In India, a new crop of directors are channelling their creativity towards films that are cheap to make, creatively conducive (for the most part), easy to share and are also garnering audiences like never before. The short film, a current staple in cinematic engagement for millennials, has more than one shiny side. For artists, they have become an alternative to the tremendous resources needed for full-length features and a medium to share their art with the world without having to break into the sealed clubs of industry stalwarts. As for audiences, with minimum time commitment short films are great for modern life’s vortex of distractions and even a welcome slice of entertainment for those inescapable long commuting hours.
Away from the clutches of the notorious censor board and the pressures of box-office numbers, short films have those rare refreshing narratives which are sparse in the commercial cinematic world. Whether it’s presenting untold stories or giving a voice to issues that remain a taboo in Indian society, homegrown short films have proved to be both innovative and daring.
Rummaging through the depths of YouTube for cinematic gems was no less than a herculean task, but we did it, all the same, to bring to you a carefully curated list of some of the boldest and edgy Indian short films. From stories that initiate a conversation around teenage pregnancy to the pathos of a family suffering from the antics of their pet rooster (a hilarious documentary), scroll down for an engaging and equally entertaining time with our list of short films.
I. Syaahi (2017)
Director: Varun Tandon
Syaahi is a simple yet powerful coming-of-age story, about a young boy who rebels against the casual neglect of his parents with an unusually stirring sweetness. When young Vansh is told that he cannot go on a trek organised by his school, he must deal with the disappointment and anger that erupts inside him in isolation. Unable to move his financially distressed folks he decides to take matters into his own hands and then must also subsequently bear its unforeseen repercussions. Unlike mainstream Hindi cinema where child characters are usually tiring know-it-alls or sugar balls of helplessness, Vansh is utterly endearing with an intelligent agency as well as heart-wrenching innocence. The film which won a special mention at the National Film Awards is set in a small picturesque hill town while the background fills with a poignant music score that seamlessly complements the film’s mood.
II. Arrey Baba (2015)
Director: Surya Balakrishnan
Before Akshay Kumar’s Padman had opened the dialogue around women’s menstrual health, Arrey Baba a short film released by Terribly Tiny Talkies had done that with a refreshing understated style. A brief exchange between father and daughter, without mentioning the words “menstrual cycle” or “period”, the film still powerfully initiates a conversation around the often taboo topic of menstruation in India.
III. Maa (2018)
Director: K.M Sarjun
This is the untold story of the repercussions of teenage pregnancy on an average Indian home. An issue often dismissed or worse deemed as non-existent, this Indian film finally gives it a voice. In this 28-minute short, fifteen-year-old Ammu, tells her mother hesitantly that she is pregnant after a sexual encounter with her schoolmate. Her mother Sathya is shocked, anguished, torn between her own social conditioning and her daughter’s immediate emotional needs. Though the film mostly stays away from exploring female sexuality, it starkly reflects social realities. Moreover, it explores the mother-daughter relationship with heart-wrenching poignancy as they struggle to accept the bitter truths of their circumstances.
IV. Chutney (2016)
Director: Jyoti Kapur Das
An unassuming harmless dinner party followed by a seemingly casual chit-chat over pakodas takes a grippingly macabre turn for a riveting cinematic experience in the short film, Chutney. Based in a ‘model town’ of Uttar Pradesh, a wife must find a way to keep her husband from the arms of the local beauty, but without shedding her sheepskin to reveal the hidden wolf within. Compromising a talented cast of Adil Hussain, Sumit Gulati, Rasika Dugal and the star of the show Tisca Chopra, who remain impeccable in the depiction of their complex rural Indian characters. An unusual film, that reveals a new shade of its grotesque enigma, each time you watch it.
V. Tungrus (2018)
Director: Rishi Chandna
Language: Hindi and English
Meet the Bhardes, a regular retired couple living with their grown-up sons and two cats-Ginger and Garlic in a modest apartment of Mumbai’s cramped suburbs. What breaks the normalcy of this picture-perfect family is their nightmarish, pet rooster. A hell-raising bird, it moves faster than the eye can catch, lands on people’s head on a whim while leaving his droppings all over the house. Sameer, the younger son disapproves all together, Aasim the elder one decides to remains diplomatic while Celestine their mother has accepted the bird’s antics as part and parcel of her daily life. The eccentric Nusrat Bharde who though feels a fondness for the creature must ponder on the inevitable decision- how long should he be allowed to flap around the house before being served for dinner? A hilarious documentary with a fair shade of darkness.
VI. Counterfeit Kunkoo
Director: Reema Sengupta
The film made headlines when late last year, it had its world premiere at Sundance Film Festival, one of the most coveted and competitive independent film festivals in the world, and since then has been selected at 40+ international festivals across North America, South America, Europe, Asia and Australia including Oscar-qualifying festivals such as Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival, Palm Springs International Shortfest, Short Shorts Film Festival, Atlanta Film Festival and Rhode Island International Film Festival.
The 15-minute narrative drama talks about housing discrimination, marital rape and reclaiming one’s sexuality. It is an intimate perspective on the idiosyncrasies that come with the misogyny that seeps into our everyday lives. Its selection to the Sundance Film Festival is a landmark in Indian cinema at large because it is the first Indian fiction short to be an official selection at Sundance in the past 15 years.
So far, Counterfeit Kunkoo has won four international awards – Grand Jury - Short Film Special Mention at IFFLA 2018 (Los Angeles, USA), Best Narrative Short at Brooklyn Film Festival 2018 (New York, USA), Best Female Director Award at NRFF 2018 (Netherlands, Amsterdam) and Honorable Mention (International Short Film Competition) at USA Film Festival 2018.
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