Dharamshala Film Festival 2017: When Movie Mania Reaches the Hills

With the current global crisis surrounding refugees, most of the films here had a distinct personal touch.

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Art and Culture
3 min read
Konkona Sen Sharma with students from neighbouring schools who had come to watch movies in the children’s category at DIFF.
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Film festivals are maddening in their own way. From negotiating between multiple screenings, deciding on what to watch, to standing in long serpentine queues all to get one foot in the door — it’s a heady experience.

But Dharamshala International Film Festival (DIFF) is exhilarating in its own way. No red carpet manoeuvrings and preying paparazzi, here you can end up standing next to Konkona Sen Sharma at a popular momo stall, or having a relaxed chat with Adil Hussain about movies and more.

Students from neighbouring schools had come to watch the children’s films at the festival.
Students from neighbouring schools had come to watch the children’s films at the festival.
(Photo: DIFF)

Now in its sixth edition, DIFF was initiated in 2012 by filmmakers and Dharamshala residents Ritu Sarin and Tenzin Sonam, who wanted to give the local community a taste of alternate world-class cinema.

At the Tibetan Children’s Village, a basketball court – surrounded by the mighty Dhauladhar range – becomes the epicentre of all the action as film enthusiasts and connoisseurs descend to bask in the sun and soak in some cinema.

Dharamshala got its first movie theatre last year – Gold Cinemas which also screened some of the festival films. DIFF, no doubt, is growing with each passing year, but the charm is still in the intimate and warm setting.

Adil Hussain’s Mukti Bhawan and What Will People Say were screened at the festival.
Adil Hussain’s Mukti Bhawan and What Will People Say were screened at the festival.
(Photo: DIFF)

A ‘Personal Touch’ at DIFF 2017

This year the opening film was Mukti Bhawan, a captivating meditation on death. Directed by Shubhashish Bhutiani, the story of a father-son bond intimately portrayed by Lalit Behl and Adil Hussain (who also attended the festival) was received with great enthusiasm.

Some other critically acclaimed films to come out of India were also screened, like A Death in the Gunj which was the directorial debut of Konkona Sen Sharma, Malyalam film Angamaly Diaries and Amit Masurker’s Oscar hopeful Newton.

Rima Das’s Village Rockstars, which won big at the MAMI this year, was the closing film. The story about 10-year-old Dhanu from the impoverished village of Kalardiya in Assam and her impossible dreams of forming a music band, turned out to be one of the most popular films at this year’s festival.

Other gems that constituted the impressive line up were ABU, an autobiographical documentary by Arshad Khan that narrates the challenges of growing up as a gay man in a close-knit Pakistani Muslim family where homosexuality is regarded as sexually deviant and shameful.

Rima Das’s Village Rockstars was the closing film at DIFF 2017. 
Rima Das’s Village Rockstars was the closing film at DIFF 2017. 
(Photo: Rima Das/Facebook)

Mirroring the same societal anxiety and pressures is the feature film What Will People Say, by Norwegian director Iram Haq, that had Adil Hussain and Ekavali Khanna. 16-year-old Nisha’s dreams are a constant source of threat to her very conservative Pakistani Muslim family. Unable to understand the clash of cultures and their own daughter’s aspirations, the struggle leads to further misery when the parents force her to leave Oslo and shift to a small town in Pakistan.

With the current global crisis surrounding refugees and the ensuing war, most of the films here had a distinct personal touch — documenting vulnerabilities and how violence has been internalised by everyone.

Nicole van Kilsdonk’s The Day My Father Became a Bush, which was part of the children’s films section, was another evocatively told story about a young girl Toda and how her life turns upside down as war breaks in her city.

A still from Nicole van Kilsdonk’s film The Day My Father Became A Bush.
A still from Nicole van Kilsdonk’s film The Day My Father Became A Bush.
(Photo: DIFF)

Raniv Berman’s crowd funded drama Land of the Little People concerns a gang of four children from an Israeli army village and the effect violence has on their impressionable minds. Bornila Chatterjee’s The Hungry relocates Shakespeare’s bloody tragedy Titus Andronicus to modern day India, where corruption, greed and revenge threaten to wreck havoc.

As the curtains come down on DIFF 2017, one can only hope to come back next year to the mountains for an exciting rendezvous with films hitherto unknown.

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