Cinema Harbors the Significance of Solidarity

in 27th International Film Festival of Kerala

by Kalash Nanda Kumar

A recap of the 27th edition of Kerala’s biggest film festival which attempts to counter the populist right-wing ideology of Modi’s BJP that looms over India

Once a year, Thiruvanthapuram, the capital of Kerala in the southwestern coastal state of India, brims with fervor for the cinematic artform. The International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK), founded in 1996, has grown to become a standard-bearer in the country for its programming quality, rivalled only by the other two major festivals in Mumbai and Goa. A quick summary of the numbers can only inspire awe. The 2022 edition boasted an impressive line-up of 184 films from 70 countries, curated into 19 different thematic categories. To facilitate the screenings, which were numbered to have drawn 13,000 people, 15 theatres across the city were rented out during the eight-day festival.

Despite the contentious right-wing nationalism that has come to shadow across India since Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ascent into governance, the IFFK under the stewardship of festival director and filmmaker Ranjith Balakrishnan, alongside artistic director Deepika Suseelan, counters these narratives. Consider its opening moments when jury member Athina Rachel Tsangari raised a lock of hair on stage sent by Iranian filmmaker Mahnaz Mohammedi, who was barred from leaving the country. That momentary interlude received rapturous applause and became international news, setting the tone for the rest of the festival.

That spirit of solidarity, defiance and rebellion is reflected in the festival’s winning titles. In Romi Meitei’s Our Home (Eikhogi Yum), state interventions, creeping industrialization and modernity threaten the livelihood of a fishing community living in isolation on the Loktak Lake of Manipur. Witnessed through the eyes of a child, Romi Meitei’s Our Home is a sobering and defiant tale of belief. The film’s triumph lies in young Ningthoujam Priyojit’s soulful performance as 11-year-old Chaoren, determined to excel in his school. Despite being in a specific time, place and context, Meitei deftly explores poignant universal themes of belonging and the crises of displacement that are taking place all over the world.

Indhu VS’ promising, competent debut feature 19(1)(a) lays bare the necessity for intellectual discourse and inquiry amidst the rising wave of intolerance everywhere. Cleverly conceived and written, it tells the story of a young woman having a chance encounter with a revolutionary writer, gunned down moments later. His unpublished manuscript left under her care, would set off a national frenzy, and inspire her to take a journey of her own.

In A Place of Our Own (Ek Jagah Apni), two trans-women cultivate joy in their friendship despite struggling to find a new home after a sudden eviction. Unique to this title is the absence of a singular director but rather is the creative endeavor of an independent, non-funded Ektara Collective comprised of trained and untrained professionals. Alam, which received the NETPAC award for Best Asian Film, follows a group of high school friends in Palestine actively rebelling against the machinations of Israeli forces seeking to erase their history and culture. Mahmood Bakri who plays Tamer, falls in love with a politically active new student Maysaa (Sereen Khas) and is subsequently forced into coming to terms with his reality that he has long ignored.

The FIPRESCI jury – Katharina Dockhorn (Germany), Narendra Bandabe (India) and myself (Malaysia) were tasked with watching over 20 films, many of which were debut features crossing genres of all kinds, marking the region’s creative versatility.

Kalash Nanda Kumar
Edited by Ron Fogel