As part of our collaboration with MUBI India, I've been going through their full catalog to identify Indian filmmakers we have loved over the years, who are exploring unique forms of storytelling in cinema that push the boundaries of style and subject matter. Today, we're highlighting our picks for five Indian directors to take note of:
A film maverick, Mumbai-based Chaitanya Tamhane has carved his own niche in the world of Indian cinema. In his masterful Marathi debut feature Court (2014), a courtroom drama which deals with with an aged Marathi folk singer Narayan Kamble from Mumbai who is arrested on a bizarre accusation, Chaitanya's accolades have been on the rise. The film acts as an absurdist, powerful reflection of the Indian judicial system and society in the context of injustice, caste prejudice, and venal politics. His second Marathi feature film The Disciple (2020) is a deeply meditative film which depicts the inner and outer struggles of a Hindustani classical singer.
As a filmmaker who creates an amalgamation of imagination, passion, and rigour on screen to portray often-overlooked truths of society, Tamhane has the unique prowess to explore pertinent political issues through a poetic lens. Every film he makes seems to be a success, owing to his Midas touch. We cannot wait to see every story this fine filmmaker has to offer.
Six Strands, Tamhane's debut short, tells the story of a lonely, mysterious woman in the hills of Darjeeling who produces the most elusive and expensive tea in the world - the ‘Moonlight Thurston’. Visually rich and layered, it makes for an immersive film that evokes taste, memory, mystery, love and pleasure.
Rohin Raveendran Nair
One of my favorite emerging filmmakers in India is Rohin Raveendran Nair, an independent filmmaker and cinematographer based out of Mumbai, India. His films have been doing the film festival circuit since 2016, and with three films - Little Hands, Paijana (Anklet) and his latest, The Booth, starring Amruta Subhash - he has already created quite an impression.
A student of Film and Television Institute of India, with a specialization in cinematography, Rohin's films tend to throw light on the unseen, often overlooked stories of Indian life.His film Paijana won the international one-minute film festival Filminute in 2016, and Rohin has since worked as the 2nd unit director, 2nd unit cinematographer on Sacred Games, directed by Vikramaditya Motwane and Anurag Kashyap. He is currently writing his first feature script.
The Booth: In Rohin's latest short, a female frisking booth inside a crowded shopping mall stands as a silent ally to a forbidden romance. One of the most tender depictions of love and desire.
Sai Paranjpye is one the first major female filmmakers of Hindi cinema in what was and has been a male-dominated industry. 83-year-old Paranjpye came from a family of pioneers and social reformers. Her Cambridge-educated mother Shakuntala Paranjpye acted in Hindi and Marathi films of the 1930s and 40s; her father Youra Sleptzoff was a Russian painter. She came to cinema from the world of radio and theatre and left her own unique mark. A legendary Bollywood writer and director, one look at her filmography reflects the importance of her work and the cinematic legacy she has left behind.
Though her last directorial venture was the film Chakachak (2005), her films have always had a timeless universal quality. I remember watching her feature film debut Sparsh (1980) in college, a beautiful and mature character study of a blind school principal Aniruddh (Naseeruddin Shah), and his refusal to let his handicap limit him. Her next film Chashme Buddoor (1981), an evergreen Bollywood comedy, explores the lives of three college mates in Delhi and the young woman who transforms their lives. Hilarious, often insightful looks into the lives of everyday Indians in the 80s and 90s, her films showed realism at its best.
Katha, a 1983 classic in which Rajaram, a middle-class clerk, is secretly in love with his neighbour, Sandhya, but is too shy to disclose his love. Trouble ensues when his smooth-talking friend visits and woos Sandhya. With memorable performances by Naseeruddin Shah, Farooq Shaikh and Deepti Naval, the film take us deep into a chawl in Mumbai and never fails to make us laugh.
In recent times, India has seen more and more women getting behind the camera and offering a much-needed fresh perspective with their unique stories to tell. One such filmmaker who has our heart is Megha Ramaswamy, a filmmaker and writer based in Mumbai. Her first two critically-acclaimed shorts Newborns, which captures the lives of survivors of acid attack violence (2014) and Bunny, a short film that explores the fantastical childhood we leave behind, (2015) both premiered at Toronto International Film Festival. Her documentary The Last Music Store, a documentary on Mumbai’s erstwhile music haven Rhythm House, won the audience Best Documentary award at South Asian International Film Festival. Megha’s first feature film What are the Odds? (2020), an Indian coming-of-age story, was also a big hit among younger audiences.
What we love about Megha is her penchant for quirky, often whimsical storytelling, and doing the job well.
Even her banner Missfit Films is 'dedicated to producing films which don't necessarily subscribe to being independent or commercial', with a focus on stories about young girls. In an interview with IndiaToday, she said, "I just see myself as a safe space for younger people who don’t fit into any mould in particular."
Whatever story she tells, she does so beautifully and with sensitivity. One of the strongest voices emerging from India.
Bunny, a short exploring a delicate relationship between a little girl and her pet toy – Bunny. Things take a sad turn when Bunny is found ‘dead’ under mysterious circumstances on a rainy afternoon. In a flurry of desperate imagineering, the girl enlists the help of a boy and sets off on an adventure. A beautiful look at the inner fantastical worlds we create as children.
One of the most unique directors we found on MUBI's catalog was Ashish Avikunthak, a filmmaker and a cultural anthropologist who has been making films in India for more than 25 years. Currently an Associate Professor in Film and Media at University of Rhode Island, Avikunthak is known for the way he integrates politics in his distinctly formal visual language and is viewed as one India's finest avant-garde filmmakers.
Avikunthak calls himself an 'anti-storyteller'. In Rati Chakravyuh (2013), six young newlywed couples and a priestess meet after a mass wedding in a desolate temple and talk about life, death, beginning, end and everything in between and then commit suicide. His latest work, Na Manush Premer Kothamala (Glossary of Non-Human Love, 2021) is designed like a glossary, with 64 words in them, divided into as many chapters. There is nothing easy about his films and yet they continue to intrigue and occupy a unique place in the country's cinematic landscape.
The Churning of Kalki: Set against the backdrop of Maha Kumbh in Allahabad, one of the largest religious gatherings in the world which occurs once in 12 year, this Bengali feature follows the lives of two actors from Calcutta in search of Kalki, the Tenth and the final avatar of Lord Vishnu. Inspired by Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, the film is a poignant reflection on the idea of God in the context of the modern world.
This month, we're collaborating with MUBI India to make great cinematic experiences available to everyone. We’re happy to share that all The Alipore Post readers get a free month-long subscription to MUBI India! Head to mubi.com/aliporepost to start your free 30-day MUBI trial!