These 10 Indian indie films will compete with movies from neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal in the South Asia Competition section

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The much-anticipated Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival is back; this year, it’s making a triumphant return to the world of cinema with its first in-person event since 2019, after a three-year hiatus forced by the global pandemic. As the red carpets are rolled out for the festival from October 27 to November 5, Mumbai is set to come alive with the magic of cinema once more.

About 250 odd films will be screened over the course of 10 days. These include over 40 World Premieres, 45 Asia Premieres, and more than 70 South Asia Premieres, underlining its commitment to showcasing the very best in contemporary cinema from the region. The festival has a renewed focus on South Asian cinema with the introduction of the South Asia Competition section, which will showcase breakthrough contemporary South Asian films of the year, offering a platform for emerging filmmakers.

The Federal takes you through ten Indian indie films, which will compete with other remarkable works from neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal in the South Asia Competition section:

1. Sthal (A Match) by Jayant Somalkar: Set in rural India, Sthal (A Match) tells the story of Savita, a determined young girl yearning for education and a brighter future. However, her farmer parents are on an anxious quest to find a suitable match for her; social pressure exerts immense pressure on her to prioritise marriage over her personal aspirations. As Savita faces countless rejections from potential suitors, she must navigate a world where the pursuit of marriage overshadows the very essence of life. This compelling film features a cast of non-professional actors, lending a raw and authentic quality to the narrative. It’s the debut Marathi feature film of Jayant Digambar Somalkar, who was born in a village in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra. His first short film, Iyatta: Class (2006), has been screened at multiple film festivals, and received several awards. He co-wrote and co-directed the critically acclaimed Amazon Prime Original Series, Guilty Minds (2022).

2. Against the Tide by Sarvnik Kaur: This film takes us into the lives of Bombay fishermen Rakesh and Ganesh, inheritors of the ancient Koli knowledge system for harvesting the sea, which relies on the moon and the tides. Rakesh staunchly upholds the traditions of their forebears, placing his faith in the time-tested fishing methods, while Ganesh has wholeheartedly embraced modern technology. The film skillfully unravels their deep friendship, which becomes strained as resentment simmers beneath the surface. All this unfolds against the backdrop of an increasingly hostile sea, where the looming spectre of climate change threatens their way of life. Kaur’s debut film, A Ballad of Maladies (2016), earned her the 64th National Award for best debut direction, in addition to accolades such as the best film at IDSFFK 2017 and the Ram Bahadur Trophy for Best Film at the Film South Asia 2018.

3. Agra by Kanu Behl: In Kanu Behl’s Agra, Guru, a 25-year-old young man, grapples with sexual repression while residing in a cramped house in Agra. He shares a room with his mother, while on the upper floor, his father resides with a mistress. In this already tight living space, the only available area is the terrace above the upper floor. Guru firmly believes in his love for Mala, an imaginary girl, and envisions marrying her and sharing a room on the terrace, mirroring his father’s arrangement with his mistress. Within the household, as everyone competes for control of the terrace for their personal gain, Guru wrestles with his own sexuality. Behl began his filmmaking journey with the documentary An Actor Prepares (2006). His portfolio also includes works like Three Blind Men (2007), Found Him Yet? and Over Thresholds (2008). The co-writer of LSD made his debut with Titli; his third feature, Despatch, featuring Manoj Bajpayee, is currently in post-production.

4. Guras by Saurav Rai: In Saurav Rai’s Guras, the drop in cardamom prices in the picturesque mountain village of Darjeeling disrupts the once-stable life of nine-year-old Guras. To add to her woes, her beloved pet dog goes missing. Despite the looming threat of a roaming leopard, a faint bark echoing from across the valley ignites a glimmer of hope in her heart, prompting her to embark on a mystical journey. Along the way, she encounters otherworldly beings, which takes her on a surreal adventure. Rai, an alumnus of the Satyajit Ray Film and TV Institute (SRFTI) in Kolkata, began his filmmaking journey with his diploma film Gudh (Nest, 2016). His debut feature film, Nimtoh (Invitation, 2019), made its international premiere at the Rotterdam International Film Festival in 2020; it won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2019 Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival. At the Hong Kong Asian Film Financing Forum Work-In-Progress Lab, Nimtoh received the HAF Goes to Cannes Award.

5. Rimdogittanga (Rapture) by Dominic Sangma: Dominic Sangma’s Rimdogittanga (Rapture) is centred on a 14-year-old boy, who mysteriously vanishes while collecting cicadas in the forest alongside fellow villagers. Disturbing rumours float around, suggesting he might have been abducted by individuals engaged in the illicit human organ transplant trade. The villagers are also left to wonder whether the forest nymph played a role in his disappearance. Meanwhile, a miraculous statue of the Virgin Mary arrives, sent by the Pope to every Catholic Church worldwide in anticipation of an impending apocalyptic darkness that will last for 80 days. The only source of light during this ominous period is the blessed candles provided by the priest. The unfolding of these unprecedented events is witnessed through the eyes of Kasan, a 10-year-old suffering from night blindness, and his father Nengsal, the village’s security head. Sangma, a guest faculty member at the Film and Television Institute in Itanagar, made his debut feature, MA•AMA in 2018. Set in Meghalaya, the film — about an elderly man contemplating death, hoping to be reunited with his long-dead wife — made history as the first Garo film to win a National Award.

6. Thadavu (The Sentence) by Fazil Razak: Malayalam filmmaker Fazil Razak’s Thadavu revolves around Geetha, a 50-year-old play school teacher and two-time divorcee grappling with a history of postpartum depression, who finds herself in a harrowing situation. She is attacked by her second husband, Madhavan, when she attempts to meet her younger child, who is now in his custody. This assault leaves Geetha injured and experiencing an epileptic fit; it plunges her into a profound sense of isolation and depression. Seeking solace, she turns to the children at the play school where she works. Her lifelong friends, Hamza and Uma, both 50 years old, provide support during her trying times. However, the narrative takes a dark turn when Geetha is falsely accused of being responsible for the tragic death of a child at the play school. This results in her losing everything, only for her to discover that she is also terminally ill and lacks the financial means for treatment. Razak’s debut work, Athiru (Short, 2019), won the Best Film and Best Director at the 30th Kerala State Television Awards. His second film, Pira, received the title of Best Film (under 20 minutes) at the same awards ceremony.

7. Shivamma by Jaishankar Aryar: Jaishankar Aryar’s Kannada film delves into the life of its eponymous character, Shivamma, a 46-year-old mid-day meal cook in a government school within a village. As the sole breadwinner of her family, she is deeply involved in the quest to find a suitable groom for her daughter. However, amidst her responsibilities and expectations, Shivamma harbours a secret affair. One day, she stumbles upon a nutritional product that miraculously improves her ailing husband’s health. Inspired by this, she establishes a nutritional club, risking everything for the cause. Tragically, an unforeseen event derails her efforts, but not even the opposition and blame from her family can shake Shivamma’s determination. Aryar is a self-taught filmmaker. He has directed two short films. Lacchavva, one of his short films, was part of Katha Sangama, a Kannada anthology film released on Amazon Prime in 2019.

8. Kayo Kayo Colour? (Which Colour?) by Shahrukhkhan Chavada: Set in Kalupur, a Muslim ghetto in the old city of Ahmedabad, Shahrukhkhan Chavada’s film revolves around Razzak, an unemployed man with a burning desire to own an auto-rickshaw, and his daughter Ruba, who yearns for a 100-rupee drink that remains just out of reach. Their lives take an unexpected turn when an unforeseen event threatens to reshape their existence. The film provides a window into the daily lives of Razzak and his family as they navigate the intricate and often unspoken layers of social and political influence on their community. Chavada, who comes from the rural environs of Palanpur in north Gujarat, is influenced by Italian, Iranian, and French new-wave cinema, which has shaped his perspective on life’s various facets. Kayo Kayo Colour? reflects his fascination with the beauty found in the humdrum everyday routine.

9. Dilli Dark by Dibakar Das Roy: An exploration of racial discrimination, Dibakar Das Roy’s Dilli Dark — a dark comedy in Hindi, English, Yoruba and Pidgin languages — is about Michael Okeke (essayed by Delhi-based actor Samuel Abiola Robinson, who played the refugee-cum-footballer in Malayalam film Sudani From Nigeria, which released in 2018), a Nigerian student who arrives in New Delhi to obtain an MBA and settle in India. However, his part-time job as a drug dealer throws him into a dual world, where the line between the legitimate and the clandestine blurs, revealing the challenges that outsiders often face in a city notorious for its complexity. Dibakar Das Roy, the director, is a former theatre actor and advertising professional.

10. Mithya by Sumanth Bhat: A venture of Rakshit Shetty’s Paramvah Pictures production, this Kannada indie film won the NFDC Film Bazaar’s work-in-progress lab last year. It is the story of eleven-year-old Mithun who comes to Udupi from Mumbai as he grapples with the sudden loss of his parents, which triggers a dispute over his custody. The film prompts us to ponder deep questions: Can a new house ever truly replace the feeling of home? Is it possible to rebuild friendships that have been fractured, or is it like embarking on a quest for something that now feels irrevocably lost? Sumanth Bhat, the director, studied engineering. However, his passion for filmmaking pulled him away from the corporate world. His first short film, Neralu, which was also funded by Shetty, won the Best Kannada Film at the Bengaluru International Short Film Festival in 2018. In Neralu, he narrated childhood incidents through the lens of grown-ups. Mithya follows in a similar vein; it explores the experiences of childhood with sensitivity.

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