It is the 19th or 20th time that I have attended the Berlin International Film Festival, whose 67th edition runs from February 9-19. In the old days, the festival venue used to be the Zoo Palast, a cinema adjacent to the zoo, and I will never forget being so startled when I looked up as I was typing up a review to send my newspaper, and seeing an enormous hippo yawn an enormous yawn! Since 2000, the main festival venue has been Potsdamer Platz- not far from the former wall that divided East and West Berlin–with the Berlinale Palast and the Cinemaxx, with 19 screens and 3,500 theatre seats in a single building.
The Berlin film festival opened with a politically savvy film, Etienne Comar's Django, a fictionalized account of Belgian gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhart, who escaped Nazi persecution, while thousands of his gypsy brethren were exterminated by the regime.
Amit Masurkar's Newton received a long, warm ovation at its world premiere at the Zoo Palast on Friday. Masurkar, Rajkummar Rao, Anjali Patil and Pankaj Tripathi, who star in the film, producer Manish Mundra of Drishyam Films, and crew deservedly basked in the glory. The film is a delightful, nuanced political satire on democracy, set in the jungles of Chhattisgarh, where the adivasis are trapped between the Naxalites and the government armed forces.
Seven South Asian films have been selected at the Berlinale, along with nine South Asians in the Berlinale Talents. The films include Gurinder Chadha's Viceroy's House, Amit Masurkar's Newton and Haobam Paban Kumar's Loktak Lairembee
"I am overwhelmed with Newton's selection at the Berlin film festival. Berlin is a great city and this is the first time I am able to attend a major film festival screening my film," said Rajkummar Rao. "I am delighted to be in Berlin," said Amit Masurkar. "When I make a film, I don't worry about where it will be shown, so I make the film I want. I was typing random words on a computer, and one of the words was 'constitution.' I read the Constitution of India and found it so powerful. But there's a big difference between what's on paper and on the ground. So I set the film on election day, in a polling booth in a conflict zone."
It is an excellent year for India and South Asia at the Berlinale, as seven South Asian films have been selected, along with nine South Asians in the Berlinale Talents. The films include Gurinder Chadha's Viceroy's House, an Indo-UK coproduction (in the Out of Competition section), starring Hugh Bonneville, Gillian Anderson, Manish Dayal, Huma Qureshi and Om Puri. There's Amit Masurkar's Newton and Haobam Paban Kumar's Loktak Lairembee (Lady of the Lake; both in the Forum section).
Loktak Lairembee had earlier won the Golden Gateway in the Mumbai Film Festival's India Gold section. There's also Ashish Avikunthak's experimental film Aapothkalin Trikalika (The Kali of Emergency) and Bernd Luetzeler's Camera Threat (in Forum Expanded), Amar Kaushik's moving short Aaba (Grandfather, in Generation) and Dechen Roder's Honeygiver Among the Dogs (a Bhutanese film noir, in Panorama). The South Asians in the Berlinale Talents include Shubhashish Bhutiani, Paulomi Ghosh, Natasha Mendonca, Archana Phadke, Archana Chidambaranathan and Abhro Banerjee (all from India), Haroon Habib (Pakistan), Rubaiyat Hossain (Bangladesh) and Rajan Kathet (Nepal).
Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to the Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. She can be reached on [email protected]