The Indian films at the the Mumbai Film Festival have characters that are absurd, colourful and larger than life in stories that are quietly horrifying, provocative and laugh-out-loud funny. This year's line-up has stories about a langur impersonator, a meat eater who takes his passion for food too far and a lonely astronaut onboard a spaceship that collects the Earth's dead. Even more bizarre, however, are the real-life stories that inspired the five films that caught our attention, four of which are by first-time feature directors. Here's our guide to the most unique Indian films at the Mumbai Film Festival and the sections you can find them in:
What it's about: Paediatrician Nirmali develops a friendship with Sumon – a PhD student writing a thesis on meat-eating habits in the North-east – only to discover that one of the dishes on his menu may be more than she bargained for.
Director: Bhaskar Hazarika
Section: India Gold
What inspired it: A couple eating chicken at a food court in Delhi. "It's not like they were sharing it. Each ate his/her own portion, and both were totally engrossed in eating. It's like they were connected through the act of eating together," says Hazarika.
What it's about: An unscrupulous doctor. A conman who deceives his wife. An activist fighting against sex-selective abortion. A couple on the verge of doing something deadly in their ninth month of pregnancy. All collide in four interwoven stories.
Director: Dr. Ajit Suryakant Wadikar
Section: India Story
What inspired it: The 2010 census. "The issue of female foeticide always worried me. I'm a doctor and so would keep hearing news related to the issue in the fraternity or would read about in the newspapers. The 2010 census numbers were being discussed in 2011, I remember, and the declining sex ratio was a concern then. 2011 also marks the year when I decided to be a filmmaker. I always wondered why there was such a bias towards newborn life. That's how the film got its title," says Dr. Wadikar.
What it's about: A spaceship visits Earth everyday to collect the dead for 'post death transition services' – storage, recycling and rebirth. Its sole astronaut, Prahastha, finally gets an assistant. But she may or may not be prepared to contend with the creepy cargo onboard.
Director: Arati Kadav
What inspired it: Her love of science fiction and the theme of longing. "I've always been interested in science fiction. I've made a lot of science-fi shorts. I wanted to be brave and start with the most audacious idea – that of a spaceship. At the same time wanted it to be rooted – one should not question that this is from India. That's how I weaved in the idea of the raakshas and contemporized our mythology. Whenever you see a spaceship, you expect a Western setup but I wanted an Indian sensibility. If you see a film with a spaceship, there's always an AI like HAL (2001: A Space Odyssey) or GERTY (Moon). In my case, it's a Maharashtrian guy stuck on the job looking for a vacation," says Kadav.
What it's about: A young migrant in Delhi lands himself a strange government job. As a 'monkey repeller' – he must impersonate an aggressive langur to scare off the growing monkey population.
Director: Prateek Vats
Section: India Gold
What inspired it: The absurdity of what he saw as a child. "Growing up in Delhi, you see a lot of people using langurs to scare away monkeys. Langurs are the natural enemies of monkeys. Around 2014, the use of langurs for this purpose was banned and they were brought under the Wildlife Protection Act. I later found out that people were being hired as human langurs on a contractual basis to do this job. While following this news, I met someone, who became one of the lead actors in this film. He had this job," says Vats.
What it's about: A 14-year-old boy who assists his father at the morgue becomes obsessed with the idea that he too is beginning to smell like the corpses and and sets off to find 'kastoori', a divine scent described in Hindu mythology.
Director: Vinod Kamble
Section: India Story
What inspired it: A 14-year-old post-mortem assistant. "Two or three years ago, I'd read about this boy in Barshi, Solapur who had been assisting with post-mortems at a local hospital since he was 14. He was 24 when I met him and had done around 5,000 post-mortems. I meet him from time to time and he's still doing post-mortems. Even after graduating. There are these manual scavengers, even my father is one, so his story felt familiar."