The Indian Institute for Human Settlements has been organising the Urban Lens festival since 2013. The festival examines the links between cities and cinema, and includes in its line-up-up a mix of contemporary documentaries from India and around the world as well as older titles. This year’s edition has had screenings in Bengaluru, and will travel to Delhi from November 16-18 and later to Mumbai on December 7 and 8.
Subasri Krishnan, a documentary filmmaker and the head of the IIHS Media Lab, which programmes the festival, tells us what to expect from this year’s edition. “There is a whole world where different types of films are being made,” Krishnan observed. “There is certainly an urban imagination in many of the works you see, and that is the intent of the programme.”
Among the films being shown in the Delhi chapter are Jamnapaar. Sri Aurobindo Centre for Arts and Communication alumnus Abhinava Bhattacharya’s film is a sensory exploration of life along Delhi’s polluted Jamuna river, which sustains as well as threatens.
Bismaar Ghar, National Institute of Design student Shreyas Dasharathe’s Ahmedabad-set film, captures the difference between a house and a home. An elderly couple and their relative get set to move out of their rickety, century-old abode into a new apartment. The house that they are set to vacate is small, and furniture is crammed into every available ledge and orifice, but it is home.
In Please Mind the Gap by Mitali Trivedi and Gagandeep Singh, a trans man shares his experiences of using the Delhi Metro railway network. “It has mostly been shot on a mobile phone on the Delhi Metro – it’s interesting to look at how technology is enabling certain films,” Krishnan said.
Portrait of a City is one from the vault: scholar and director Chidananda Dasgupta’s city film from 1961 is a tribute to the sights and sounds of Kolkata. “We like films that were made a while ago,” Krishnan said. “Each generation discovers a new meaning for cinema in a completely different way.” That is why the list of films this year include Eric Rohmer’s Changing Landscapes (1964).
Uli Gaulke’s 90-minute documentary As Time Goes by in Shanghai is an account of Shanghai as well as its oldest jazz band. The Peace Hotel Jazz Band has members ranging from the sixties to the nineties. As they prepare to travel to a jazz festival in the Netherlands, the jazz musicians provide a snappy history of their city and their country’s eventful past. “It’s interesting to see how their music reflects the history of Shanghai itself,” Krishnan observed.
Much more than the physical demolition of a Soviet-era textile factory is at stake in Chinese director Wang Yang’s film. Weaving explores the event through two families, which must assess and adapt to the massive changes that are soon coming their way. “A friend recommended the film to me – it is able to communicate the experience of what change means in a very real sense,” Krishnan said.
Urdu poet Sughra Fatima and her niece, student activist Khadija Ansari, were raised in Farangi Mahal, a historically important centre of Islamic education in Lucknow. Uma Chakravarti’s documentary Ek Inquilab Aur Aaya finds out what it is in the water of Farangi Mahal that shaped these women, and others.
Avijit Mukul Kishore’s latest documentary Squeeze Lime in Your Eye is named after the show that marked architecture professor Kausik Mukhopadhyay’s return to the art scene. The film examines Mukhopadhyay’s practice of creating new works out of found and discarded objects. “It’s a very urban film about the artist and his work, and we are closing with it,” Krishnan said.