Sen Sharma’s gripping directorial debut A Death In The Gunj, and the return of two masters, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, with The Bait, and Adoor Gopalakrishnan, with Once Again.
Another veteran of Indian cinema, Victor Banerjee, returns in Serbian filmmaker Goran Paskaljevic’s film Land Of The Gods, set in a Himalayan village. Other documentaries at TIFF this year include The Cinema Travellers by Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya, who chronicle the dying tradition of mobile ‘tent cinemas’ that entertain villagers and small town dwellers across India; and Richie Mehta’s India In a Day, the crowdsourced documentary that’s part of the series produced by filmmaker Ridley Scott and Google.
The Indo-Canadian siblings Deepa Mehta and Dilip Mehta are both featured at TIFF this year, the former with Anatomy Of Violence, a look at the infamous Nirbhaya gang rape of December 2012.
Mehta worked improvisationally with her actors to envisage possible sociological and psychological backgrounds and pasts for the perpetrators and the victim. The film posits formative events in the men’s lives, imagining the origins of their violent, remorseless personalities, while presenting the woman’s life in parallel.Magali Simard, TIFF programmer
Dilip Mehta’s film Mostly Sunny, is a documentary film on one of the most Googled celebrities in India, Sunny Leone, the Indo-Canadian porn actress who has reinvented herself as a Bollywood starlet.
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