Bangalore, January 2, 2014: It is perhaps no coincidence that the opening (Bekas) and closing (The Rocket) films at the sixth edition of Bengaluru International Film Festival (BIFFes) centre on child protagonists. At least 15 films screened at the festival revolved around children or young adults, making an interesting thematic unit.
These films can broadly be categorised as those that looked at an adult issue through the eyes of a child or a teenager and those that dealt with an issue concerning children and their rights. Sometimes the two themes were woven together inextricably.
The best among them managed to tell a complex story through a child’s eyes, without oversimplifying or sentimentalising the narrative. Palestinian film Giraffada, for instance, focussed at once on parent-child relationship and the stifling life in conflict-torn West Bank without reducing either. On the other hand, there were also unpretentiously simple narratives like Yellow Colt that talked about growing up against the breathtaking backdrop of Mongolian plains and galloping horses.
Zaigham Imam, maker of Dozakh, which was shown at BIFFes, says that Iranian films that centre on children have been a big influence on him. His film looks at the communal divide in a village through the eyes of a 12-year-old boy. “The audience goes along on a journey with a child with greater empathy,” he says. “They realise that the world can still look innocent, despite all our cynicism.”
The maker of the Marathi film Barefoot to Goa, Praveen Morchhale, echoes similar views. Morchhale, who was also at the festival, says that the best and the most challenging part about having a child protagonist is that he or she is non-judgmental. His film is about two children who try to reach their ill and estranged grandmother in another town. “Children have a courage that comes with innocence. This gives a wide canvas for the filmmaker to take an audience along in an emotional flow,” says Morchhale. The emotional flow, of course, is doubt-edged. Filmmakers dealing with a child-centric theme or a child protagonist have to carefully tread the landmine of sentimentality. Even a critically acclaimed Japanese film such as Like Father, Like Son often teetered on the edge of turning syrupy.
“Making a film from a child’s or a youngster’s point of view is challenging. If one is not careful, it can get reduced to an innocence-versus-big bad world story. Or one can end up making children mouth high-flown philosophy,” says K. Phaniraj, Convenor of the Udupi Chitra Samaja, who is in Bangalore for the festival.
Mr. Phaniraj cites Iranian film-makers like Majid Majidi, Jafar Panahi and Gholam Reza Ramezani as those who showed how to make a great film centred around children and young adults. Among the films he watched at BIFFes, he cites Giraffada by Rani Massalha and The German Doctor by Lucia Puenzo as the best in the genre.