Gurvinder Singh’s Chauthi Koot and Neeraj Ghaywan’s Masaan represent Indian cinema’s indie banner at Cannes

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Chauthi koot MasaanThe festival director of Cannes, Thierry Fremaux certainly has quite a few surprises up his sleeves this year. After making the ‘bold’ move to open the festival with Emmanuelle Bercot’s film, Fremaux has delighted Indian cineastes by inducting two independent Indian voices in the Un Certain Regard category.

Gurvinder Singh’s 2012-made film Chauthi Koot (The Fourth Direction) is finally getting to see the light of day besides Neeraj Ghaywan’s Masaan (Crematorium). Gurvinder Singh, an FTII alumnus had previously won a National Film Award for his debut feature Anhe Ghore Da Daan (Alms for a Blind Horse) in 2012. Neeraj Ghaywan has no less impressive credentials coming out of the Anurag Kashyap stable that has previously gifted us filmmakers like Vikramaditya Motwaane (the Udaan and Lootera man).

Singh’s Chauthi Koot is adapted from two short stories taken from Waryam Singh Sandhu’s eponymous anthology published in 2005. The film shadows the falling-out of the “The Blue Star Operation” and Indira Gandhi’s subsequent assassination in the Sikh milieu of 1980s. In his signature quiet style Singh pulls out the pathos of the rural Punjabi populace stranded between militants and the Indian government.

Shot by yet another FTII alumnus,the cinematographer Satya Rai Nagpaul, the film mainly stars non-professional actors. Anhe Ghore Da Daan had premiered in the Venice Film Festival of 2011, now Singh seems to be happy that his sophomore film has struck gold with Cannes. The film has been co-produced by Karthikeya Narayan Singh and Sunil Doshi in India and by Catherine Dussart in France.

Moving on to Ghaywan’s Masaan. It is situated in an equally marginalized backdrop where the plot revolves around four pariahs living on the Ganges’ banks of Varanasi. The film whose original title was Flying Solo features Richa Chadha, Sanjay Mishra Vineet Kumar, Vicky Kaushal and Pankaj Tripathi as the central cast. The story co-written by Ghaywan and Varun Grover was co-produced by Phantom Films, Sikhya Entertainment and Manish Mundhra among others.

The lives of a young orphan, a low-caste teenage boy, a girl mired in a sex scandal and her father intersect against the small town frigidity of Varanasi. The selection of Masaan at Cannes has prompted Ghaywan, his film’s actress Richa Chadha and actor, director Rajat Kaoor to post positive tweets. Ghaywan had previously been recognized for Shor, his award-winning short film.

While these films would not be given the media glare that films in the main Competitive section warrant, the Un Certain Regard assures the screened films the attention of industry insiders and buyers, always on the look-out for strong and individual content. Films in this category can win the 30,000 euro cash prize beside the best debut feature winning the “Camera D’Or” that Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay! was the first feature to win.

Fremaux, has clearly spoken about the festival authorities desire to move away from mainstream Bollywood films or middle-of-the-road Bengali films to look for ‘fresh and unusual’ voices in Indian filmmaking. This shift has been clearly felt in the last couple of years when Vikramaditya Motwane’s Udaan was chosen in 2010, Ashim Ahluwalia’s Miss Lovely in 2012 and Kanu Behl’s Titli last year.

Other significant films that had earlier premiered under this section include the likes of Mani Kaul’s Satah Se Uthata Aadmi (1981), Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Elippathayam, Mrinal Sen’s Khandar and Aribam Syam Sharma’s Ishanou.

The Indian presence at Cannes will also be felt with the screening of Miya Kal Aana, under the ‘Short Film Catalog’ by Shamasi Siddiqui—acting maestro Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s sibling. A documentary on Amy Winehouse by Asif Kapadia will also receive a midnight screening.

Apart from this, there will be a feature by French director Jacques Audiard, Dheepan, presaging the lives of Tamil refugees in Paris. Dheepan is competing for the fabled Palme d’Or.

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