While art and film are both visual mediums, we may concede that the cinematic form is more compelling. The JDCA film fest pioneered the idea to bring together these forms of expression and is now celebrating its 14th year. The ambience in Bhubaneshwar was alive with sun and authentic Oriya cuisine, but delegates and films came from all over the subcontinent and from Iran, Argentina, France, Russia and the USA.
Befittingly the screenings began with tributes to filmmaker Biren Das with snippets from his films; and then the iconic Martand Singh speaking to camera over many themes—khadi, colours, quality in textiles—woven so that it seemed like the hand of a master ‘weaver’. Quoting Nehru he said “the history of India may well be written with textiles as its leading motif” – as indeed India came to be world renowned first for its cotton. He was convinced that khadi was India’s great contribution and he promoted it through exhibitions. Gandhiji’s introduction of the kisan charkha was surely unique, bringing meditation into the national movement. But Singh was adamant that if khadi is to be promoted as a global fabric, it should be done to ensure quality.
The focus this year was cinema’s reliance on literature, often the recourse for several classics. To name a few we could include Ray’s Charulata, Ghare Baire, and Pather Panchali, Karanth’s Chamana Dudi, Sathyu’s Garam Hawa, Kasavaralli”s Ghatashradda. Basu Chatterjee, Shyam Benegal, Govind Nihalani and Kumar Shahani also adapted from eminent novelists and playwrights. Viewers who may not have known the original texts were thus doubly enriched in image and word.
Among those shown was Shatranj ke Khilari based on Premchand’s story, which was Satyajit Ray’s first venture outside the world of Bengali cinema. The Salesman directed by Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi was deeply poignant, based on Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman. Based on a Punjabi short story, Gurvinder Kaur’s Chautha Koot captured the fear and paranoia gripping the region in post Operation Blue Star.
One of the main purposes of the JDCA is to focus on the lives and images of artists. Among the finest films in this genre were The Broken Spine directed by Ein Lall, on the images in different mediums by Nalini Malani, and Atul directed by Kamal Swaroop with the Mumbai artist speaking about his installations of bric-a-brac objects behind glass. Interviews with Malani take place mainly in her studio, but the camera also scans the vicinity of Louhar chaul outside with people who find their way into her images.
Malani’s engagement with the aftermath of the nuclear fallout of Hiroshima (in her opinion it was “a deathwish”) is seen on video. The performance show of Medea by Helen Muller shows Malani’s paintings on the wall. The third medium explored are Nalani’s revolving images of both bathos and pathos, focusing on the recent wave of Hindutva.
A conversation with novelist Nabendra Ghosh is particularly engaging, as he followed Bimal Roy to Bombay, abandoning his literary career to write instead the screen plays and dialogues for classics such as Do Bigha Zamin, Devdas, Sujata, Bandini, and also Chaudhuri ke Chand. The footage of 20 minutes with this master writer is intercut with fascinating careers of actors such as Nutan, and excerpts from several directors acknowledging his later influence as teacher at Pune’s Institute of Film and Technology.
Perhaps one difference from other festivals with the JDCA is its exploration of different expressions. Feature films, documentaries, talks, discussions and interviews, cuisine and local crafts are all part of the fare. The first afternoon brought Nandita Das to the stage to give her impassioned talk on “From Written Words to Moving Images”. Her talk, however, focused on the extraordinary work of Saadat Hasan Manto, to be remembered for his defiance of both British rule and then Pakistan. A writer who wrote over 300 stories, he was jailed six times for obscenity and was both revered and feared for being outspoken. She coined the word ‘Mantovian’ for those who follow his path, and in 2012 made a film on Manto which for her was a journey into new directions.