Last week, ahead of the Bengaluru International Film Festival (BIFFes) 2022, a hybrid edition, a controversy gripped the city’s moviegoers. Several Kannada films that have been critically acclaimed in the festival circuit were not selected. Absentees included Natesh Hegde’s Pedro, Abhilash Shetty’s Koli Taal, Ganesh Hegde’s Neeli Hakki and Gaurav Madan’s Hindi feature debut Barah by Barah, which was first selected and then dropped.
Back home, the Kannadigas were waiting for Pedro, who premiered in Busan, went to BFI London, Pingyao, Taipei, France’s Festival des 3 Continents and won the Roberto Rossellini Award for Best Director. Backed by Rishab Shetty and Raj B Shetty (the actor-director-producer duo of the jaw-dropping crime drama Garuda Gamana Vrishabha Vahana), Pedro is tied to our times and emanates from the life, reality and Hegde milieu of the Kotalli village. Natesh had previously won awards from the Bengaluru International Short Film Festival for his short films (Kurli/The Crab and Distant). However, Bengaluru’s loss is Kerala’s gain, as Pedro, Barah by Barah and Koli Taal are heading to film festivals in Kerala this month. Without big venues, producers, OTTs eager to bet on it, for independent filmmakers, only festivals allow them to reach an audience.
Pedro, mostly directed by non-actors including Natesh’s father, Gopal Hegde in the lead role, who is also an electrician in real life, tells the story of a provincial man who accidentally slaughters a cow. Neeli Hakki, with a 10-year-old boy at her center, sheds light on rural/jungle-city migration. Koli Taal sees a pair of grandparents on a mission to find a rooster. Barah by Barah tells the story of the last remaining dead photographer in Varanasi as the ancient city is razed for modern lanes.
“It’s the lack of professionalism, at least to communicate, to inform the filmmakers if their film is rejected”, explains Shetty, who had nevertheless removed Koli Taal from the BIFF when Jio MAMI listed him in his Spotlight section. Because MAMI did not have a physical festival, Pedro, who was part of their India Gold section, opted out of their online screenings and hoped for a physical premiere in BIFF’s Asian competition segment. Amid Korean remakes in Kannada cinema, films like Pedro stand out.
“Natesh is from this village, he can’t do a Gangubai (Kathiawadi),” Ganesh said, “I haven’t figured out what the selection criteria are yet?” “The Ganesh (Neeli Hakki) movie is a simple story of migration, which is not culture-specific,” says Madan, who after receiving a confirmation email about the Barah by Barah selection (Asian competition ), witnessed some Bengaluru views on the film’s Vimeo link and then received the denial call, which he says indicates they had not seen the film earlier. “The film is set in Varanasi, the Prime Minister’s constituency, and one of the tracks is softly about the protagonist’s friend whose house is being razed during the demolition of the Kashi Vishwanath hallway,” explains Madan.
Natesh has informally heard the reasons ranging from an invalid password to the movie’s watch link, to the movie not having a “certificate of censorship” (which they say is to “check whether submitted movies are recent, not old”. The “certificate” rule was relaxed for Thithi, 2015, however), to the detriment of “religious sentiment”.
“My comment was misrepresented by some of the media – I haven’t seen the (Pedro) movie, how can I comment on it?” Sunil Puranik, president of Karnataka Chalanachithra Academy, which organizes BIFF, told The Indian Express: “There is no censorship, no pressure from the government or anyone. The festival has a 13-year legacy, and the appointed jury is competent”, adding further, “even Indian Panorama (IFFI 2021) did not select Pedro”. But, IFFI showed Neeli Hakki, so why didn’t the BIFFes select him?
The reason, Puranik says, is that Pedro was put through the Asian Competition section (which doesn’t require a “certificate of censorship”), and since this edition clubbed movies from the past two years, there were over 500 movies. to select. from. The same reason was given for “the confusion and error of the willful” about Barah by Barah.
“Pedro”, says the eminent film critic MK Raghavendra, “is certainly not a masterpiece, does not belong to the category of great cinema; in fact, it’s quite opportunistic. It’s the choice of subject, the same template as Nasir, on the lynching, only Muslims are replaced by Christians. It is a political bias of the filmmaker. There is no single reality in India, India is much more complex than the United States and Europe. For a complex society, Indian cinema is very simple.
Unlike foreign festivals, such as Berlin (socio-political cinema), Venice (social films), Rotterdam (pure art films), Toronto (mainstream drama), etc., whose field of action is clearly defined, the Indian festivals, government-supported ones, are a case of gross confusion.
“I found Pedro very interesting and I really liked it. It’s one of the best movies of the last year. It uses a different kind of idiom, it’s ahead of its time,” National Award-winning filmmaker Girish Kasaravalli says, “How do you know/pre-assess what hurts feelings? Artists are “critical insiders”, they look at life from many angles, from the point of view of those affected, not just from the dominant point of view. I don’t see anything in the film that is against a community. »
“Things have changed a bit from before. At one time, Karnataka was producing some interesting movies (like T Pattabhirama Reddy’s Samskara), even Satyajit Ray watched it,” says Kasaravalli. Raghavendra, who considers Ray the best of the three because “Ritwik Ghatak responded emotionally, and Mrinal Sen made simplistic cinema”, adds: “Since 1947, in Indian cinema and modern literature, there has been no of work that really explores the complexity of India, like, for example, Russian cinema (Cargo 200 by Aleksei Balabanov, 2007, Loveless by Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2017) and literature, how French cinema explores thought Europe, or the films of David Lynch do justice to the America of today. With the exception of Court (2014) and Thithi, these are observant and not afraid to take sides. The problem today , is that filmmakers try to take a position, to project messages through their films, it’s activism, directly or by using sarcasm.
“It’s not true that highly polarized one-dimensional message type movies are being made, all kinds of movies are being made,” Madan says. Kasaravalli adds: “What is art? Art is made to criticize society. Show me a good piece of art that doesn’t criticize society. There is a difference between criticizing and accusing. An artist would always be part of society and yet criticize it.
The Madan episode is reminiscent of Devashish Makhija, whose Bhonsle (2020) was first selected and then dropped by the Kolkata International Film Festival, which Makhija says is “not transparent; corrupt, even more so than the IFFI”. “Every year, films are abandoned. The 2019 films Gantumoote and Arishadvarga were not selected for the BIFF, but at least communicate if a film is rejected, before it was not like that”, explains a festival associate, “it started with Sexy Durga by Sanal (2017). Sanal Kumar Sasidharan, at loggerheads with IFFI, IFFK and CBFC, had moved to court, and his film had to be renamed S Durga for a “certificate of censorship”.
“Things have deteriorated in India; the situation is now much worse. The culture of fear is a real threat. But it happens everywhere,” says Raghavendra.