Indians are primarily a navel-gazing race when it comes to cinema. most Indians, at least north of the Vindhyas, associate Indian cinema with Bollywood. Poor souls. There is little public acquaintance with, let alone appreciation of, the riches of Indian regional cinema, never mind Asian cinema. So we don’t really know where Indian cinema stands in the Asian context. Apart from common cultures and values, it can find a more level playing field in Asia, in terms of how the film industry functions—neither the extravagant budgets of Hollywood, nor the largely state-backed European cinemas. I feel very privileged to be watching movies for a living (even though it’s not always the unadulterated joy you might assume it is). And it is with mixed feelings that I observe Asian film competitions, where tiny nations like Sri Lanka, and a barely-there nation like Iraqi Kurdistan, are doing much better than India.
In October, I was on the 8th Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA) International Nominations Council in Brisbane, Australia. They have an Oscar-style procedure, in which a list of nominees is first selected, from which the award winners are picked. We selected 36 nominees for the best films, from over 250 feature films from 42 Asia Pacific nations. India had a substantial 24 film entries, yet came away empty-handed in all the main categories of best film, director, actor and actress, cinematographer and screenplay. We did, however, earn honourable nominations for Avinash Arun’s evocative Killa (The Fort) for Best Youth Feature Film, and Surabhi Sharma’s lively Bidesia in Bambai for Best Documentary Feature Film.
The 2014 APSA nominees for Best Feature Film are Winter Sleep (Turkey), Leviathan (Russian Federation), I’m Not Angry (Islamic Republic of Iran), The Owners (Kazakhstan), and Memories on Stone (Iraqi Kurdistan). Interestingly, India’s 24 entries are more than the annual, national output of Sri Lanka. Yet Sri Lanka beat India, with Prasanna Jayakody’s compelling 28 earning two nominations for Best Screenplay for Jayakody, and Best Actor for Mahendra Perera. Indeed, Kazakhstan and even Iraqi Kurdistan—which is not even recognised as a state globally, and is threatened by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)—fared better than India. The Owners, by talented Kazakh director Adilkhan Yerzhanov, won a nomination for Best Cinematography, while Iraqi Kurdistan’s Shawkat Amin Korki’s Memories on Stone earned a nomination for Best Screenplay.
Killa is a coming-of-age story of a young boy and his single mother, while Bidesia in Bambai has Bhojpuri music prise open the world of UP and Bihari immigrants in Mumbai. 28 is told from the viewpoint of the spirit of a woman, who was raped and murdered. The Owners has three young siblings evicted from their home by thugs, while Memories on Stone has two friends make a film on the Anfal genocide in which 1,82,000 Kurds were killed in the 1980s.
An Asia beyond Bollywood: (Clockwise from top left) Still from Killa (a coming-of-age story of a boy and his mother), Memories of Stone (on the Anfal genocide), 28 (told from the viewpoint of a woman who was murdered) and Crossroads of Youth (multimedia performance of the 1934 Korean film)