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New voice from India

An Indian man can be 26, but not have had sex

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A Bengali film about sex and the lack of it is called a new voice from India at the prestigious Karlovy Vary Film Festival.

One of the most delightful things about the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in the Czech Republic, barely two hours from Prague, is that it is jam-packed with hundreds of backpacking college students from all over Europe, often camping in tents or in a football stadium. It lends one of the oldest film festivals in the world a youthful exuberance. The main festival venue is in Hotel Thermal, whose swimming pool has mineral water, and the red carpet is just 10 feet from the Tepla River, that meanders amid beautiful gardens and spas. Karlovy Vary, or Carlsbad, is a 14th century spa town in Bohemia, famous for its mineral waters. The Karlovy Vary film festival (held between June 29 and July 7 this year) is renowned for its superb international selection, especially in Central and Eastern European films. And it's got plenty of chutzpah with Dame Helen Mirren (Helen Mirrenova), protagonist of Hungarian maestro Istvan Szabo's The Door, who received a Lifetime Achievement Award at Karlovy Vary this year;and Richard Pena, program director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, New York, as jury president.

An Indian film, Subrata Acharya's Ful Futuk Na Futuk Aaj Basanta (Spring in the Air) - which had its world premiere in the festival's 'Another View' section, alongside Guy Maddin's Keyhole - got a full house. The festival has shown a range of Indian films over the years, from Adoor Gopalakrishnan's Kathapurushan, Aparna Sen's Paromitar Ek Din and Rituparno Ghosh's I, to Umesh Kulkarni's Girni, Valu and Vihir;Madhur Bhandarkar's Chandni Bar and Anand Patwardhan's Father, Son and Holy War.

Spring in the Air is about three loafers oggling Radhe, the woman in the window, who lives in a rundown Kolkata pada (locality ) with her dreams, fantasies and a much older man. The film opens with the protagonist Bishu reading a trashy novel, a love story about Bonobashi, and characters from the novel weave in and out of the narrative, blurring the line between reality and fiction. An experimental debut feature, shot in black and white, its strengths include its precisely framed cinematography - almost like a series of stills with eloquent textures - and compelling sound design. Acharya, who has directed 15 shorts and documentaries, has written, shot and directed this 70-minute feature himself. He is also a painter and author of two books, Kalo Kalo Chit Chit and Matha Mundu.

Acutely modest about his film, he describes his modus operandi: "I wrote the film as an observer, as if standing in front of my window, in our gali (lane). The film has no story as such;it is really about moments. Most of the cast and crew are first-timers. Actually, I was testing the cameras - a JVC111, a Go-Pro and a Canon D5. Gradually, the film made itself. And when we saw the rushes, we thought maybe there's a movie in there. " But Karel Och, artistic director, Karlovy Vary Film Festival, puts it differently, "We were so surprised and delighted to receive this film. We have never seen an Indian film like this, and are very pleased to showcase the film, a new voice from India. "

"The film is about sex - and no sex. An Indian man can be 26, but not have experienced sex," Acharya said at the question-answer after the film's screening. There are sexually provocative scenes in the film - but discreetly shot. The film remains resolutely ambiguous on the relationship between Radhe and the old man;on the relationship between Bonobashi and Radhe;whether it's in the film or in the novel. And it is these ambiguities that lend it psychological complexity, depth and poetry. Although Acharya is a fan of Andrei Tarkovsky, the film is peppered with Bollywood dialogues, especially from Sholay. "I can really identify with Hindi movies, especially their audio (tracks), " he says. "You'll be riding in an auto and you'll hear a sad Kishore Kumar song, or 'Pal pal dil ke paas'. I saw Sholay many times when I was about 15 - it's a memory ride for me. "

Other Indian directors have also had memorable experiences at Karlovy Vary. Says Umesh Kulkarni, "I got my first international festival award (Best Film Award, 2005) for Girni at the Fresh Film Festival at the festival, which kicked off my career. The Festival is great: because there's no film market, people still talk about the film, not about selling the film. " Nandita Das, who was on the Karlovy Vary Jury in 2007, says, "The standard of their competition films is high, and they also have A-list films from other festivals in various sections. There was no Indian film when I was on the jury, but in general, Indian cinema is not taken seriously - people still expect either Bollywood or Slumdog Millionaire."


The author is India consultant to the Berlin and Dubai film festivals

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