OTR Review: Filmistaan in School VI
By: Krystyna Spark
When it comes to Indian films I have to admit; they are not the type I would eagerly look forward to watching in my free time. Maybe it’s because I find it difficult to associate with the culture, or maybe I am just not open enough to new genres. So, when Violet pointed out to me that there is a series of them being screened at the Indian Independent Film Week, organised as part of On The Rocks Festival, I decided to go to one. I picked Filmistaan (2013, dir. Nitin Kakkar). And so I walked into the screening on a Friday afternoon with no clue as to what Filmistaan would be about, with three other people - including the girl who organised the event and her close friend. Why is it that so few people came? Should it have been otherwise? Hopefully, I can convince you that the answer is undoubtedly YES!
When it comes to Indian films most people immediately think of Bollywood. And I was no exception here. Having not read up much about Filmistaan I was hugely surprised that it was unlike the typical, commercial Indian Bollywood movie. No romantic love, no beautiful, leading female star and no extravagant musical numbers. It did, however, have a touch of comedy – something, I felt, was a valuable part of this quite specific film. Filmistaan is concerned with Indian-Pakistani political and social relations; so unless one is clued up on the subject it may be hard to grasp the films underlying message. The plot centres on Sunny; an aspiring Indian actor, who has little luck securing even the smallest film role. After numerous unsuccessful, but undoubtedly hilarious, auditions he finally gets a call to work as an assistant for an American film crew who are shooting a documentary film in Rajasthan. It doesn’t take long before the crew is approached by Pakistani Islamic militaries, who kidnap the American film crew, only to instead end up running away with a confused Sunny.
From here the story focuses on the inter-personal relations between Sunny and the Pakistani military guards, and their watchful eyes. Having been placed in a house on the Pakistani border, Sunny has to endure a long wait until the militaries return with their intended prisoners. It turns out that the men occupying the house live off pirating Indian films and selling them to the Pakistani border police nearby. Sunny and the guards, especially Aftaab, develop a friendship and bond over their shared love of Bollywood movies. However, Mehmood, one of the older guards, does not share this Indian film obsession and criticises Sunny for his interests. The prisoner is able to hold his ground until derogatory language is used to describe his beloved films. Sunny’s love for films is indescribable. He helps set up screenings within the village, interacts with the children and finally involves the inhabitants in his own hostage film created for the Indian authorities. The film production stirs up action within the calm village, uniting people. They are enthralled by the camera equipment and gather in crowds to watch the filming process. However, nobody is aware that Sunny and Aftaab have planned Sunny’s escape, concealed by the making of the onscreen film!
The onscreen, escape scene becomes suspicious and ultimately not so easily executed. However, the film ends with a positive sense of hope, albeit uncertain. Nevertheless, Filmistaan offers hope for positive relationships between Indian and Pakistani people. The film’s success cannot be understated, it was one of the most popular non-commercial films in India in 2013. Its popularity could partially be due to how truthfully it reflects the beliefs of current citizens -- that we are ultimately all people who can work together despite our differences. The film proves that despite prejudices there is always a chance for one individual to break from the crowd. In the case of Filmistaan, Aftaab represents the Pakistani who is able to sympathise with the imprisoned Indian.
For a film with an all-male cast, Filmistaan might not appeal to every viewer. Compared to a typical Bollywood film, it does not depict the colour and extravagance of party scenes or a city’s nightlife. It does, however, portray the beauty of those living on the outskirts. The vast expanses of the desert and the small communities that form within it, are often regarded as welcoming to outsiders. Filmistaan says otherwise. It tells the story of sacrificial friendship, a certain form of love which I believe is felt universally. So, next time you want to watch a movie that gives a glimpse into the social culture of another continent, other than Europe or North America, which simultaneously depicts a timeless message, look no further than Filmistaan. You might be surprised at how interested you become in the complex socio-political situation it addresses… even if history is not your major!