South Asian movies at DIFF show longing for Gandhi’s pacifist ethos

DUBAI - The Dubai Film Festival has screened a series of quality movies from the Asian subcontinent, revealing a longing for Gandhi’s pacifism rather than the song-and-dance staple of Bollywood.

By (AFP)

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Published: Thu 15 Dec 2005, 6:40 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 7:23 PM

During the seven-day festival, which ends on Saturday, film-makers and stars in elegant saris paraded down the red carpet for the screening of several movies from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

The second annual festival, which features 98 films from 46 countries, also honored legendary Indian director and producer Yash Chopra, two of whose films are being screened. “Veer-Zaara,” one of them, tells the story of love across the India-Pakistan divide.

The event is witnessing the international premiere of “I Did Not Kill Gandhi,” famous Indian director Jahnu Baruas new work. It stars actor Anupam Kher who plays a retired Hindi professor showing signs of dementia.

The film tells the story of the professor and his caring daughter, but mostly the resurgence of a dormant traumatic incident from when he was a child. He had been playing a game of bows and arrows on the day in 1948 when revered leader Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated, shortly after India’s independence from Britain.

The professors moment of lucidity is meant as an indictment of people around the world for having forgotten Gandhis principles of non-violence, independence, emancipation of women and fight against oppressive political and social systems.

“We live in a world of deep social problems, terrorism and intolerance. How do you justify wars like the war in Iraq? Any war is but the beginning of another war. We have forgotten Gandhi,” Barua told AFP.

“We need to remember Gandhis values and his call for non-violence and self-reliance. But I had to do it with a person who suffers from Alzheimers disease because these people do not lie and only speak the truth,” he said.

Barua hailed the Dubai festival for being “a meeting point of East and West as well as a chance for a wide exposure of quality Asian subcontinent movies which are not just idiotic song-and-dance films. Whoever coined the word Bollywood has greatly damaged filmmaking.”

The festival also featured the Middle East premiere of Indian director Deepa Mehta’s controversial film “Water,” which had its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival in September after a five-year ordeal over fundamentalist protests.

The story, which takes place during Gandhis rise to prominence and his fight for the emancipation of women in the late 1930s, depicts the harsh life of widows condemned to live together in disgrace and poverty.

“It is about the misrepresentation of religion for political and personal benefits. How people abuse religion, and this is not specific to India. It is a universal subject which we suffer from around the world,” Mehta told AFP.

Mehta has been the victim of such extremism herself, and has since been living in Canada.

“Water” was to be shot in the holy city of Varanasi, India, in 2000, but “violent protests by Hindu fundamentalists stopped it,” she explained.

“Although nobody had read the script, they accused Water of being anti-Hindu. Our film equipments were thrown in the river, effigies were burned, and death threats forced me to live for three months with bodyguards carrying machine guns.”

The film was finally shot under great secrecy in Sri Lanka.

Features in the festival films also included the world premiere debut film of Indian Sharada Ramanathans “Dance of Love.” This is the story of the quest of temple dancers-prostitutes for emancipation and their challenge to the oppressive social system through art, rather than violence.

Other acclaimed movies shown in Dubai include “Guerilla Marketing”, the new movie by Sri Lankas Jayantha Chandrasiri, which shows the power of advertising and marketing campaigns over politics.

One shortcoming of the festival is the fact that movies are being screened in plush malls, out of the reach of the many low-income workers who make up the majority of the emirate’s extensive Asian community, according to Uma da Cunha, the programmer for the Cinema from the Subcontinent section.

“I wish the screenings were not so exclusive and elitist,” she said.

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