It was a rich harvest of awards for Sri Lanka and Bangladesh at the 8th SAARC Film Festival which concluded here on Sunday. While Sri Lanka bagged the Best Director, Best Actor and Best Sound Recording awards and also a Special Jury award, Bangladesh walked away with the Best Feature Film, Best Cinematography, Best Editing and Best Music Direction awards.
India too acquitted itself creditably, though not to the same extent as Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. It also got four awards; those of Best Actress, Best Screenplay and Best Short Film. One of the two Special Jury awards also went to India.
While the Pakistani entries were quite a few among the 26 films shown from May 22 to 26, they were crassly commercial with little or no artistic content.
The Bhutanese and Maldivian films, on the other hand, were outstanding, whether in content, acting or technical values.
These films came as a pleasant surprise given the fact that these countries have no presence yet in the world of cinema. The Bhutanese and Maldivian films on show dealt with burning social issues boldly and brought to light aspects of Maldivian or Bhutanese societies which the world around was not aware of.
But it was disheartening to find on the awards giving day, that none of the films from Bhutan and the Maldives had made the grade in the estimation of the jury. The three-member jury comprised: Ms. Han Sunhee of South Korea, who is Dean of the International Film Business Academy of the Busan Asian Film School; Amable Tikoy Aguiluz of the Philippines who is a leading light of the alternative film movement in his country; and Christophe Henri of France who is an international actor and filmmaker.
The Best Director award went to Sri Lankan Director Prasanna Jayakody for his film 28 (Twenty-Eight). The jury described his work as “poignant storytelling about marginalised characters. The director captivates the audience through very clever cinematic storytelling, continuously surfing on the cutting edge of irony and humour.”
28 is the story of a village woman who had been raped and murdered and dumped in a mortuary. Her husband identifies the body, and to carry the body to his village, he tricks a van driver into transporting an “empty” coffin. En route, the coffin falls off the rooftop rack and the dead body gets exposed. Though shocked and angry, the driver agrees to resume the journey. At the village, the people vent their anger against the woman’s husband for her death. But she addresses the mourners bereft of fear (as she is dead), providing a powerful testimony on the plight of women.
Mahendra Perera of Sri Lanka got the Best Actor award for his work in 28, which was distinguished for the “depth, realism and sincere heartfelt portrayal of his character who gradually releases his emotion and connection to the corpse.”
Sasika Ruwan Marasinghe of Sri Lanka got the award for the Best Sound Design for his work in Bahuchithawadiya (The Undecided). “It accurately reproduced the sounds of the environment and locations of present-day Sri Lanka,” the citation said.
28 is the story of a village woman who had been raped and murdered and dumped in a mortuary. Her husband identifies the body, and to carry the body to his village, he tricks a van driver into transporting an “empty” coffin
Malaka Devapriya got a Special Jury award for the way he directed Bahuchithawadiya (The Undecided). As per the citation, it was a “daring movie that pushes the cultural boundaries of traditional Sri Lankan values, in a humorous and accurate way.”
The film is about the distressing world of lower-middle class underpaid and frustrated youth. Sasitha works as an underpaid delivery boy in an internet-based gift agency. Through it he develops liaisons with bored and sex-starved wealthy women. But soon the horrors of the real world catch up with him and he begins to use Facebook and Skype to have liaison with girls of his own class working overseas.
Like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh too grabbed key awards. Tauquir Ahmed’s Halda about the troubled Halda River in Bangladesh, walked away with the Best Feature Film award. The citation said the film “addresses serious environmental issues of real day-to-day Bangladesh life, emphasizing the struggle of the people through cinematic language. It’s about sustainability of the life of the rural people.”
The Best Cinematographer award went to Enamul Haque Sohel of Bangladesh for his work in Halda. The award was given for “the light and shadow interplay of the lives and drama of the people in the river Halda.” Amit Debnath was given the Best Editor prize for his work in Halda. He was praised for enabling the “fluid and balanced flow of the story.”
Halda got the award for the Best Original Music Score too. The citation praised the work of Tauquir Ahmed, Pinto Ghosh, and Sanzida Mahmood Nandita for its “beautiful conversion of traditional Bangladesh music into contemporary flavour.”
Halda is about the dwindling quantity of fish in the increasingly-polluted Halda River which had been a major breeding ground for fish in Bangladesh for centuries. Driven into abject poverty, fishermen and their women fall prey to the designs of rich men. Fisherwomen were forced into “marriages” with affluent old men who treated them as slaves and not as wives.
Director Tauquir Ahmed had made a gripping film based on his own script written to perfection through 17 drafts. He derives satisfaction from the fact that the Bangladeshi Government woke up to the issue of pollution, and today, Halda river is back to being a major breeding ground of fish.
The Indian child star Vaishnavi Tangde bagged the Best Actress prize for her portrayal of a rural working class girl hungry for a school education to get ahead in life. In the Marathi language film Kshitij (The Horizon), Vaishnavi’s portrayal of the village girl was “honest, innocent and realistic,” the jury said.
Prashant Pandey & Shreya Dev Verma got the Best Screenplay award for their work in the Indian film Poorna. “The film is a triumph of the ‘spirit’ story with a compelling and accurate narration of true events that project the hardships of climbing Mt. Everest.”
Directed by Rahul Bose, Poorna is a true story based on the life of Poorna, the youngest girl to climb Mt. Everest. Though a poor village girl, she does amazingly well in a rock climbing competition, and is picked up for formal training in mountain climbing. She struggles to keep it up but ultimately succeeds in achieving every mountaineer’s dream: to climb the Everest and also be the youngest to do so.
Manouj Kadaamh of India got the Special Jury award for his film Kshitij (The Horizon). Commending his work the citation said that it was a “sincere and relevant portrayal of the need for education of the youths in India, especially young girls.”
The Indian short film GI directed by Kunjila Mascillamani was adjudged the Best Short Film and commended for using the cinematic language to tell a story about a girl’s sacrifice for her grandfather.