By Vivek Menezes
The peacock squawks, but who is listening? This year’s bizarre and inexplicably conceived pandemic-times edition of the International Film Festival of India requires many separate stretches of our imagination. Is it possible to hold a mass-gathering event in the age of contagion? Will our fellow-citizens maintain the protocols necessary to keep us all safe? So far, we cannot be sure.
But we still have the movies. The reason thousands have registered, and hundreds show up at each screening, all despite the risks, is the fact we can watch films that would never otherwise show up on the commercial radar, or our screens in India. IFFI 2021 is problematic, hasty, and potentially rash, but it has also brought us an extraordinary bonanza of movies. This is art at its highest apex: our lives become transformed in their presence.
We believe this fervently, but you may be surprised to learn that Team Peacock doesn’t get much time to watch anything at the International Film Festival of India. We read, we learn, we study and we know: but the daily pressure and hassle of getting out daily editions of our accustomed quality makes it impossible to take much time out. We leave our windowless bunker max one or two times per cinema fiesta.
This year’s first such excursion was at The Death of Cinema and My Father Too (2020) from Israel and the director Dani Rosenberg. It was powerful, and profound, and pushed the limits between reality and fiction. There was an omnipresent narrative conundrum: who tells our story, and where does it begin and end? This directory – convulsed with grief – blurred both. His father was present, but also an actor. His story was his life, yet also something different.
These are the many layers of cinema, which brings us back again and again, and in this case compelled Team Peacock to show up and sit down even in pandemic conditions. We teared up individually and ensemble, and then we walked out slowly shaking our heads about the experience. In the span of just over an hour, we had spun away from the Mandovi riverfront of Panjim and plunged deep into the family life of a tiny coterie in Israel. It was diversion, and deeply meaningful, and meant the world.