Spotlight: 10 Must-Watch Indian Documentaries To Watch in 2015

After the dream run for documentaries like The World Before Her, Fire In The Blood and Gulabi Gang last year, the Indian viewer’s appetite for non-fiction is at an all-time high. This year, too, seems to have taken up after 2014, bringing to us a number of stellar films in the non-fiction sphere. From addressing crucial topics like rape to painting a lovable picture of a transcontinental marriage, tracing the times of an American filmmaker who shaped the Tamil film industry in the 30s and taking stock of the dying art of street performances, the range of subjects these films explore are far, wide and extremely interesting. Here’s our pick of 10 Indian documentaries that you must watch in 2015 (in alphabetical order):
1. Amma and Appa
Directed by: Franziska Schönenberger and Jayakrishnan Subramanian

Why watch it? A light-hearted film directed by Franziska and her fiance Jayakrishnan, Amma and Appa is essentially the story of two couples from entirely different cultures and how they learn to accept each other when their children fall in love. The filmmakers who met each other as students in Germany decided to document the story of how their parents came to terms with each other during their first meeting which happened in India. It is a fun watch and had a successful run at the Berlin International Film Festival, where it premiered last year, and at the MAMI Mumbai Film Festival here. With soothing Ilayaraja scores in the background, the film is a humorous and sensitive portrayal of both the similarities and differences in the culture and the lives of the two couples.

2. An American in Madras
Directed by: Karan Bali

Why watch it? The film tells the story of American filmmaker Ellis R Dungan and how he shaped the Tamil film industry in the 1930s to the 50s. The filmmaker, known for his works like Sathi Leelavathi and Sakuntalai, was the one who introduced the legendary actor-politician M G Ramachandran (MGR) in his debut film. In An American In Madras, biggies like Kamal Haasan and K. Hariharan speak about Dungan’s contribution to establishing a style and language which was later picked on, followed and further developed by those who came after him. The film was screened at IFFI, Goa, last year, as well as international festivals like South Asian International Documentary Festival, New York Indian Film Festival, London Indian Film Festival and Prague Indian Film Festival among others.

3. Being Bhaijaan
Directed by: Shabani Hassanwalia and Samreen Farooqui

Why watch it? Produced by the Public Service Broadcasting Trust, the film is a commentary on Indian masculinity and Salman Khan’s impact on it. Filmmakers Shabani and Samreen follow three Salman Khan fans in Nagpur and Chhindwara–Shan Ghosh, Balram and Bhaskar–who have modelled themselves after ‘Bhaijaan’ as an escape from their mundane lives in their sleepy hometowns. They go to any extent to emulate their hero, with Shan sweating it out in the gym for hours and even abstaining from sex and marriage till the time Salman Khan gets hitched. At 80 minutes, the film is an easy watch and tackles some amusing social constructs in a light-hearted way.

4. In Their Shoes
Directed by: Atul Sabharwal

Why watch it? A deeply personal film centred around the shoe industry in Agra and the people who are engaged in it. What makes it an interesting watch is that the filmmaker, whose father was in the shoe business, makes an appearance in the film, which is his personal attempt to learn about the legacy of his family business. The 92-minute-long film takes us through the crowded, narrow alleys of Agra and introduces us to the many faces behind the trade through interviews with footwear artisans, traders, manufacturers, exporters and government officials. In Their Shoes, thus, traces the tale of the shoe industry and the men who built it and what has changed for them and the business because of global events like India-Pakistan Partition, rise of the USSR, Solidarnosc movement of Poland, the collapse of Berlin Wall and opening of trade economies. In Their Shoes releases in India on March 13, 2015.

5. Jai Ho
Directed by: Umesh Aggarwal

Why watch it? Now this one is a no-brainer! Anyone who has been following Oscar-winning composer A.R. Rahman and his work knows by now how elusive and reclusive this musical genius is in real life. Any chance to get to know the real man who creates magic with his tunes is always welcome. Commissioned by Public Service Broadcasting Trust, Jai Ho offers a look at the man and explores what his work mean to those around him. With interviews of filmmakers, singers and musicians who have worked with Rahman, from Shekhar Kapur to Mani Ratnam, Danny Boyle and Andrew Llyod Webber, we hope this film will offer us a peek into the real story behind what made him the ‘Mozart of Madras’.

6. Muzzafarnagar Abhi Baaki Hai
Directed by: Nakul Singh Sawhney

Why watch it? Following on the lines of Anand Patwardhan’s Raam Ke Naam and Rakesh Sharma’s Final Solution, this 136-minute-long film travels to the riot-affected Muzzafarnagar area and brings out the voices of locals, survivors and the authorities. The film was screened earlier this month at Aligarh Muslim University amid protests from Samajwadi Party workers. Considering the current mood set by the Censor Board in the country, we doubt if the documentary will ever get a chance to be shown in theatres here, but do catch it if it is being screened at a festival or in an academic institution near you.

7. Placebo
Directed by: Abhay Kumar

Why watch it? A hybrid documentary which takes us deep inside the twisted minds of the most brilliant thinkers of the country. The filmmaker, who went undercover for a year, follows four students in one of the most prestigious medical schools of India after having witnessed an act of brutal violence. Using some brilliant animated sections to paint this dark, yet fascinating journey, Placebo shows how far these boys would go to fulfil their ambitions. Currently in its last stages of production, the film, which is produced by Storyteller Ink. is a brave attempt and portrays how extremely high intelligence can sometimes prove to be more of a bane than a boon.

8. Proposition For A Revolution
Directed by: Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla

Why watch it? With Arvind Kejriwal’s rise to power in Delhi, now is the best time to take a look at AAP’s humble beginnings and this film offers just that. Chronicling the formation of the Aam Admi Party from December 2012 to the Delhi state elections of December 2013, the film was supported by Anand Gandhi and made some buzz when the filmmakers rolled out a crowd-funding campaign to fund its post-production last year. The project, which also won the IDFA Bertha Fund for documentaries, offers an exclusive look at the initial internal meetings of AAP and traces its transformation from a protest group to a political party

9. Riders Of The Mist

Directed by: Roopa Baruah

 

Why watch it? An energetic documentary about a century-old tradition of bareback pony racing in Assam’s Jorhat, Riders Of The Mist brings to us the world of races, jockeys, planters and most importantly the horses. The poor ponies, who cross the Brahmaputra river to reach the grasslands to graze, are the main attraction at the annual racing event held at the colonial-era planter’s club. The heavy mist that hovers over Jorhat during this time of the year lends itself as a fitting background to this quirky tradition which has been going on for 133 years now. A glimpse into a world unknown to most of us, the film promises to offer an interesting look at the land and its people.
10. Tomorrow We Disappear
Directed by: Jimmy Goldblum and Adam Weber
Why watch it? It is a story we have heard before–how in the name of redevelopment slums get swiped off. But what if this slum is home to folk traditions like puppetry and magic? The Kathputli colony of Delhi and the performing artists who inhabit it are on the verge of extinction as their land is sold to developers to be bulldozed and transformed into luxury high-rises. The film captures their efforts to keep their art alive. It raises pertinent questions like who is this development for, and why should we be forced into someone else’s vision of the future? Does progress mean the same to you and me? Vibrant, sensitive and poignant, Tomorrow We Disappear brings to the forefront the irony of dying performing arts in a time where our leaders are talking endlessly about “preserving Indian culture”. The documentary was premiered in competition at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival and Hot Docs International Documentary Festival.
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