India Features

What To Watch: Films That Explore The Idea of Freedom You Can Stream Today

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What to stream this Independence Day? We’ve got you covered with our recommendations of movies that revisit the history of Indian Independence, bring us accounts from the aftermath of Partition, the conflict in Kashmir and North-East India, and personal stories that delve into the lives of people living in India today and ask us what freedom really means.

Vasthuhara, 1991

Vasthuhara/Dispossessed, directed by G Aravindan, features Mohanlal, Neena Gupta, Shobana and Nilanjana Mitra. Adapted from a short story written by CV Sreeraman, this is one of the most authentic portrayals of the chaos that the British left behind in India in 1947. Set in 1971, Vasthuhara takes off from where Nemai Ghosh’s Chinnamul (The Uprooted) culminated.

Twenty years since the Partition, Kolkata is overflowing with refugees from East Bengal who moved to India as the state’s ‘permanent liabilities’. Violence has subsided, but sufferings haven’t. Refugees are still roofless and deprived. There are no jobs, and the socio-political atmosphere is tumultuous. Aravindan looks at the situation through the eyes of Venu (Mohanlal), a young government officer from Kerala who is on a mission in Kolkata to rehabilitate a section of the refugees to Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The film was named the best feature film in Malayalam in the National Film Awards, 1991.

Vasthuhara is available for streaming on YouTube.

Sudani from Nigeria, 2018

In Sudani from Nigeria, directed by  Zakhariya, a young footballer from conflict-ridden Nigeria and a cash-strapped football team manager in Malappuram form an unlikely bond. Set in a nondescript Malabar small-town, the film portrays the beauty of everyday life and delves into the inner conflict of people who live on the margins of the society. It does all this with an admirable touch of humour. Sudani From Nigeria has won several awards, including a National Film Award for the best Malayalam film. It is available for streaming on Netflix. 

To Let, 2017

Written, directed and filmed by Chezhiyan, and produced by his wife Premi, this National Award-winning film based on real incidents is the story of a couple in search of a home in the midst of the IT boom in Chennai in the 2000s. Ilango (Santhosh Sreeram) is an aspiring script writer and his wife Amudha (Suseela) manages the home and son’s education on his meagre income. Ilango and Amudha are an inter-caste and inter-religious couple. After they’re ordered to vacate their house without any notice by their landlady, they set out on a seemingly unending ordeal of house hunting. They are repeatedly refused homes because of their caste and food habits. The film highlights the terror that caste and class inflict on people in the urban India, and the tragedy of development that leaves behind scores of people.

It is available for streaming on Amazon Prime. Watch the trailer on YouTube.

Subarnarekha, 1965

Ritwik Ghatak was a Bengali partition chronicler who made Subarnarekha as part of a trilogy including Meghe Dhaka Tara (1960) and Komal Gandhar (1961). The three films were about the aftermath of Partition  in 1947. Iswar Chakraborty (Abhi Bhattacharya), the protagonist of this film, is a refugee from Bangladesh who moves to West Bengal with his sister, and they take in a lower caste boy from Bangladesh who tries to enter the camp but is refused. The film is set in a refugee camp and is one Ghatak’s most graphic and moving accounts that look at homelessness after partition, reminding us of the lives of scores of refugees who cope with Partition and have had to leave home for various reasons in different parts of India. The film was made in 1962, but could not release until 1965. It is considered a Ritwik Ghatak classic. Watch the film on YouTube.

Jashn-e-Azadi, 2016

Jashn-e-Azadi is a documentary made in 2007 that released online in 2016 after facing multiple controversies and crackdowns by the police on public screenings of the film. Written and directed by Sanjay Kak, Jashn-e-Azadi is one of the few films online that deal with the Kashmir conflict. The film uses archival footage from the 1990s and is about the lives of protesters and militants. Kak also interviews people in present-day Kashmir who paint an agonising picture of their lives as victims of conflict. The title Jashn-e-Azadi means ‘Celebration Of Freedom’ and the film explains what azadi means to the Kashmiris. It has a run time of two hours, and has been uploaded in two parts on YouTube.

August 15, 2019

Netflix’s latest August 15 is a Marathi film directed by Swapnaneel Jaykar and produced by Madhuri Dixit. The film is set in Gandhi Chowk in Mumbai and opens with the residents of the chowk gearing up for their annual flag-hoisting ceremony. The two parallel stories in the film are that of Ninad (Aaryan Menghji), a young boy whose hand gets stuck in the hole meant to prop up the flagpole, and Jui (Mrinmayee Deshpande) who wants to elope from her house with her lover Amit (Rahul Pethe), while her parents try and set up her marriage with an NRI boy. The film is a love story that also asks if the common Indian is truly free. It has an interesting premise and is humourous.

All caught up? We’ve got more

Our recommendation also includes Sasha Rainbow’s award-winning Kamali, a short film on the nine-year-old skateboarding sensation Kamali from Mamallapuram, who breaks the shackles of tradition and is the only girl skateboarder in the area. The film is yet to release online. Watch the trailer here.

We also recommend Lynch Nation, a crowd-funded documentary that records the lynchings by cow vigilantes targeting Muslims and Dalits in North India since 2014. The trailer is up on YouTube. The film is currently being screened across India but is facing protests from the Modi-led Central Government which is reportedly against the movie being uploaded online.

Feature image courtesy: ‘Vasthuhara’ still from Upperstall.com

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