By Saibal Chatterjee
The upcoming 37thToronto International Film Festival will showcase the work of four first-time Indian directors in its City to City programme dedicated to Mumbai-made independent cinema.
Theatre person Mohit Takalkar’s The Bright Day, engineer-turned-filmmaker Manjeet Singh’s Mumbai Cha Raja (The King of Mumbai), television writer and playwright Anand Gandhi’s Ship of Theseus and Vasan Bala’s Peddlers are among the ten films chosen to represent the city of Mumbai in a section that is now its fourth year.
Of course, Anurag Kashyap, whose Gangs of Wasseypur, premieres in Toronto, is an old hand at the festival.
While Peddlers, a dark thriller about scarred individuals set in the Mumbai underworld, had its world premiere in the Critics’ Week at the last Cannes Film Festival in May, the other three debut films in TIFF’s selection are fresh off the production oven.
The four filmmakers come from diverse backgrounds but are imbued with the same non-Bollywood sensibility that places them at odds with the star-powered mainstream Hindi movie industry.
Anand Gandhi, who began his showbiz career as the writer of Ekta Kapoor’s long-running soap opera, Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, and went on to script Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii for the same producer, also wrote and directed acclaimed alternative plays before making his first feature film, Ship of Theseus.
“Cinema has always been my calling. It has always been the thing that I wanted to do,” the Mumbai-based Gandhi has said.
Gandhi cut his teeth as a filmmaker with two short subjects, Right Here Right Now and Continuum (co-directed with Khusboo Ranak), both of which earned critical encomiums on the international festival circuit.
Manjeet Singh, the maker of Mumbai Cha Raja, was a mechanical engineer employed with General Electric in upstate New York until he relocated to Mumbai over five years ago to pursue his passion for cinema.
The independent film is a tribute to the ability of Mumbai’s slum boys to derive joy and sustenance from life’s little delights amid much hardship. “It is woven around the Ganesh Chaturthi festival, which so defines the cultural ethos of Mumbai,” says Singh.
“The actors in Mumbai Cha Raja are all new,” he reveals. “The film did not call for stars. The film was made with a micro crew within a real environment.”
Mohit Takalkar, a film editor who is also the artistic director of a Pune-based theatre group, has over 20 experimental plays as a director to his credit. The Bright Day, featuring Mohan Agashe, Radhika Apte and Shernaz Patel, is his first film.
Vasan Bala, the director of Peddlers, assisted director Anurag Kashyap during the making of films like Gulaal and Dev D.
Incidentally, Kashyap, who is one of the producers of Peddlers, has three other films in TIFF’s Mumbai line-up – the two parts of his own Gangs of Wasseypur and Hansal Mehta’s Shahid, a biopic about slain human rights lawyers Shahid Azmi that has been co-produced by him.