A Poignant, Humane Saga of the Subalterns By Rwita Dutta

in 8th CineFan

by Rwita Dutta

Since Osian (the connoisseurs of Art Pvt Ltd) joined hands with the Cinemaya Festival, it emerged as the most spectacular, extravagant feast of Asian Cinema, bringing forth as many as 120 films from all across the continent. This year, the festival witnessed its 8 th version. Besides the Asian and Indian Competition it introduced, for the first time, the most coveted Arabesque section – films from the oil countries.

The festival began with a gala ceremony of folk music played by Rajastani singers. Valley of Flowers was the inaugural film, directed by the talented Indian director Pan Nalin. It was a fruitful product of collaboration between the nations of Germany, France, Japan and India. The film offered a visual treat for the curious and uncompromising cinephiles worldwide.

The FIPRESCI Jury Award was meant for the twelve selected films from Asia. The competition was comparatively less complicated as there was a shortage of well-treated films for the winning post. Finally, with no hiccups from among the juries, the award went quite easily to a very talented director from the Philippines, Jeffrey Jeturian for his excellent film The Bet Collector (Kubrador). This very film has also received the same award in the last month’s Moscow Film Festival. Nevertheless, its mundane storytelling, docu-feature style of film-making, incredible shots taken in a mere HDV camera outshone all the other big budget films in the competitive section.

The film is based on three days in the life of Amelita (stunningly portrayed by the veteran actress Gina Pareno who walked out with the Best Actress Award from the Asian Competition Main Jury Section). The film humbly depicts the day-to-day life of the subaltern class of the Philippines. Amelita is a middle-aged woman who lives with her husband in a slum area. The narrative from time to time stumbles upon the remorse existence of Amelita’s soldier son who perished during some unmentioned war. She runs an illegal but popular game called ‘jueteng’ (The Bet) and collects her regular players, often using tricky and witty measures. She is into this weird profession and everyone knows her as a ‘jueteng kubrador’ (The Bet Collector). Besides her clandestine activities, she is also the Good Samaritan almost to everyone. Interestingly, the film, at the outset, declares the involvement of politicians and powerful people in this game and they have also been accused in the Philippines recently. Moreover, the picture becomes clear in a particular shot taken in the police station when Amelita, the main character, was chased by the police and taken into custody until the ‘kabo’ (The Handler) bails her out. Interestingly, the policeman also wishfully wanted to be a part of this so called illegal game. And he also bets.

Besides collecting the bet Amelita also arranges ‘abuloy’ (donations) from her friends for the burial of poor people who meet an accidental death. That metaphor uncannily raises her to the status of a Robin Hood – the Prince of Thieves from the pages of history. The film with its sharp camera movement hovers around and takes the bemused spectators into the most humble lives of downtrodden people. Amidst the ruins, we gleefully observe the humanitarian approach of the ordinary fellows, their struggle for meeting the days ends, their love, prejudices, and undying hope for a better life. Though it’s a national problem for the Manila government, in actuality this illegal trade harps on the tremendous unemployment problem of the masses in general. Notwithstanding this, the director helps us to justify the life beyond the so-called rule of law.

Jeffery Jeturian is from Manila, he holds a Communication Arts Degree from the University of Philippines. He started his career as an assistant director before taking up direction. When poverty is in steep rise, life has been too harsh for Philippinos; they don’t embark upon a chance to live but to survive. Death is a common intruder here. While poverty reigns, the distinction between legitimacy and illegitimacy blurs. Even the authority becomes a part of it. Often, it has been observed, the de jure rulers thrive mostly on the support of games like betting than other transparent business deals. In the world of grief, only money talks and unfortunately transcends the concept of legality.

Inevitably, this film outshines all the others for its mere as well as rare simplicity. As juries we do get to see various works of craftsmanship but hardly come across such a film which touches the core of everyone’s heart in spite of our own cultural limitations. But, shouldn’t this be the very essence of every film worth watching? Moreover, the film sincerely shows a lack of budget but the technicalities used reveals the power of digital technology. So, the following is the suggestion for the upcoming new breed of directors: try and use digital media and blow it into 35mm, which has already ushered a revolution in filmmaking. The film wins for its sincerity and, throughout the 98 minutes of projection, it swings and overlaps the reel life with the real ones. The subaltern class, with all its nuances, reigned supreme in this heart-ravaging tale. The film correctly symbolises a universal content and that makes the jury’s work easier, as all of us almost unanimously agreed upon its award.