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Lalit Rao


Mr. Lalit Rao is a film critic from Jaipur, India, FIPRESCI India member. He is currently writing a book on 25 best French films (1990-2015). Apart from ''World Cinema'', he is interested in chess, foreign languages, linguistics and philosophy. Mr. Lalit Rao is advisory board (World Cinema) member of RIFF [Rajasthan International Film Festival]. He is also the associate editor of the quarterly magazine "Cinematography Art". Mr. Lalit Rao has reported extensively on film festivals especially 'World Cinema' through more than 40 blogs and 8 videos channels. Cinema journal ‘Deep Focus’, and ‘Bangalore Film Society’ were represented by him as their correspondent in Paris for 2005-2006. He also presented a paper on Canadian cinema entitled ‘A brief overview of Francophone cinema in Québec’ during 20th International Conference on Canadian Studies, University of Rajasthan, Jaipur, 27-29 February, 2004. Apart from writing 1000 reviews on IMDB, Mr. Lalit Rao has created KINEMA, a database with information on 25,000 films. His articles in French and English have appeared in Deep Focus, Kinoglaz, Objectif-Cinema, Sancho Does Asia and Séquences. Mr.Lalit Rao studied Master 2 at Université de Paris 3 Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris where he worked on ‘Distribution of Indian cinema’ in France. As a film critic, Mr. Lalit Rao has attended numerous film festivals in France and India.

 


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Straddling between different genres-Malayalam cinema director Dr.Biju and his films by Mr.Lalit Rao [FIPRESCI]

The world of cinema is full of surprises. One needs to learn the intricacies involved with this art in order to transform words into images. Hence, it is not so often that an ordinary layman can think of embarking on a creative journey in order to become a filmmaker merely by watching some good Iranian and Turkish films shown at film festivals. However, Bijukumar Damodaran is a very strong exception to this rule. In his native Kerala, South India, he is more commonly known as Dr.Biju.  As a self taught filmmaker and a practicing homoeopathic doctor, he has made 7 films in a career which started in 2005 with his début film “Saira”. It was in 2016 that he directed his latest film “Kaadu Pookkunna Neram” (When the woods bloom). 
 
Although his films are largely set in Kerala but ethical, moral and philosophical concerns raised by them are absolutely universal in nature. An astute viewer can easily identify universal themes ranging from environmental protection, rich versus poor, strong versus weak and terrorism in his films. Watching his films, one observes how director Bijukumar Damodaran strives to make appropriate use of different genres in order to create films which are unique in their treatment of stories. Whether it is a road movie Veettilekkulla Vazhi (The way home) or a docudrama Perariyathavar (Names Unknown), Dr.Biju is able to weave a different story with each new film.
 
Director Bijukumar Damodaran began his cinematic journey in 2005 with his début feature “Saira” which was the first chapter of his trilogy of films about terrorism.  Based on events which took place in Kerala, Saira is a humane, poignant tale about a music maestro belonging to the minority community who loses his daughter, a television reporter, due to communal riots. In Saira, Dr.Biju depicted how innocent people especially children and women become victims of internecine strife. Despite its simple narrative structure, Saira managed to capture viewers’ interest both in India as well as abroad. Secular aficionados are likely to take a valuable lesson from “Saira” especially from a scene in which the musical maestro declares his unconditional love for his country at the cost of saving his beloved daughter’s life. Apart from having featured in Indian panorama section during 38th IFFI 2007, ‘Saira’ was shown in “Tous les cinemas du Monde” section during 60th Cannes International Film Festival 2007.
 
Enthused by the success and the reception which ‘Saira’ got from different film festivals, Dr.Biju helmed his second feature ‘Raman’ (Travelogue of invasion) in 2008. In many ways, it was a natural progression for the director. It was an extension of his concerns for the weak whose voice was not being heard amidst the din of violence. There are a few crucial differences between Dr.Biju’s first and second films. While ‘Saira’ depicted how persons from minority community become victims due to circumstances beyond their comprehension and control, in “Raman”, it was an innocent man from the majority community whose life was shattered as a result of a bigger war, Iraq’s invasion by USA. Shot in a cinema-vérité style, ‘Raman’ portrays its eponymous protagonist’s concern for poor as well as helpless denizens. In one of the moving scenes, he is seen providing food to a family which has been rendered miserable due to a tragic suicide. Actor Anoop Chandran stands out as Raman, a person whose innocence makes him a popular figure among children. In a narrative which runs parallel to his travails, he is ably supported by a documentary filmmaker Diya Raman (Avantika Akerkar) who is making a film about imperialist tendencies of USA.  
 
The cinematic canvas increased manifold  for Bijukumar Damodaran when he directed his third feature film Veettilekkulla Vazhi (The Way Home) in 2011. Shot in a road movie format at exotic locales in Kerala, Rajasthan and Ladakh, it was the last part of his ‘Terrorism’ trilogy. It was also the first film in which the leading role was played by a ‘star’ contrary to ‘actors’ working in his previous two films. In this film, Malayalam cinema’s Superstar Prithviraj plays the role of a doctor who puts his life at risk in order to reunite a little boy with this father. Although he has lost members of his dear family in a tragic incident, his faith in humanity hasn’t waned at all. ‘The way home’ is capable of winning viewers’ hearts as suspense is maintained till the very end. There are moments in this film where ordinary human beings are shown doing extraordinary things in order to restore their faith in humanity. It is not so often that one sees a Kerala film crew in Rajasthan. This film would enable all viewers to appreciate the beauty of rugged terrains which have now become a common feature of modern Indian cinema.  
 
In our daily lives, we observe how it is easy for any person to force oneself upon other people. However, it is difficult to adjust in new surroundings if the tables are turned. What happens when the oppressor becomes an oppressed entity ? This precise existential dilemma has been subtly captured by Dr.Biju in his fourth film “Akasathinte Niram” (Color of Sky). Shot in magnificent locations of Andaman and Nicobar islands, ‘Color of sky’ is a visually stunning allegorical tale about various behavioral changes which a petty thief experiences when he decides to rob an old man. It is after living with various people on an isolated island that the protagonist learns that as the sky has no definite color, human beings too don’t have any definite nature. Observing other people and their altruistic pursuits to make lives better, the protagonist is able to recognize that it is only goodness which defines true essence of human beings. Apart from its world premiere at Shanghai International Film Festival 2012, ‘Color of sky’ was feted at over 16 film festivals. 
 
There are various reasons which suggest that ‘Perariyathavar’ (Names Unknown) is Dr.Biju’s best film. It is one of the brutally frank yet honest depictions in the recent Indian cinema of poor, nameless, marginalized people who don’t have any voice. Although it is a pure work of fiction, incidents dealt in the film  such as dumping of garbage in villages, prosecution of tribal people in the name of development  have all become commonplace in Kerala for a long time. ‘Names Unknown’ has been shot through the naïve perspective of a kid who goes on to observe innumerable vignettes of daily life with his father. Watching this docu-drama, one learns that life is not a bed of roses for ordinary people especially outsiders in Kerala by observing how most workers in construction business are not from Kerala. ‘Names unknown’ bagged best film on environment conservation/preservation award at the 61st National Film Awards Of India, 2013. Actor Suraj Venjaramoodu was awarded the Best Actor Award. He is ably supported by young actor Master Govardhan who has acted in many of his father’s films. 
 
It is with his sixth film, “Valiya Chirakula Pakshikal” (Birds with Large Wings) that Dr.Biju proved that cinema can also be used as an effective medium to voice the concerns of the people who have become victims of government apathy. This film portrays the involvement of a photojournalist who captures pictures to highlight the ill effects of Endosulfan pesticide on the inhabitants of Kasargod, Kerala. He uses these photographs on an international level to enforce a complete ban on Endosulfan usage in India. Apart from good performances by famous Malayalam cinema actors Kunchako Boban, Prakash Bare and Anumol, actual victims of Endosulfan tragedy played their own roles with great maturity.
 
In the context of Dr. Biju’s films, it can be said that he has a natural flair for inventing new forms of narration. However, as he combines social messages with his films, his films achieve a higher status than merely being visual stories. This distinction is aptly visible in his latest film “Kaadu Pookkunna Neram” (When the woods bloom). In this film, a valiant attempt has been made to answer a tough yet fundamental question related to the Maoist movement in India. “How does one define a Maoist” ? is a question for which there is hardly any concise, straight answer. This is the dilemma faced by a policeman when he arrests a suspected Maoist woman in a forest. It gives rise to a whole series of connected themes such as power of the gun, male versus female relationship and the role of police in dealing with a common man.
 
Dr.Biju aims to broaden cinematographic horizons for his eight film which he plans to shoot in a Saudi Arabian desert. It can be surmised that it would be as interesting and pertinent as his previous works.
 
© Mr.Lalit Rao (FIPRESCI)
 

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About Lalit Rao

RAO Lalit

Mr. Lalit Rao (member-FIPRESCI) writes for this website on a regular basis as a film critic publishing reviews on his profile

In February 2017, he participated as jury member during  9th Bangalore International Film Festival 2017.

In 2014, he attended 19th International Film Festival of Kerala 2014 as a member of film critics’ jury.

As a film critic, Mr.Lalit Rao has attended film festivals in India as well as France namely International Film Festival of India (IFFI), International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK), Festival International de Films de Femmes de Créteil, Paris : Cinéma du Réel-Festival International de films documentaires, Est-ce ainsi que les hommes vivent? Saint-Denis, Rencontres Internationales du Cinéma de Patrimoine, Vincennes & Festival International des Cinémas d'Asie, Vesoul. 


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