A movie-crazed nation of close to 1.4 billion, India boasts the world’s most intricate, vibrant, and thriving film scene. Multiple commercial filmmaking centers in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai, Bangalore, and beyond produce popular films in a wide array of languages, dominated by works involving glamorous movie stars; exuberant song, dance, and action; fantastical hyperdrama; and heart-wrenching melodrama. Beyond the mainstream, over the past decade or so Indian cinema’s diversity has been energised by a growing number of impressive independent works. These small-budget but artistically ambitious and accomplished films have expanded the making of, thinking about, and ways of seeing Indian film.
Sexy Durga. 2017. India. Directed by Sanal Kumar Sasidharan.
The rise of this new wave coincided with the wider accessibility of digital technology, which has put affordable equipment in the hands of young filmmakers. Online platforms, including torrent sites, social media, and film blogs, have activated communities of enthusiasts. Film Bazaar, a film market launched by India’s National Film Development Corporation (NFDC) in 2007, has played a big role in facilitating the making, financing, exhibition, and promotion of non-mainstream works. The convergence of these factors has contributed to an exciting filmmaking environment. Modestly produced but critically recognised Indian films have gained major festival attention, and many have received awards at Cannes, Venice, Sundance, and Rotterdam.
This survey of works made since 2010, in languages as diverse as Assamese, Bengali, Dogri, Gojri, Hindi, Malayalam, Marathi, Maithili, Tamil, and more, includes 16 features and five shorts that take us on a cinematic journey across India. The opening-night film, Achal Mishra’s The Village House, is a mesmerizing visual diary centering on a family house in Bihar. Anamika Haksar’s Taking the Horse to Eat Jalebis is a provocative fiction/nonfiction hybrid that drops us right in the middle of Old Delhi’s buzzling streets. Pushpendra Singh’s surreal fables, The Shepherdess and the Seven Songs and The Honour Keeper, transport us to the mountains in Jammu and Kashmir and the Thar Desert in Rajasthan, where his whimsical female protagonists find ways to negotiate their freedom and independence. Sectarian and sexual violence are a haunting presence in Arun Karthick’s Tamil feature Nasir and Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s Malayalam film Sexy Durga. Anand Gandhi’s Ship of Theseus and Payal Kapadia’s A Night of Knowing Nothing contemplate existential questions about self and being. And Amit Dutta’s otherworldly experimental works Nainsukh, Drawn from Dreams, and Bat Like Devil Chaser with a Top Hat investigate the interaction between the moving image and other visual forms, including miniature painting and still photography. See lineup for additional selections.
Stylistically and formally diverse and inventive, these films offer a panoramic view of Indian life and culture while revealing the artistic, political, and philosophical inquiries that have inspired the filmmakers. Collectively, these films amplify Indian cinema as a multifaceted expression that is as colourful and heterogeneous as the nation itself.
Organised by La Frances Hui, Curator, Department of Film. Thanks to Anu Rangachar, Arun Karthick, Bina Paul, Olivia Priedite, Pushpendra Singh, Tanmay Chowdhary, and Theodore Lau. For more information, please visit Museum of Modern Art, New York.