Berlinale 2024: A Mixed Bag of Four Indian Short Films

O Seeker, Remote Occlusions, The Girl Who Lived in the Loo, and Anaar Daana premiered at the 74th Bernaline
Berlinale 2024: A Mixed Bag of Four Indian Short Films
Berlinale 2024: A Mixed Bag of Four Indian Short Films

At the recently-concluded 74th Bernaline, four short films from India premiered, each playing with form, style, dialogue, affect, and theme. The short film format allows, even encourages, such an experimentation because neither is its duration testing, nor (unfortunately) its stature. It becomes a pliable space for the filmmaker to fabulate. It can just as easily frustrate and you can sense this when a filmmaker carves out a short film from a feature-length film — all that condensation, all those elisions to make a round peg fit in a square hole. Each of these four films though have arrived at the form through their story and storytelling devices, with no hint of shearing, because of the specific preoccupations of each film, none of which would lend itself to a feature length. Neither, though, scratch at the exceptional, at the witty, at the profound.

Atmospheric But Falling Short

O Seeker by Gavati Wad and Remote Occlusions by Utkarsh were screened as part of the Forum Expanded section, which, this year focused on “communities and the convoluted ways in which they end up living to secure a continued existence”. 

While the Berlinale catalogue describes O Seeker, a 19-minute flicker of 16-mm footage, as something which “examines science, politics, spirituality and superstition in India”, the real thrust of the film is not in its “examining” but its flickering. An experimental collage — footage of the circus, photograms — the film is refreshingly unabashed about its references, refusing to explain itself. I wonder what the audience would make of the reference to banging pots and pans, or to the “mangalvaar rakhna”, keeping Tuesday fasts. The film eludes easy understanding, even to those in the know. 

It begins with a young woman who finds in her mother’s face, reflecting the insomniac night’s moon, a peace from a knot of thoughts on the world that is crumpling. Conversations — imagined? Rehearsed? Recorded? — take place, about astrology, astronomy, India’s contemporary anti-science swerve. It is the footage I found rippling: The grain, the density of details — light, for example which flares — and roughness of texture. 

Similarly, Utkarsh’s Remote Occlusions, which has coordinates in its acknowledgements, is full of grainy images and static, which is trying to see what cinema emerges when you put a list of restrictions on it. He selects portions of images that toe the following lines. 

  • No flickering

  • No noise

  • No artifacts 

  • No hard lights, so no shadows

  • No fog, no clouds, no trees, no buildings

  • No slow-moving or stationary people

  • No moving objects 

  • No waving objects 

There are more, to do with the dimension of the image, its clarity, its orientation. What is produced is what we might call a visual hum, one that is both eerie in its atmospheric grunge devoid of people, and oddly, voyeuristic in the choice of images. What are we looking at, that we are not supposed to be looking at? 

O Seeker, Remote Occlusions,The Girl Who Lived in the Loo, and Anaar Daana at the 74th Bernaline
O Seeker, Remote Occlusions,The Girl Who Lived in the Loo, and Anaar Daana at the 74th Bernaline

Two Girls and Two Very Different Worlds

Subarna Dash’s The Girl Who Lived in the Loo and Nishi Dugar’s Anaar Daana showed at the Generation section, “where realities of young people can take shape and longings can find form”. 

In Dash’s The Girl Who Lived in the Loo, a charming animated story told in broken, half-woven chapters, of a 10-year-old girl’s obsession with the loo, you can locate both something playful and rigorous, thoughtful and unserious. She is chastised by her Bengali family, and the world at large as she grows up — what is this solace she gets in the isolation of a bathroom? 

It is the perfect synthesis of sound and visuals, when the Bengali relatives are pulling her cheeks, the sound is of a stretching rubber, and the visuals of ballooning skin, and when it snaps, it is like being catapulted — both the sound and the image. There is a squelching lizard, and a hazy group of people dancing in a circle that rotates till it becomes the swirl of water flushed.  

It is the constant fidgeting of the image that keeps the film frothing. There are lines, and color, too, but the color is streaked slightly outside the lines. The lines vibrate, but the colors stay static, and it produces a vibrating energy that somehow exudes both sweetness and anxiety. 

While Dash’s film moves through childhood as a stop-over, Nishi Dugar’s Anaar Daana — which has a gorgeously etched poster designed especially for the festival by Ibrahim Rayintakath — on the other hand, stays with this age of adamant mischief. A five-year old Guddal (Veda Agarwal) creates raucous with her brother, getting into trouble, but never backing down. The titular sour-candy is what she is after. The film begins with her placing a stool, climbing it, in order to reach the jar of this sour candy — the carefulness with which she opens the jar, the carelessness with which she closes it, since she has gotten what she needs. It is a quietly observed film, especially in the rips of anger it gives Guddal, something we often don’t see, stuck as children in cinema are between idyllic innocence and gnawing insistence. More than an emotional probing into the incident that changes her life, the film is content with framing it in spaces, looking at space itself as a site of affect — the empty bed, the tall cupboard, the ornately painted walls of hollowed rooms, the doorframes on which you lounge, the blueness of it all. 

Film Companion’s coverage of the Berlinale was supported by Goethe Mumbai

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