Gautaman Bhaskaran
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India International Disability Film Festival 2005: Towards an inclusive society

Often, we are oblivious to pain and suffering, and Chennai’s Ability Foundation held India International Disability Film Festival (July 7 to 11 2005) to primarily sensitise us to physical and mental handicaps that we see all around us.

The five-day Festival -- really the first of its kind in India, though a couple of such events were held in New Delhi on a much smaller scale with participation confined to challenged men, women and children – had two sections. One was indeed novel.

Termed “An Inclusive Society”, it showcased 53 minute-long movies, chosen out of about 500 entries that came mostly from India. A jury chaired by Adoor Gopalakrishnan picked the three best shorts, and gave them cash prizes of Rs one lakh, Rs 75,000 and Rs 50,000.

Most of the 53 entries were remarkable in conceptualisation and execution, and visualised a society that would include those with some disability or the other. “Becky” by Madhi and Thiagarajan Kumararaja, which walked away with the first prize of Rs one lakh, was a wonderful animation that spelt the dream of a little girl in a wheelchair: I do not want pity, I want to be part of you all, and the film’s closing shot shows a flight of stairs transforming into a ramp for the wheelchair to move up!

A full-length Bengali feature by Tapan Sinha, “Wheelchair”, which was part of the 20-odd movies screened in the Festival’s other section was a study in human resilience, which changes perceptions and views, like it does in “Becky”. A great piece of evocative performance by a wheelchair-bound Soumitra Chatterjee portrays the character’s resolve to get over his handicap. A brilliant neurosurgeon’s career appears doomed when a road accident ties him down to a chair, but he picks up his courage to convince others that there is life beyond paralysed limbs. Sinha uses sparse frames to convey disappointment and tragedy, but he skilfully crosses these to uplift a viewer.

There were other movies from all over the world that made a mark by their positivism. One that I liked particularly, and which I dare say was probably the best film in the entire Festival, was Masjid Majidi’s Iranian work, “The Colour of Paradise”, a moving piece of celluloid that unfolds a father-blind son relationship. The Iranian landscape acts as the paradise of a backdrop to a poor widower as he grapples with the guilt of wanting to forget his son. In one of the last scenes, Majidi uses the metaphor of an angry river to dramatise the agony and turbulence of the man as he watches his little boy being swept away. In a series of changing emotions that we watch with utter fascination, the director conveys horror and relief followed by anguish and remorse, and finally reconciliation, joy and peace. The last shot of life ebbing back into the boy pictured through a faint finger motion is not just a cinematic great, but a brilliant way of capturing the concept of hope, nay life itself.

There were two other features that spelt this message: one through a little boy, and the other through a couple. The Festival’s opening film from Czechoslovakia, “Jumping over the Puddles Again” (which Gopalakrishnan described as one of the best he had ever seen), is set in the lush countryside at the end of the Austro-Hungarian empire. A little boy overcomes a polio deformity to become a horse rider. Director Karel Kachyna’s pasteurisation of sheer effort is striking: we see the boy just before the disease cripples him trying to master a little feat which his father says will qualify him to begin his riding lessons. Later, we see him again, with his wasted legs, attempting to get on the saddle. And, he does. The movie is a study in human endurance, and what one gets bowled over by is the spirit of living that little Adam exudes. Unfortunately, one could not savour the film as much as one would have wanted to because of bad print and equally bad projection at Anand theatre, where the Festival was held.

It was the same case with yet another gripping work from Australia, Paul Cox’s “Cactus”, where details were often lost because there was not enough light on the screen. Cox traces blindness through his protagonist, Frenchwoman Isabelle Huppert, whose carefree life is disturbed after a motor accident when she finds that she is losing her sight. Cox sets his movie in some of the most scenic spots in Australia, where the chirping of birds and the rustle of leaves create their own sense of magic as Huppert finds the blurring of her vision. However, her blind lover shows her a path which illuminates her life. There are engaging moments in “Cactus”, that deal with helplessness and expectation, and as we see images getting dimmer, Cox guides his characters through the patch of (impending) darkness with the light of love and romance.

The one-minute long “With a little help from my Friends” by Nakul Shawhney, which won the second prize of Rs 75,000, harps on a similar theme: a group of youngsters celebrate life with music and mirth. Some are handicapped, but it does not bother them when they find acceptance, a sense of being included that Huppert clutches on to as well. An inclusive society, which Ability Foundation is striving for.

(This story appeared in The Hindu dated July 15 2005)

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