Two Indian women filmmakers who made an impression at this year's IFFI.

Santosh Mehta

Of the nearly 200 films showcased at the 37th International Film Festival of India in Goa recently only 20 were made by women. But these films were appreciated for the variety of subjects they dealt with and the unique perspectives brought to them.

Tanuja Chandra's

Hope and a little Sugar

was one of these. Shot primarily in New York City, the film marks her global debut in the English-language market.

The movie deals with a poignant tale of love between an aspiring Muslim photographer and a young Sikh widow set against the forces of hate and intolerance in the weeks before and after 9/11.

Bike messenger Ali Siddiqui (Amit Sial) meets the beautiful but married Saloni (Mahima Chaudhry), a charismatic shop-owner who encourages Ali's photography and becomes his muse. Despite Ali's secret and largely unrequited crush on Saloni, he develops a close friendship with her and her husband Harry (Vikram Chatwal). But when Harry dies in the World Trade Centre on 9/11, his father (Anupam Kher), a retired Sikh Colonel, devastated by grief and anger, directs his longstanding animosity toward Muslims at Ali as the young man's affection for Saloni grows increasingly evident. Unable to accept his son's death, the colonel threatens to bring a violent end to Ali and Saloni's budding romance.

Tanuja has successfully managed to bridge the geographic and cultural gap between Manhattan and Mumbai with this film made with financial support from New York-based investor Arlo Siegal.

With winter threatening to set in, Tanuja had just a few months to organise everything. She completed shooting within a span of 25 intense and exhilarating days across Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens in the autumn of 2004. The post-production work posed an even bigger challenge with Tanuja stationed in Mumbai and the editing being made in New York. She viewed the edited versions in bits and pieces online and continuously gave suggestions. "It was a unique and amazing process," she recalls.

During a chat with her after the screening of her film, Tanuja said Muslims and Hindus have had their differences. "I think it is a contemporary issue. Suddenly it comes to the fore that there is no separate boundary to segregate them."

During her decade-long filmmaking career Tanuja has directed seven feature films including the critically acclaimed

Dushman

and

Sur: The Melody of Life

. A postgraduate in filmmaking from Temple University in Philadelphia, she initially worked for Pooja Bhat Productions, co-writing two films,

Tamanna

and

Zakhm

. She has carved a niche for herself as one of the few filmmakers in Bollywood who make films featuring female protagonists.

Tanuja says most of her films are inspired by real-life incidents. "I was fortunate to get a good star cast like Mahima Chaudhry, Amit Sial, Suhasini Mulay, Vikram Chatwal, Ranjit Choudhry and Nicoye Banks, among others. I am lucky and privileged that my film got screened at the International Film Festival (IFFI) at Goa. I take care to give a social message in my films in a subtle manner so that viewers do not start yawning," she says.

Tanuja's brother Vikram Chandra is a cinematographer and director Vidhu Vinod Chopra is her brother-in-law.

She describes her work with American producers as a wonderful experience, adding they were ready to experiment with new ideas. "If you deliver what you had promised then you are always in the limelight and in great demand by the producers," she says with a grin.

Hope and a little Sugar

will next be screened in the US, Pakistan, Canada and Germany. Terming it a global film, she says it will be released worldwide. "I have always been involved with Bollywood films. But I think mainstream cinema should be shown to people on a larger scale."

Refusing to be drawn into the controversy surrounding the arrangements for this year's film festival and the uncertainty over Goa remaining the IFFI venue, she says the film festival venue is good. "I come to Goa for vacation. I will come here again to shoot my next film soon."

Saviour's saga

Assamese director Manju Borah was another Indian woman filmmaker in the news at the Goa festival. A storyteller-turned-filmmaker, Manju depicts socio-cultural issues in her unique style. Her short stories explore the indigenous culture and its impact on the person and the community as a whole. Her articles on various issues are based on her continuous research work and are truly thought provoking. Her first film,

Baibhab

(A Scam in Verse) was followed by

Aakashitoraar Kathare

(A Tale Told Thousand Times) and

Laaz

.

Baibhab

received the best film award at the 6th Dhaka International Film Festival, Bangladesh, the jury's special mention at the 47th National Film Festival, India, and the Gollapudi Srinivas Award.

Aakashitoraar Kathare

received the Rajat Kamal for best regional feature film in Assamese at the 51st national film awards and State award for best direction.

Laaz

was selected to the Indian Panorama 2005, received jury mention at the second international film festival of Bangladesh and participated in many national and international film festivals.

Recipient of a senior fellowship awarded by the government of India, Manju's latest film,

Joymati

, explores the most disturbed period in Assam's history during 1670-1681.

Joymati, the film's protagonist, is regarded as the paragon of self-sacrifice and a person who changed the course of Ahom history with her great political foresight. The intelligent Ahom princess sacrificed her life to put an end to the chaotic political upheavals in her kingdom.

Director Manju says, "Assam has a glorious past. She (Joymati) belonged to the family of Chow Sukata, the first king of the Ahom clan that originated from Yunan, South China, in the 13th century. His clan ruled Assam for 600 years. History reveals that whenever the political, social and cultural life of a nation comes under threat, a saviour emerges who shoulders the Herculean task of protecting the nation. During the black period of the Ahom rule, when Assam was in the throes of subjugation by the Mughals, successive kings were killed by power-hungry officials and anarchy reigned supreme. Joymati, the princess, emerged as the saviour."

According to Manju, a similar situation prevails in today's world, where ruthless exploitation and senseless oppression of the poor, wanton killings of political ideology and religious dissenters have become the order of the day. "Therefore, the saga of Joymati, The Saviour, is highly relevant in this critical time of our existence."

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated December 22, 2006)
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