Old and Rusty or A New Ride?

European Film Festivals come Delhi: Day 2

On a breezy Sunday evening, I and my younger brother headed towards the iconic India Habitat Center (IHC). The Swiss Ambassador to India Linus von Castelmur had requested the audience on Saturday — the opening day — to bring friends and family and fill the 250 seats in Stein Auditorium. It felt great that some splendid films from major European film festivals had come to India, but at the same time I felt a sense of disappointment over the petty response it got from the 18 million strong city of Delhi. Hence, I got my brother interested in the event and here he was, accompanying me through the metro on our way to IHC.

On this occasion, we got to watch two films — one short film (WAGAH) and one full length feature film (Lelaki Harapan Dunia or Men Who Save the World). Post these two films, another one ( Ci vorrebbe un miracolo or It’s Gonna Take A Miracle) was shown that I did not stay to watch.

WAGAH is a short film that revolves around the life on the Indian side of the Wagah border that separates India and Pakistan. Narrated by a young boy from the town of Wagah, it is pleasant to see how national boundaries and distinct patriotism builds an identity of a society. The film starts with the young boy flying kites with his two friends adjacent to the barbed wire fence that marks the border. The film is festive in mood. It revolves around the ‘festival’ that is called the Wagah Border Ceremony. It is a unique blend of nationalism with showmanship. Each evening soldiers from the two nations open the dividing gate — the only one in a boundary that stretches over 1000 kilometers. Attended by hundreds of tourists from both sides, the atmosphere builds as both sides attempt to be louder than the other. The military exercise involves soldiers from both nations marching towards the gate while loudly stomping their boots and saluting each other. Thereafter, flags of the two nations are drawn down simultaneously — an evening ritual across India and Pakistan. All this time, the audience gets to experience patriotic music — some on the Indian side danced to the tunes while those on the Pakistani side sang along. Where is the little boy in all of this? Well he is busy selling CDs and DVDs that show recording of the ceremony to those who want to carry their experience back with them and share it with friends and family. The film ends with the little boy and his two friends performing a mock ceremony. Spending almost every evening at the ceremony, the boys have memorized the ceremony and produce a near copy — studded with loud boot thumping and disciplined march. This is by far the most enjoyable portrayal of patriotism and national identity that I have come across.

Lelaki Harapan Dunia or Men Who Save the World is a comic film that centers around a village in Malaysia. It begins on a positive note as an old local man mobilizes people to move an ‘American house’ from the forest to the village where the old man’s daughter may stay when she returns from the city. In the first comic scene of the film, the floor of the wooden and run down house gives way and the protagonist’s leg gets stuck. A group of men brought to inspect the house wait outside with curiosity and play music on hand held, single sided drums. Just then it starts raining and the men gather around beneath the flooring of the house — seated in a circle they go about having a casual conversation unperturbed by the protagonist’s leg sticking below the overhead flooring that sits at the center of their formation. Well this is just the beginning of a film that takes up rural stereotypes and the struggle of an alien (African immigrant) in a foreign land. Kids and a camel also put up a small but impact-full performance in the comic chaos of this Malaysian village.

These last two days, I have gotten to see new and fresh films far from the faded orient of most commercial films. I hope this continues over the remaining days.