‘Pink Saris’, ‘Jan Villa’-Indian theme films at Vienna film fest

Vienna, Oct 26 (Calcutta Tube) ‘Pink Saris’ and ‘Jan Villa‘ are two of the India-themed films being shown at the Viennale, the city’s international film festival. While the former focuses on the evils of child marriage, the latter shows the sights and sounds of Mumbai after the 2005 floods.

‘You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger’, starring Indian actress Freida Pinto, was also screened at the festival that began Oct 21 and will conclude Nov 3.

Vikram Teja Jayanti, an Oscar-winning filmmaker of Indian origin, too is here with his documentary, ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector’. It is on Phil Spector, America’s legendary Rock and Roll music producer who at 71 is serving a 19-year prison sentence for the death of actress Lana Clarkson in his California mansion in 2003.

There was a time when Jayanti wanted to make a documentary on former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi. ‘It was the way she wore her hair in that half white and half black style that made me curious about her,’ says Jayanti who, however, gave up the idea after she was assassinated in 1984.

‘I prefer to make films on living people and am very impressed with the philosophy of M.K. Gandhi,’ says Jayanti. He is still in search of a person who will best portray ‘Gandhitude’ in today’s world.

In the past he has made larger than life full length documentaries on living legends like Julian Schnabel, Abraham Lincoln, Muhammad Ali and Garry Kasparov. He won an Oscar for ‘When We Were Kings’, a 1989 documentary on the build-up to the heavy weight championship boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in 1974.

British documentary filmmaker Kim Longinotto’s ‘Pink Saris’, about Sampat Devi Pal, founder of the Gulabi Gang or women in pink saris who are fighting social injustices in the Banda district of Uttar Pradesh, enjoyed two screenings before a packed auditorium.

It was completed this year and the docu-drama has already bagged praise and awards, the last being the best documentary award at the recently concluded Abu Dhabi Film Festival.

Unable to attend the Viennale, Longinotto says in an e-mail interview to IANS that it was fascinating to watch the way Sampat works.

Sampat, a village woman who was married at the age of 12 years, is a community leader today and helps people by making their problems public. By doing this she wants to change the mindset of people. When Rampyari, a young village bride challenges her father-in-law openly for sexually abusing her, the voice in the crowd cries, ‘This is shameful what she is saying.’

Sampat’s prompt reply is that shame is in the behaviour of the father-in-law and not in Rampyari’s exposure of the incident.

‘This is what we in Europe need. We need to talk about our shameful behaviour,’ says Longinotto referring to the disclosure of the rape of children by priests. She would like the children to talk about their trauma and their experience publicly and to expose the exploiters.

Longinotto is very inspired by the way Sampat is trying to bring about a change in the way people think in rural India.

‘Sampat will succeed in her struggle only when Indian mothers-in-law say, ‘Hurrah! A girl is born in this family today’!’ Longinotto said.

Then there is ‘Jan Villa’, a 20-minute short film by Mumbai-born Natasha Mendonca who now lives and dreams in New York.

After heavy rains caused a flood in Mumbai in 2005, Mendonca returned to her city to document the effect of the natural disaster on individuals. It is a personal journey to the now dilapidated Jan Villa in post-colonial Mumbai that is very moving.

Freida Pinto as the flower-like woman always in red and with a fabulous face puts up a brave front before a major cast, including Anthony Hopkins, Naomi Watts, Josh Brolin and Antonio Banderas in Woody Allen’s ‘You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger’.

Not one of Allen’s best films, it still played here to a houseful audience when Pinto was seen to live up to the director’s first impression of her as a ‘perfect obscure object of desire to look at from another window.’

(Mehru Jaffer can be contacted at mehrujaffer@yahoo.com )

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