Radhika Apte in 'Ahalya', directed by Sujoy Ghosh (screen shot).
Our collective attention span seems to have diminished during this pandemic, and there is a treasure trove of films waiting to be discovered. Not about superheroes or supervillains, but about people you are sure you have met or know. That neighbourhood aunty who’s looking after her old father-in-law, the housewife who knows her husband is cheating on her, young women who learn to face local bullies, and so much more.
India’s finest filmmakers and actors have created these films - some of them go back a few years, and most of them are from channels you can keep going back to for more short. And I can say this with confidence that once you begin watching them, you won’t be able to stop. Here are a few that get better with every watch.
One of the best of the lot is called Anukul. The story was written by none other than Satyajit Ray, and the film is directed by Sujay Ghosh. Parambrata Chatterjee and Saurabh Shukla make this wonderful futuristic story at once human and joyous and a little creepy.
Speaking of slightly creepy, Sujoy Ghosh’s Ahalya is an incredible story that has Ray Bradbury vibes. He writes and directs this film that stars Soumitra Chetterjee and Radhika Apte.
I promise you that you will look suspiciously at dolls after seeing this film!
Speaking of Radhika Apte, she plays a psychologist to one of my favourite actors in a film called Kriti. This little film shows how amazing Manoj Bajpayee is.
If you want to see Manoj Bajpayee’s vulnerable side, then watch this next film called Ouch. And every time someone says let’s go buy a suitcase, you will remember this film. It’s a wonderful story of an extra-marital affair, and I would give Manoj Bajpayee all the acting awards for that one moment where he looks at the bed with longing, trying to persuade his reluctant girlfriend to do ‘araam’ inside.
Speaking of cheating spouses, the most amazing stories come out of nowhere. This one is called Chutney, and it stays in a middle-class colony. The director Jyoti Kapoor Das will make you look at the humble green mint chutney with awe.
Tisca Chopra calmly takes care of things in another film called Chhuri. You’ll wish more women would turn into this sharp knife in real life.
The smile on her face when she drives away from the lover’s home is what makes you approve of her method of dealing with her home situation. The husband is played by none other than Anurag Kashyap, who has not only given us films everyone wants to emulate, but has been seen in front of the camera as well.
The setting is like any other home, where advice is easy to give, but no real help is offered. It takes courage to step up and defend your space. The story of bullies is reiterated everywhere you look, and it gives you hope that someday women will not shy away from taking the bull by the horns.
Did I get too serious? Short films are fun too. And this one has two outstanding actors. Neena Gupta has always made every role hers, whether she’s cast as a high-society type or this housewife. And yes, you will love figuring out all the short films in which Jackie Shroff acts and then you will discover that there is more to him than what he’s played on the big screen. The film is called Khujli. Guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
There are some brilliant short films in Marathi as well. The story is universal, and you will be surprised when a very ordinary ‘marriage’ proposal visit turns out to be something rather fun and unexpected. A little explanation: in traditional Marathi households, during a matchmaking visit, poha is made. The filmmaker marries tradition to very modern social media… See this Kaande Pohe for yourself:
From a fun filled story about youth to the longing of an elderly man on film. The veteran actor Mohan Agashe expresses everything all parents who are living away from their children feel. The film Odh is Marathi but the tears you will share are universal.
When it comes to fathers, Sanjay Mishra plays a very smart game with his grown-up children. The film Adheen showcases Sanjay Mishra’s talent like nothing else. The film is so good, you can smell the various smells he describes. And the zinger he throws at the kids is brilliant.
But not all elderly men are kind and sweet. The film TeaSpoon is short, but the old man manages to irritate anyone watching him. The guilt his daughter-in-law feels is real as well.
A film called That Gusty Morning holds a very special place in my heart. I have seen friends and family lose their elders to loss of memory. And Seema Biswas is just magnificent. Filmmaker Jahnu Barua offers hope against hopelessness and covers you up in a warm blanket even though you know that the end will be bleak.
Not all short films that you will watch are amazing. I watched a sci-fi film with Nawazuddin Siddiqui playing a man from Mars and Jackky Bhagnani as an action hero with an artificial heart and hated it. There were strange haunted roti dough in the fridge, creepy murderous neighbour ideas that did not translate into a ‘wow’ film. Even Sakshi Tanwar’s housewife who rebels in a film aptly titled Ghar Ki Murgi did not have an ending that made me believe she broke any shackles.
But when you see Naseeruddin Shah rediscover love in a film called Interior Cafe Night, you watch mesmerised because he speaks in his silences. This is a lovely film about past and present, and second chances with your first love:
He also plays a chef in an interesting film about conversations and regrets at the dinner table called Rogan Josh. The film is lovely despite the obvious emotional manipulation. It’s on YouTube, if you wish to watch it.
As they say, you should always save the best for the last. That place is occupied by Neeraj Ghaywan’s film called Juice. It shows Shefali Shah at her best. With one gesture, she breaks so many accepted annoying patriarchal ways, it is marvelous. If something like this is happening when you meet with friends, you know what to watch out for.
Short films offer a taste of love, unhappiness, joy and despair. They’re tiny miracles and I am grateful for them all!
Manisha Lakhe is a poet, film critic, traveller, founder of Caferati — an online writer’s forum, hosts Mumbai’s oldest open mic, and teaches advertising, films and communication.