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Rewind 2018: 10 festival gems that deserve your attention

If you want to look beyond the mainstream features that the Indian film industry has to offer, these films that travelled to festivals in India and abroad are just the ticket. Make some room in the new year for these excellent films if you can find them.

Sonal Pandya

Like last year, we revisit some of the best films we saw at festivals. Some were by first-time filmmakers and others by filmmakers who had wowed us before. Their films have gone to Italy and South Korea, to Kerala and Goa, but the language of cinema remains universal.

Some of these might find their way to a theatre or computer screen near you, others might not. But these films deserve to find their audience and that’s why we are advocating them for you.

Travel off the beaten path from your regular diet of mainstream films and give another look to these ten amazing films which made their debuts this year at film festivals. We highly recommend them.

Rewind 2017: 10 festival gems that won us over

Without further ado then, and in no particular order, these are the films.


Cinestaan review – 4 stars

First-time filmmakers Vikram Patil and Karan Chavan's Imago is a sensitive tale of a young girl Namrata (Aishwarya Ghaydar) living in a village in Maharashtra. The painfully shy Namrata has social anxiety compounded by her skin disease leucoderma aka vitiligo. She has trouble mingling with her peers, but her mother would like her to continue studying at a college in Kolhapur. The arrival of new teacher Anand (Amol Deshmukh) helps her come out of her shell.

But Imago isn't about vitiligo. It is about Namrata's journey as she deals with emerging feelings and comes to terms with her place in the world. Young Aishwarya, who also has vitiligo, is a fine find. Furthermore, the filmmakers have kept the focus of their debut film on Namrata's story and the realistic and pleasing visuals of world around her. As we said in our review, it "gives the message that physical beauty is skin-deep, real beauty lies in the soul".


Cinestaan review – 4 stars

Director Vinit Chandrasekharan’s first film, Bodhi (Buddha) is a heart-breaking watch. Inspired by and based on stories from Maharashtra's Vidarbha region where farmers face water scarcity and jobs are hard to come by, the film follows the long theoretical and practical battle between a young leader in the Dalit community, Vinya (co-writer Ninad Mahajani), and Father Benedict (Shashank Shende), a priest who makes lofty promises which he is unable to fulfil.

Both Shende and Mahajani, as men with their own missions, get derailed spectacularly. The film, which has an ode to Dr Ambedkar and his teachings, has incredible polish on all fronts and is extremely effective in the message that it is trying to put across. Bodhi had its world premiere at the 20th Mumbai Film Festival and we hope more audiences discover this quiet but impactful Marathi feature film.


Cinestaan review – 4 stars

Aijaz Khan's Urdu language film Hamid, set in Kashmir, is viewed through the eyes of an innocent Kashmiri boy whose father goes missing one night. His mother Ishrat (Rasika Dugal) begins a life of limbo, not knowing what happened.

Embroiled in her own grief, she is unable to answer Hamid’s questions on his father. He dials the numbers ‘786’, the number of god, hoping to get an answer, and connects to CRPF trooper Abhay Kumar (Vikas Kumar) who helps him through this eventful period of his life.

Khan’s film has a sober look at the political situation in the Kashmir valley, showing the perspective of the locals as well. It portrays the real Kashmir, taking you beyond its natural beauty. But the heart of the film lies with its principal characters, child actor Talha Arshad Reshi and Dugal, who bring home the emotions of this fine film.


Cinestaan review – 4 stars

A touching and effective Marathi film by Amar Bharat Deokar, Mhorkya is the story of young shepherd Ashok (Raman Deokar) helped by a mentally unstable ex-army man called Yedya Anya who helps him become the leader at his upcoming Republic Day marching parade in school. Ashok goes up against those who think he is unworthy and learns what it means to be a leader, hence the film’s title.

The film is, at once, hopeful and realistic, incorporating lessons both old and young can learn. Amar Bharat Deokar, who has written the screenplay and also acts in it as Yedya Anya, has treated every frame with care, making the film a visual delight. It received the Special Mention and Best Children’s Film award at the 65th National Film awards this year. Hopefully, this unique little film will find its way to theatres soon.

The Lift Boy

Cinestaan review – 4 stars

This charming, feel-good film by writer-director Jonathan Augustin revolves around a young man, Raju (Moin Khan), who fills in for his father as a liftman at a posh Mumbai building when he falls ill. Raju, who has already failed his engineering exam four times, finds inspiration and help from the residents of Galaxy Apartments, like Princess Kapoor (Aneesha Shah) and Mrs D’Souza (Nyla Masood).

For a small, independent film, The Lift Boy has impressive production values but hits home with its heart-warming story of promise in its screenplay. Visually appealing, the film has a lot of affection for its characters which are wonderfully shown. The film already had its Mumbai premiere at the 9th Jagran Film Festival in September and is due to be released on 18 January 2019. Sprinkled with humour and entertainment, this debut feature by Augustin is carefully crafted. Do not miss it.

Widow Of Silence

Cinestaan review – 4 stars

A year after his second film Walking With The Wind (2017), Praveen Morchhale is back with another winner, this one a potent look at the so-called half-widows living in Kashmir. Like Aijaz Khan's Hamid, this film examines the devastation of families after the men of the house go missing. But Morchhale’s view particularly captures the "everydayness of violence through small moments".

Along with his cinematographer Mohammad Reza Jahanpanah, the filmmaker shows the starkness of the beautiful landscape. He uses actress Shilpi Marwaha, along with first-time performers, to bring authenticity to the simple story. Widow Of Silence, after a world premiere at the Busan International Film Festival in October, won the Hiralal Sen Memorial award for Best Film in an Indian Language at the 24th Kolkata International Film Festival in November. It is headed in the new year to the International Film Festival Rotterdam.


Cinestaan review – 4 stars

Filmmaker Priya Krishnaswamy's unsettling Baaram brings to light the practice of Thalaikoothal, a euphemism for mercy killing of the elderly, in southern Tamil Nadu. An old man Karuppasamy, who works as a night watchman, gets injured on the way home and becomes a liability to his son and daughter-in-law. They are reluctant to treat him and he dies a few days after his accident. But was the accident the cause of his death?

The film expertly takes viewers through Karuppasamy’s harrowing journey to death, with handheld cameras, making us think about the ethical crisis presented on the screen. The screenplay highlights the callousness of his children who want to eliminate their father to ease their lives. The filmmaker uses extensive research and her cast ably showcases the social evils of Thalaikoothal to those who were previously unaware. As our review had stated this November, “Priya, an experienced film editor, ditches glamour to make a point through the craft of storytelling.”


Cinestaan review – 3 stars

Ivan Ayr's first film, Soni, has been picking up several awards since its world premiere at the 75th Venice International Film Festival, where it received a standing ovation. The Hindi film explores the inner turmoil of a short-tempered Delhi police inspector Soni (Geetika Vidya Ohlyan) and her relationship with her senior Kalpana (Saloni Batra).

It explores the toll their work takes on their personal lives, investigating cases of harassment against women, and what they have to do to survive at work. Ohlyan and Batra present their diametrically opposite characters realistically, as they have to continuously go against the system to right wrongs, especially those against women. Earlier this year at the 20th Mumbai Film Festival, it won the Oxfam Best Film on Gender Equality award. Soni is that rare woman-centric film that presents its leads as just as human as you and me.


Cinestaan review – 3 stars

Danish Iqbal's Sadho, a film in Hindi and Chhattisgarhi, is an absorbing drama about a lower-caste gravedigger (Sukumar Tudu) who is given a newborn to bury by a couple after an accident. The baby miraculously survives and the gravedigger Sadho is faced with the dilemma of what to do next. Does he do the right thing and return the child to her parents or use her to make money?

Sadho highlights the grave, and unfortunately still persistent, issue of human trafficking. Shot on real locations, with locals, Iqbal tries to spotlight a story of one man's humanity versus the temptation of greed. Sadho, who has to face death every day, is changed by the responsibility of the baby and makes a decision that will make or break him. Iqbal said he hoped to make us question the value of a child and his gripping tale does exactly that.

Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane Le Ja Riya Hoon

Cinestaan review – 3 stars

The most unique film on this list is Anamika Haskar’s debut feature, Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane Le Ja Riya Hoon. Weaving in surrealism and breaking down the narrative in a way we have never seen before, the experimental film takes us into the lives of its four main characters, living in Old Delhi, or Shahjahanabad. The film takes us through their dreams, shown visually using animation and effects, and the plight of their everyday existence.

Haskar's film, blending fiction and reality, highlights the hard-to-hear stories of the poor who inhabit Delhi's streets and showcases a side to the city rarely seen on film. Our review called Haksar's film "a collection of vignettes of realism, and fabulous images of fantasy that are balanced by real people". The film had its world premiere at the 20th Mumbai Film Festival in October and will be heading to the Sundance Film Festival in the new year.

Also Not To Be Missed

Jaoon Kahan Bata Ae Dil

Cinestaan review – 3 stars

Shot at some of Mumbai's most iconic locales — Marine Drive, an Iranian cafe and the beach — filmmaker Aadish Keluskar's relationship drama, Jaoon Kahan Bata Ae Dil, encapsulates the dark and ugly aspects of a relationship. The Hindi film is decidedly anti-romantic, presenting the harsh realities of life's demands and the volatility the relationship takes on as the film progresses. Shot in unflattering angles and extreme close-ups, the film is "an emotional nightmare of an experience", but uncomfortable is what it's aiming for.

Bulbul Can Sing

Cinestaan review – 3 stars

Critically acclaimed and now globally known filmmaker Rima Das’s follow-up to her enchanting second film, Village Rockstars (2018), is another triumph. Das’s deft handling of this tale of three teenage friends in an Assamese village proves that the love Village Rockstars received was no fluke. Like the former film, it has gorgeous locales and stunning visuals, but also a deeper understanding of what drives us, even when we are down.

Ottamuri Velicham (Light In The Room)

Cinestaan review – 3 stars

Rahul Riji Nair’s directorial debut in Malayalam is a taut marital drama about the level of abuse a new bride, Sudha, suffers through her husband Chandran. Her nightly torture is shown through cinematic means, aided by a tense background score by Sidhartha Pradeep. Nair's entire team effectively shows the contrast of the beauty of the small Kerala village and the abuse Sudha suffers.


Cinestaan review – 3 stars

Actress Sruthi Hariharan as Gowri grounds this emotional but necessary Kannada film by director Mansore. It examines the life of a young widow living in the city as she comes to terms with her sexuality. Her new friendship with a man Suresh (Sanchari Vijay) who behaves kindly with her but is a tyrant to his own wife is another eye-opener in this thought-provoking film.


Cinestaan review – 3 stars

Two music-loving souls, a former piano player and singer (Rahul Deshpande) and singer Keerti (Pallavi Paranjape), striked up a friendship that eventually turns into love. Suhas Desale's first film is a rare musical that delivers, featuring wonderfully original songs rendered live on screen. The beautifully shot feature has assembled a terrific cast whom you will grow to love like family.

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Year in review