Karan Johar as a charming, seductive announcer of dire directives, about the safety, security and sanctity of citizens of Schirkoa, where to be “alike is a way of life”. Anurag Kashyap as a naughty drunk who is interrupted in the middle of an assignation in a bar called Sharab. And Shekhar Kapur as a reasonable sounding council member and leader of the people. There are other voices from an international star cast, including Golshifteh Farahani, Asia Argento, and Shahbaz Sarwar. In Ishan Shukla’s brilliant animation film, Schirkoa: In Lies We Trust, which will premiere at the International Film Festival of Rotterdam, the anomalies are citizens who are outliers, who have to be weeded out, either for their appearance or their beliefs. Seems familiar? Gwalior-born and Bhopal-raised Shukla left his engineering course at BITS Pilani to follow his passion for animation. Starting with graphics, he moved on to a short animation film, Schirkoa, before expanding it into a feature length film. Schirkoa, which refers to a dystopian universe populated by masked citizens who have numbers for names was an idea he came up with when he was nine and was already an avid story writer and illustrator. Shukla says he owes his worldview to his parents, his late father who was a theatre actor in Bhopal, and his mother, a teacher and writer. His steady diet of Russian literature made him believe the masses would change the world, though he is not so sanguine now. Spiritualism and love as a byproduct of it are the only things that may save humanity, he feels. The film, unusual for its beautifully evolved graphics, as well as for its philosophy, was possible only because of the many collaborations, including those with producer Bich-Quan Tran and with musician Sneha Khanwalkar. After some years in Singapore, Shukla now works in Baroda where he is setting up an animation studio for the Swaminarayan Mandir. Schirkoa heralds the rise of a bright star in an area that is underexplored in India. Shukla is a computer gamer as well, his desk stacked with figures from the various stories he has imbibed, from Godzilla to the faun from Pan’s Labyrinth, Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings to a character from the video game Cyberpunk 2077.
Subversion is the theme of another film that has gone international, premiering at the Sundance Film Festival. Girls Will Be Girls by Shuchi Talati explores the coming of age of a teenager in a co-ed boarding school in 1990s India. The young girl, on the cusp of womanhood, played by Preeti Panigrahi, a graduate of Hindu College, Delhi University, is a prefect at the school and promises to uphold “our age-old Indian culture”. But that is before she gets entangled with another student and begins to explore her own sexuality. Her mother, played by the brilliant Kani Kusruti, has her own ideas about the young boy who she says is “very mature for his age”. Said boy is played by engineering graduate from Manipal University in Jaipur, Kesav Binoy Kiron. Talati, who grew up in India, before studying at the American Film Institute, has been making edgy shorts, including A Period Piece (2020) on a sexual encounter between a man and a woman during her period, breaking all kinds of taboos. Girls Will be Girls is produced by the actor couple Ali Fazal and Richa Chadha. Given the rise of the Alpha Female in Hindi cinema, with women playing super spies and super pilots in franchise films such as Pathaan and Fighter, the parallel emergence of women who are unafraid to show their vulnerability and bare their soul onscreen is worth examining.
Scene and Heard
Soori made waves with his star turn in Vetrimaaran’s Viduthalai (the second part releases this year) opposite Makkal Selvan, or Vijay Sethupathi. Now, he is starring in the Tamil film Kottukkaali (The Adamant Girl) that is all set to premiere at the Berlin Film Festival. The film also stars Malayalam actor Anna Ben, and is directed by PS Vinothraj. Ben stars as Meena, who loves a man from a lower caste but her family thinks she is possessed and proceeds to perform black magic on her. The festival will also premiere the Hindi film, In the Belly of a Tiger, inspired by the true accounts of poor villagers in Pilibhit claiming compensation for members of their families killed by tigers. Directed by FTII cinematography graduate Jatla Siddartha, it brings to mind the incisive Peepli Live about farmer sacrifices, which also premiered at the Berlinale in 2010.