Berlinale Bloggers 2023
From classics to series – the broad panorama of Indian filmmaking

“And, Towards Happy Alleys“.Director: Sreemoyee Singh
“And, Towards Happy Alleys“.Director: Sreemoyee Singh | Photo (detail): © Happy Alley Films

The first post-pandemic Berlinale promises to explore both personal and the political with themes aplenty in Indian contributions from documenting dissent to exploring first love.

By Prathap Nair

The red carpet is rolled out, the spotlights are switched on and the paparazzi are gearing to brave the frosty chill of February in Berlin. Berlinale finally takes place again in 2023 and also marks the beginning of the film festival season in Europe.

Many Indian offerings 

With covid restrictions entirely out of the way, the festival is nevertheless happening close on the heels of geopolitical tensions, at least two of which are on focus – Russia’s war against Ukraine and an ongoing people’s revolution in Iran. With Berlinale’s history of never shying away from taking a political stand, Ukraine and Iran heavily feature on the festival’s roster of films and documentaries. India’s representation at Europe’s prominent film festival is not insignificant with a handful of films, documentaries, and the screening of the Satyajit Ray classic Aparajito - The Unvanquished in the Retrospective section. It is the second film from legend Satyajit Ray’s timeless Apu trilogy that documents the story of a young man’s confrontation with the modernisation and westernisation of Indian society.

Iran Portrait

Still from the film “And, Towards Happy Alleys”
Still from the film “And, Towards Happy Alleys” | Photo (detail): © Happy Alley Films
Ironically, and perhaps the most important contribution this year to the Berlinale from India, is not about India. Debut director Sreemoyee Singh’s Panorama documentary And, Towards Happy Alleys, is an ode to freedom and dissent through the eyes of feminist poets and filmmakers in Iran. Singh travelled to Iran to explore Iranian poetry and filmmaking and what transpires is a touching portrait of a country in the throes of stifling censorship and suppression of basic human rights.

And, Towards Happy Alleys features critics of the regime like renowned filmmakers Jafar Panahi and Mohammad Shirvani. Panahi, who has been detained since July 2022 by the regime, was released in February 2023 after a prolonged hunger strike.

Alongside Singh’s documentary title, the Panorama section will also include another Indian entry, Chhatrapal Ninawe’s film Ghaath (Ambush). Earlier, Ninawe’s film was dropped from the Panorama section lineup in 2021 after the producers Jio Studios sent a legal notice to the festival announcing the withdrawal of their support for the film. Ninawe has since found other producers to platform his film, regaining the film’s spot in the Panorama section this year.
Still from the Marathi film “Ghaath”
Still from the Marathi film “Ghaath” | Photo: (detail): © Platoon One Films
Ghaath is a Marathi film set amid the dense jungles of central India where Naxalites (different communist groups) and Maoist guerrillas are in constant conflict with the government forces. Starring Jitendra Joshi, Milind Shinde, Suruchi Adarkar, Dhananjay Mandaokar and Janardan Kadam, the film features the story of, “a drunken policeman, an informant, and a demoralised guerrilla.” Caught in the crosshairs of guerrilla conflict and systemic apathy from the state, Ghaath is a portrait of a lesser-known civil war in rural India.

First love, courtesy of Bollywood

Still from the film “Aatmapamphlet”
Still from the film “Aatmapamphlet” | Photo (detail): © Satyajeet Shobha Shriram
While the Indian contributions to the Panorama section are laden with weighty subjects, Aatmapamphlet (Autobio-Pamphlet) in the Generation 14plus category is a coming-of-age love story set in the backdrop of 1990s India on the cusp of globalization. Directed by Ashish Avinash Bende, Aatmapamphlet is a Marathi film that celebrates first-love, a concept heavily influenced by Bollywood romances and etched forever in the collective Indian psyche. Though billed as a comedy, the film’s unmistakable undertones feature commentary on caste and religion – the two significant aspects of daily life in the country.

In the Forum section, filmmaker Priya Sen’s work No Stranger At All is a meditation on Delhi that explores the intersection of, “rise of fascism in India and a global pandemic.” As the covid 19 pandemic ravaged the world, she spent two years in the city documenting what she claims are, “incomplete fictions of the people, places, and protests that keep the language of hatred at bay and absorb the city’s grief and euphoria.”

Spotlight on Series

Still from the series “Dahaad” (Roar)
Still from the series “Dahaad” (Roar) | Photo (detail): © Excel Media & Entertainment
After their successful Berlinale outing with the blockbuster Gully Boy in 2019 bringing Bollywood razmataz to the festival Palast, Reema Katgi and Zoya Akhtar return with the made-for-TV series Dahaad (Roar). Starring household names like Sonakshi Sinha, Vijay Varma, Gulshan Devaiah, and Sohum Shah, Dahaad also becomes the first Indian television series to premiere in the section with a chance to win the Berlinale Series Award.

Slightly abridged and revised version. The original article can be found here.