The cinephiles of Delhi flock at India Habitat Centre every year for its film festivals, most of which entertain free entry. After a diverse lineup at this year’s Habitat International Film Festival, the multipurpose Lodhi Estate structure will bear witness to the 15th Habitat Film Festival (HFF) to celebrate “the best of Pan-Indian cinema”.
The festival kicks off on May 5 and will conclude more than a week later on May 14. Registration is free of cost and can be done online through the HFF website.
What’s being screened? This year’s lineup includes big names like the Oscar-nominated documentary All That Breathes along with old classics by Bengali maestro Mrinal Sen. Late actors Satish Kaushik and Irrfan Khan are also being honoured with one film each. And like every HFF edition, audiences can expect exciting short film showcases almost every day.
Shaunak Sen’s Oscar-nominated documentary revolves around the efforts of siblings Mohammad Saud and Nadeem Shehzad to protect the birds of Delhi from injuries and pollution. Along with their dreamy-eyed assistant Salik Rehman, the brothers offer the audiences a look at their work while also delivering some introspective musings on the city’s environment.
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Sen’s eye for life in the urban jungle goes much beyond birds as the documentary also takes a closer look at creatures like pigs and rats that dominate Delhi’s grim landscape. These nature montages alone make All That Breathes worth watching it on the screen of Habitat Centre’s Stein Auditorium.
2023 marks Bengali auteur Mrinal Sen 100th birth anniversary and the HFF honours him by screening some of his filmography’s most-lauded entries. Along with fellow Bengalis like Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak, Sen heralded the New Wave of Bengali cinema. But he also directed a few Hindi films that are equally acclaimed and will be showcased at HFF.
After a discussion on his career and legacy on May 6, the Shabana Azmi-led art film Ek Din Achanak will be screened on May 8 and the National Award-winning Bangla drama Ek Din Pratidin will be screened on May 11.
Following the recent demise of Bollywood comedian and actor Satish Kaushik, May 10 will include a video montage of tributes from many of Kaushik’s colleagues. This will then be followed by the 2014 political satire Dekh Tamasha Dekh that starred Kaushik as a corrupt politician whose hoarding kills an innocent civilian.
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The comedy then follows the bizarre search for the dead man’s religious identity. It only seems apt to honour Kaushik with a satire given how he also debuted with a supporting role in Jaane Bhi Do Yaaro, a cult classic regarded by many Indians as the finest satire in the country.
The multi-national production The Song of Scorpions starred the late Irrfan Khan and began debuting in film festivals from 2017 onwards. However, it is only now that the Rajasthani-language drama is getting a wide theatrical release. Even though The Song of Scorpions can be found in limited PVR screens right now, HFF audiences can also catch it on the last day of the festival.
Irrfan who also originally hailed from Rajasthan played a camel trader in the film who, after being rejected by the woman he loves, goes on an unprecedented quest of revenge. The desert landscape and the dark human themes it attempts to cover might remind fans of the late actor of his other artistic endeavours such as the BAFTA-winning British film The Warrior (also set in Rajasthan) and the Punjabi Partition drama Qissa.
In 2022, the world bid adieu to French-Swiss film pioneer Jean-Luc Godard. The Breathless director also got an unlikely tribute from Odisha a few months before his death with the drama Adieu Godard.
The film serves as a socio-cultural tribute to Godard and the legacy of his cinema beyond the First World’s borders as it revolves around a porn addict whose life changes after he discovers Godard’s cinema. The plot itself can be the selling point for many. Adieu Godard will be screened on May 10.
Geetika Narang Abbasi’s documentary Urf/a.k.a. Offers an insight to the world of Bollywood lookalikes, the odd jobs they do at times and their ultimate love for the star they so want to emulate. From body doubles to mimics, Urf examines the age-old obsession with Bollywood but through duplicates of Shah Rukh Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Dev Anand and many more. HFF will screen the documentary on May 6.
The final film to close this year’s edition of HFF is Rajeev Ravi’s political drama Thuramukham. Known for his collaborations as a cinematographer with Anurag Kashyap (Dev D, Gulaal, Gangs of Wasseypur), Ravi is also an accomplished director as is evident from his four previous Malayalam films.
Thuramukham, his latest, is set in the midst of workers’ protests in the 40s and 50s as two brothers find themselves on opposite ideological sides. With Ravi himself handling the cinematography as expected, the film is also a visual treat.
The film festival will also observe a book launch on May 12 with Avijit Ghosh giving behind-the-scenes details for his latest non-fiction book When Ardh Satya Met Himmatwala. With a cover as flashy as its name, the thoroughly-researched work delves into the 1980s and how the decade changed Bollywood forever.
March 2023 unfortunately witnessed the unexpected death of director Pradeep Sarkar known for his multi-genre works in Hindi and Bengali. The director debuted in 2005 with his adaptation of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Bangla novel Parineeta. The period piece starring Vidya Balan, Saif Ali Khan and Sanjay Dutt will be screened in honour of Sarkar.
The Gujarati-Hindi-English documentary The Show Must Go On puts the spotlight on aging icons of Parsi theatre. While the Parsis might get stereotyped in Bollywood as money-minded old men who just have the word “dikra” in their lingo, Divya Cowasji and Jall Cowasji’s delightful 2022 documentary offers a fresh, bittersweet perspective on aging veterans who influenced Indian theatre and Bollywood. The Show Must Go On also covers them in the present day as they gear up for one final performance.
Brought up in the hills of Himachal Pradesh, Siddharth Chauhan started out with short films but with Amar Colony, he gears up for his feature film debut. The promising drama is being touted as “a satire on mankind” while revolving around intermingling storylines of the people who live in the dilapidated building called Amar Colony. The ragtag bunch of characters include a pregnant wife with an absent husband, an idle boy with an abusive mother and an aging woman who aims to become immortal.
Amar Colony is currently a festival favourite with the Federation of Film Critics also nominating it for its Grand Prix 2022 award alongside All That Breathes, Qala and Kantara. Fans of films with parallel storylines and psychological character studies would enjoy Chauhan’s debut.