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Short fiction films clubbed together!

January 10, 2008 12:00:00 AM IST
By Glamsham Editorial
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Across the world, the short fiction has been in action for dog's ears. In fact, selection panels of most international film festivals rue the inordinate length of Indian films. When LAGAAN lost out in the final run at the Oscars, many critics blamed it on the length of the film vis-ą-vis its short storyline. With recent release DUS KAHANIYAN receiving not too bad response, Shoma A Chatterji traces the birth and evolution of the trend in short fiction films clubbed together for a single viewing experience.

When DUS KAHANIYAN reached the theatres recently, there was a lot of brouhaha around how ten short films within the span of 100 minutes can throw up more entertainment and thrills than a long (yawn) feature film with a 120 minutes footage. Most of the ten segments got favourable reviews but the difference of opinion in value-judgments made from one film to the next is just an example of subjective responses to subjective realities presented on celluloid.

The practice of several short fiction films clubbed together for single screening began way back in 1957 with MUSAFIR, marking the debut of one of the most successful directors of popular cinema in India - Hrishikesh Mukherjee. It was a beautiful film, written by none other than Ritwik Ghatak, with three independent stories standing alone within the same film. Set against the backdrop of a Mumbai apartment, the three stories, independent of each other, unfolded, one by one, the lives of the tenants who moved in when one moved out. Each story was a moving document of a small family essaying three basic truths of life - marriage, birth and death. The film flopped miserably and Mukherjee shifted to mainstream cinema. Dilip Kumar lent voice to his own song for the first and last time in MUSAFIR. The film won a National Award the following year.

Khwaja Ahmed Abbas tried to narrate four different films through CHAR DIL CHAR RAAHEN in 1959 but this film fared even more badly than Mukherjee's directorial debut. Satyajit Ray's TEEN KANYA (Three Daughters) is the only film weaving together three different Tagore stories that continue to pull at our heartstrings till this day. The film's release coincided with the centenary celebration of Rabindranath Tagore in 1961. The films were - THE POSTMASTER (56 minutes), MONIHARA (61 minutes) and SAMAPTI (56 minutes.). MONIHARA (The Lost Jewels) was left out of the international release. The female characters that are central to the stories link the three episodes. Each story offers a deep insight into the mindset of three women spanning time, age, social backdrop and space in rural Bengal. Said Ray's biographer Andrew Robinson, 'If I were forced to pick only one work by Ray to show to someone unfamiliar with him, it would have to be THREE DAUGHTERS.'

In 2006, Naseeruddin Shah made his directorial debut with YUN HOTA TOH KYA HOTA. There are three different stories in the film that arrive at a common point towards the end - the bombing of the World Trade Center on 9/11. The three stories are also about the dreams of its characters that meet with despair, disappointment and shock with the sole relief coming with the happy end of one of the three. It is an extremely well crafted film enhanced by the brilliant acting by the main cast. Yet it fell flat at the box office.

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Of the two recent horror films from the Ram Gopal Varma factory, namely DARNA MANA HAI and DARNA ZAROORI HAI, the second one turned out to be a damp squib compared with the thematic novelty and strikingly original technique the first contained. It has some truly strong stories backed by good acting, each narrating a tale that challenges all questions of logic, reason and science. Both the films were woven together with a common thread but did not succeed in pressing the box office button.

January 2006 began with Nikhil Advani's SALAAM-E-ISHQ. A high-powered promotional campaign, a stellar star-cast, and a hummable title song could not save the film from box office disaster. Only about two out of the six short stories could carry its argument forward while the one with two mega-stars Salman Khan and Priyanka Chopra, was no good at all. Reema Kagti's directorial debut HONEYMOON TRAVELS PRIVATE LIMITED offered different stories of couples distanced in terms of ethnic, educational, social and relational backgrounds hopping into a bus to Goa to celebrate their individual honeymoons. The bus journey offered a common platform for the couples and Kagti succeeded in offering an insight into the varied facets of marriage in a contemporary urban setting.

The end of 2007 saw Sanjay Gupta's novel film DUS KAHANIYAN with ten films directed by six directors, each one with just ten minutes of screening time. Another novelty of the film is that the film featured two different segments of the same story directed by two different directors, Sanjay Gupta and Hansal Mehta. The ten films offers a diversely colourful menu in terms of plot, theme, treatment and style, throwing up a happy medley of directors and actors old, new and debutant, making it worth one's while to sit and watch ten films in place of one with the same gate money for the same time-span. The films are LOVEDALE (Jasmeet Dhodhi), POORANMASHI (Meghna Gulzar), SEX ON THE BEACH (Apoorva Lakhia), RICE PLATE (Rohit Roy) HIGH ON THE HIGHWAY (Hansal Mehta) and five films - MATRIMONY, STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT, ZAHIR, GUBBARE and RISE AND FALL directed by Sanjay Gupta himself. The concept is good for the Indian audience brought up on a generous diet of epic tales like the Ramayan and the Mahabharat, needs to get conditioned to the format of the short fiction film and appreciate its aesthetic, sociological and economic advantages.

(Shoma A Chatterji is a twice national award winner for her books on films)

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