What's New - Festival Highs

Sundance’s ‘New Frontier’ to feature Anamika Haksar’s genre-defying debut

by Mignonne D’souza


Titles by Ritesh Batra, Nisha Ganatra, Gurinder Chadha, Richie Mehta and Sandhya Suri, among others with Indian connections, will screen at the Sundance Film Festival from January 24 to February 3, 2019

Every January, Sundance brings in the new year with original voices and fresh perspectives, setting the bar high with its impartial, representative programme. Following a model where films take precedence over the ‘filmmaker’, the Sundance Institute, which presents the festival each year, has screened through a record-breaking 14,259 submissions from 152 countries for the 2019 edition. In its competition selection of 56 films, 42% of directors are women. The festival presents a collection of dramatic and documentary features, short films, episodic content, and the New Frontier, a section for innovative stories at the crossroads of film, art, performance, and emerging technologies. For 10 years, this dynamic section has presented avant-garde independent and experimental media — films, performances, exhibitions, VR Cinema — from across the globe.


Flavours from Old Delhi’s streets invade this year’s New Frontier, with acclaimed theatre maestro Anamika Haksar’s directorial debut, Taking The Horse To Eat Jalebis (‘Ghode Ko Jalebi Khilane Le Jaa Riya Hoon’). The waft of kebabs blends with nostalgia for a vibrant Indo-Islamic culture, as the film fuses documentary with magic realism to depict a modern migrant community. Produced under Haksar’s banner, Gutterati Productions, the film plays with dreams and subconscious landscapes, allowing the lines between truth and fiction to blur amid poetic humour. Written for the screen by Haksar and Lokesh Jain (who also acts in the film), ‘Taking The Horse’ premiered at Mumbai’s MAMI Film Festival in November 2018, then screening at the Dharamsala Festival, followed by its international premiere at Tallinn Black Nights, and now showing at the International Film Festival of Kerala.

Another Indian feature in Sundance’s Premieres section is Ritesh Batra’s Photograph, starring Nawazuddin Siddiqi and Sanya Malhotra. The ‘Lunchbox’ director’s next, making its world premiere, traces the life of a struggling street photographer Rafi, who, pressured to marry by his grandmother, convinces Miloni, a reclusive stranger to pose as his fiancée. Against the backdrop of metropolitan Mumbai, the pair develops a connection that transforms them in ways unexpected.

Behind the scenes of 'Photograph' 

Also in Premieres are two foreign features with an India connect in their subject and background. Kenya-born Gurinder Chadha, known for her stories on the Indian diaspora, presents her “spiritual sequel” to ‘Bend it like Beckham’ — Blinded by the Light. A coming of age story, set in Thatcher's 1987 austerity Britain, centres on a teenager who finds his own voice through the music of Bruce Springsteen. Indian-American Nisha Ganatra’s Late Night, scripted by Mindy Kaling, is a comedy on a legendary late-night talk show host whose world turns upside down when she hires her only female staff writer. Originally intended to smooth over diversity concerns, the host’s decision has unexpectedly hilarious consequences as the two women separated by culture and generations are united by their love of a biting punch line.

Sundance underlines its commitment to storytelling across form, through its selection of 73 short films and 12 episodic works. This includes the world premiere of Musa Syeed’s documentary short The Dispossessed. The film set in the world’s longest existing conflict-zone — Kashmir —  centres on Hazari, a traditional faith healer who exorcises patients possessed by a jinn. New York-based Syeed, whose films have screened and won at past Sundance editions, presents another portrait related to his roots.

International Narrative Short Films features Sandhya Suri’s Indo-French-UK coproduction The Field, on a poor agricultural labourer’s double life. The globally acclaimed film presents a refreshingly layered portrait of a woman who bravely pursues a life different from the one she has been granted.

The Indie Episodic showcase of independently produced content (for broadcast, web, and streaming platforms) features Richie Mehta’s Delhi Crime Story. Based on the authentic case files of the harrowing 2012 Delhi gang-rape case, the series chronicles the city police’s investigation and stars Shefali Shah, Rasika Dugal, Rajesh Tailang, Adil Hussain, Gopal Datt and Vinod Sherawat.

For the entire Sundance lineup: http://www.sundance.org/festivals/sundance-film-festival/