All The Indian Films That Made A Splash At The International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR)

From Anurag Kashyap’s latest short film to Varun Grover’s film feature debut, IFFR had over 30 Indian films
All The Indian Films That Made A Splash At The International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR)

The 2023 edition of the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR), held in the port city of the Netherlands, which ran from January 25 to February 5, saw a dense representation of Indian cinema. More than 30 Indian films were screened, including the Manoj Bajpayee and Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub-starrer Joram, directed by Devashish Makhija (Ajji and Bhonsle), which had its world premiere at IFFR. The film is a survival-thriller about a displaced indigenous man (Bajpayee) who runs back, from Mumbai to his village in Jharkhand with his three-month-old daughter Joram in his arms, as he is chased by a police officer (Ayyub). The film marks the third time Makhija screened his films at IFFR. Backed by Zee Studios — one of India’s most prolific and large studios — Joram was part of the Film Bazaar Recommends section of NFDC Film Bazaar in 2022.

Writer-lyricist Varun Grover’s feature film directorial debut All India Rank was the closing film of the festival — the first ever Indian film to do so. This semi-autobiographical tale follows a middle-class boy, Vivek, enrolled in coaching classes for the notoriously competitive entrance exams of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs). The film is being presented under the ‘Bright Future’ segment, which also has Vignesh Kumulai's Karparaa, an “atmospheric portrait” of the cruelties of youth and the frailties of age in rural India.

Santosh Sivan’s Moha, starring Jaaved Jaffrey and Shaylee Krishen, about a nymph who seduces a hermit into earthly sins, along with two Malayalam movies — Senna Hegde’s 1744 White Alto and Don Palathara’s Family —  were screened in the Harbour segment, which features a range of contemporary cinema. Shahi A.J’s Letters Unwritten to Naiyer, a documentary and essay-film exploring Lucknow, also screened under the same segment. Two short films — Dear Me by Suchana Saha and A Flower In A Foglight by Gaurav Puri — were screened as part of the Short & Mid-length programme.

The Ammodo Tiger Short Competition included the Ladakhi-language movie Last Days of Summer directed by Stenzin Tankong and Night and Fear, an Odia movie directed by Lipika Singh Darai. The restored version of Manmohan Desai’s Amar Akbar Anthony (1977) was screened as part of the  Cinema Regained programme. 

What is laudatory is that the IFFR has also dedicated a segment on India, titled Focus: The Shape of Things to Come?, curated by film critic, curator, and translator Srikant Srinivasan, that looked at “the institutional success of right-wing Hindu-nationalist groups and the persecution of dissenting voices”. Films played in this segment include Kabir Khan’s Bajrangi Bhaijaan, Anand Patwardhan’s celebrated documentary In the Name of God, Rakesh Sharma’s Final Solution, Nandita Das’ Firaaq, Lalit Vachani The Men in the Tree — which is a follow up to Vachani’s 1993 documentary The Boy in the Branch, where he revisits the RSS after eight years. Other films screening include Jaideep Varma’s I Am Offended, which follows the stand-up comedy scene as a form of resistance, Shubhradeep Chakravorty’s Encountered on Saffron Agenda?, Teresa Braggs’s All Was Good, set against the backdrop of the CAA-NRC protesters, Shah Rukh Khan Chavada’s Which Colour? which tracks the lives of a Muslim family in the outskirts of Ahmedabad, Avijit Mukul Kishore’s An Election Diary, and Mihir Fadnavis’ Lords of Lockdown among others. 

Produced by Navin Shetty and Anurag Kashyap, Lords Of Lockdown follows a group of people — food providers like Khaana Chahiye and Rana Ayyub, doctors, police officers — in the early months of the COVID-19 lockdown. A two hour documentary, it stretches its way across Mumbai, from Kandivali to Colaba, Dharavi to Antop Hill, seeing how the dysfunction, desperation, and frustration is building up as the state recedes into the background. Shots of the empty city, like the Marine Drive, local stations, Gateway of India — all usually brimming with people — punctuate scenes of crowds trying to get on buses, trying to queue up to get rations, trying to move around in spaces the size of a shoebox. A running thread is the total renunciation of duty from the central government, including the blackhole that is the PM Cares fund. Bleak as the theme is, there are pinpricks of joy, of humour, of community, like scenes of migrant workers watching Mr. India being projected on a make-do screen.

Written by Varun Grover, Anurag Kashyap’s latest short film Four Slippers, described as a “psychosexual portrait of a thinking, yearning individual who falls prey to hatred and is carried away by the prevailing political views” premiered under this segment. 

The 30-minute film, set in Varanasi, follows Rajat through the four “ashramas” of his life — brahmacharya, grihasta, vanaprastha, and sanyasa, from daydreaming youth to wilting old age. If anything it is a strong visual diary of how deeply lonely masculinity and chauvinism can make you. Grover and Kashyap want to ask, in the life of the contemporary bhakt, how do these four stages — a creation of ancient Indian texts — map? There is a futility to these categories, even as there is an irony in these categories still being spoken about as ideals today. Keep an eye out for a crackling scene where Rajat’s wife demands pleasure from him, a man whose failure to pass the UPSC exams and the general frustration of seeing himself as a cultural victim bursts into a kind of toxic resentment.  

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