What's New - Festival Highs

India’s Four at IDFA

by Rutwij Nakhwa


Anand Patwardhan’s ‘Reason’, Ekta Mittal’s ‘Absence’ (Birha), Payal Kapadia’s ‘And What is the Summer Saying’, Rishi Chandna’s ‘Tungrus’ compete at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA)

One of the world’s premiere destinations for documentaries, IDFA is a diverse space which brings together audiences and professionals, for a selection that exemplifies multiplicity of form and content in cinema, as well as the varied cultural backgrounds of filmmakers.

Over the last few years, India has had a consistent presence at this feted festival. This year we are represented by four films, two feature-length and two shorts. 


Intrepid chronicler of injustice in the country, Anand Patwardhan presents ‘Reason’ ('Vivek'), his most urgent and thorough exploration of Indian society. The 4-hour long film is arranged in eight chapters which chronicle India’s slide away from secular democracy towards divisions and violence that springs from power, caste, and religious fundamentalism. The initial chapters recount the work, struggles and eventual assassinations of Narendra Dabholkar, a rationalist who fought ‘blind faith’, and Govind Pansare, a communist politician and anti-caste activist. Later chapters probe subjects such as Dalit caste protests against social oppression, terrorism's tangled roots and how religious outrage easily descends into mob violence. ‘Reason’ premiered at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival and is in the IDFA Feature-Length Documentary Competition.


Ekta Mittal’s film chronicles a faraway village called ‘Birha’ ('Absence'), where missing people, mothers and tired lovers yearn to see past the mist. Situating itself in a season of waiting, the film follows migrant workers to their homes in remote villages, chronicling those who left for faraway cities and never returned, and those who still await them in endless mourning. Sounds and images evoke these absent presences, objects and textures cover up the void left behind by men. The film takes its inspiration from Punjabi Sufi poetry birha, and captures the grief, agony and anguish of separation. ‘Birha’ summons, and leaves one with a haunting feeling of having been left behind. The film premiered at the 2018 Busan International Film Festival and is in the IDFA Competition for First Appearance. In 2014, Mittal co-founded maraa a media and arts collective based in Bangalore and Delhi. She has worked as a community radio facilitator on production, research and creative programming since 2008, and curates film festivals at maraa.


Payal Kapadia’s short ‘Afternoon Clouds’ screened at the 2017 Cannes’ Cinefondation. Her latest, at 24 min in Marathi and black and white, ‘And What is the Summer Saying’ premiered at the 2018 Berlinale, and recently won Best Documentary in the International Competition of the 35th Tehran International Short Film Festival. The film is now in the IDFA Competition for Short Documentary and follows Namdeo, who has learnt to live off the forest from his father. He stares at the treetops, searching for honey. The wind blows and afternoon descends on the small village by the jungle. Women of the village whisper little secrets of their lost loves. Never seen, and only heard. A strange smoke emits from the ground, like a dream of a time gone by.


A home like a million others in the city turns topsy-turvy over a week when the eccentric patriarch disregards his family’s protests and brings home a baby chick for his cats to play with. As it grows into a rooster, what follows is an alternatingly absurd, nerve-jangling and heart-warming reaction on the latest addition from each member of the household. Rishi Chandna’s debut ‘Tungrus’ follows the thoughts of each person to their inevitable conclusion: the rooster’s got to go, but how? The film premiered at 2018 Visions Du Réel, Switzerland, then screened at the BFI London Film Festival, and is now in the IDFA Competition for Kids & Docs. A Mudra Institute of Communications (MICA), Ahmedabad alumnus, Mumbai-based Rishi Chandna, is a self-taught filmmaker passionate about developing stories around the anomalies and absurdities that lie beneath the surface of everyday life.


The 2018 IDFA is from November 14 - 25.