Urban Lens 2014

Entry for the Film Festival is free. All are welcome!

In the second edition of Urban Lens film festival, the Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS) brings you over 35 non-fiction films from India, South Africa, Peru, Chile, Colombia and Canada. The festival which will run from 26th to 28thSeptember 2014, is an attempt to engage with how the ‘city’ has found a cinematic expression in non-fiction films over a period of time.


Each film that is part of this festival will explore different facets of what the city produces – whether political, social, economic or cultural. Deepa Dhanraj’s classic documentary film Kya Hua Is Shehar Ko looks at the communal riots of Hyderabad while Saba Dewan’s The Other Song chronicles the life of the singer Rasoolan Bai from Varanasi and women and work in the early 20th century. Anriban Dutta’s Wasted takes a philosophical look at the idea of waste in our cities, Priya Sen’s Noon Day Dispensary, a video series from the Savda-Ghevra Resettlement disrupts easy narratives around eviction, resettlement and city planning and Gitanjali Rao’s animation film Printed Rainbow explores the loneliness of an old woman and her cat, and their fantastical journey. We hope that questions around non-fiction films’ form and its relation to the urban will emerge through the screenings and conversations that take place at the festival.


This year’s festival will also feature international films, such as Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg, a docu-fantasia about his home-town Winnipeg in Canada, Heddy Honigmann’s El Olvido, a movie about a forgotten city and its people and Dear Mandela by Dara Kell and Chistopher Nizza which documents the remarkable story of Abahlali baseMjondolo, the largest movement of the poor to emerge in post-apartheid South Africa.


This Urban Lens film festival will also have specially curated package of films from the Films Division archive, special screenings and a public talk, in this year’s edition. The selection from the Films Division archive called ‘The Visual Grammar of Nation Building’ is a representative package of films made in the first three decades after independence, reflecting the preoccupations and aspirations of the young nation. It is also a study of the language, diversity and power of the documentary form.  As part of special screenings, we will be showing Patricio Guzman’s Nostalgia for the Light and Rajula Shah’s Sabad Nirantar. The public talk will be given by Rohan Shivkumar who will speak about the nature of spaces within the city of Mumbai, which enable and facilitate the film industry there in his talk titled Producing Images, Consuming Images – The spaces of the film industry in Mumbai.


We hope that through the screenings and conversations that take place during the Urban Lens film festival 2014, a different imagination of the urban and cinema can emerge.

Certified Universal
Dir: Avijit Mukul Kishore
Synopsis | Trailer
Cities on Speed: Bogota Change
Dir: Andreas Dalsgaard
City of Photos
Dir: Nishtha Jain
Dear Mandela
Dir: Dara Kell & Christopher Nizza
Synopsis | Trailer
El Olvido
Dir: Heddy Honigmann
Synopsis | Trailer
Kya Hua Is Shahar Ko?
Dir: Deepa Dhanraj
Memory of a Light
Dir: Sandhya Kumar
Synopsis | Trailer
Miyar House
Dir: Ramachandra PN
Synopsis | Trailer
Morality TV and Loving Jehad
Dir: Paromita Vohra
Synopsis | Trailer
My Winnipeg
Dir: Guy Maddin
Synopsis | Trailer
Noon Day Dispensary
Dir: Priya Sen
Dir: Ekta Mittal & Yashaswini Raghunandan
Synopsis | Trailer
Printed Rainbow
Dir: Gitanjali Rao
Synopsis | Trailer
The Other Song
Dir: Saba Dewan
Dir: Spandan Banerjee
Synopsis | Trailer
Tracing Bylanes
Dir: Surabhi Sharma
Synopsis | Trailer
Dir: Anirban Datta
Synopsis | Trailer
Where the Clouds End
Dir: Wanphrang K Diengdoh
Synopsis | Trailer1Trailer2  |

The Visual Grammar of Nation Building

Films Division, Government of India, is the second largest state-run documentary-producing organisation in the world, the largest ones being its equivalents in the former Soviet Union. It was formed in 1948, with the mandate of recording the visual history of the newly formed nation, using the medium of documentary film. This was seen as a suitable medium for informing and instructing the people of the country with the zeal of creating an ideal nation with ideal citizens. The Films Division archive is a rich repository of the state’s rendition of visual history, with over 8000 films made in 14 languages.


The Visual Grammar of Nation Building is a representative package of films that reflect the state’s record of the first three decades of Indian history and therefore a history of the documentary film itself. The films examine the preoccupations of the young nation, with an emphasis on national integration, infrastructure creation and the state’s counsel to put the nation before the self in the context of two wars – with China in 1962 and Pakistan in 1971. The films look at two major turns in India’s history and politics with the demise of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in 1965 and the imposition of national emergency in 1975 and the subjects of social unrest, population growth and migration in this context.


The language and form of these films makes an interesting study, as do the distinct departures within them with voices that radically interrogate and subvert the agenda of state propaganda. These departures are almost always expressed through formal innovation, irony and humour, creating films that are disturbing and delightful at the same time. These films give us a framework for viewing national propaganda in the present day oversaturated scheme of 24-hour news.

Day 1

Voice of India
Directed by VR Sharma, English, B/W, 1951, 11 min


This is a kaleidoscopic view of the varied activities of the All India Radio network. The film talks of the role of the radio as a powerful tool of communication, broadcasting in several Indian languages to inform and entertain people. One can catch glimpses of eminent musicians, broadcasters, film actors and politicians in this film.

Symbol of Progress
Directed by NS Thapa, English, B/W, 1965, 14 min



This film talks of the gigantic and iconic Bhakra Nangal Dam. It talks of the engineering marvel that transformed an arid sandy waste in the Punjab into a huge lake, with two power houses, which irrigated two and a half million hectares of land. It stresses the ideals of nation building through the construction of large infrastructure projects.

Good Manners
Directed by A Bhaskar Rao, English, B/W, 1954, 11 min


A nation’s culture is a measure of its maturity. Culture, however, is a living reality and our daily lives reflect in how we behave towards one another. The film approaches this subject and emphasises the need for consideration of others, through good manners, which the film sees as the foundation of culture. Using humour, often at the expense of the film’s fictional characters, the films tries to instruct us into becoming good citizens.

Gift for the Nation
Directed by Dilip Jamdar, English, B/W, 1962, 2 min



This “quickie” advises the citizens of India to place gold jewellery on the national altar to meet the emergency in the wake of the Indo-China war.

Thoughts in a Museum
Directed by S. Sukhdev, English, B/W, 1968, 20 min


This film is a dark, brooding walk through the Nehru Memorial Museum at Teen Murti Bhavan in Delhi. It starts by stating that it is a reconstruction of history by using a collection of images from earlier documentaries and newsreels of Films Division. Some beautiful and rarely seen footage of Pandit Nehru in his official journeys and personal moments is made poignant in the context of his demise and his house being turned into a museum. What looks like a fairly straightforward “tribute” film, keeps knocking us into a sense of disorientation and loss, with its departures from the accepted “documentary” film language. The archival footage becomes a statement on memory, recording and forgetting, with its different degrees of ageing.

Day 2

Directed by Pramod Pati, Music, B/W, 1970, 4 min


Trip is a wildly experimental portrait of Mumbai, set to music by Vijay Raghav Rao. The film uses a series of time-lapse sequences of the city’s iconic landmarks through a repetitive cycle from morning till night.

I am Twenty
Directed by SNS Sastry, English and Hindi with English subtitles, B/W, 1967, 20 min


Twenty years after India’s independence, the film maker travels across the country and interviews its youth, those born in 1947. What does independence mean to them? What are their dreams? How do they see themselves and the young nation that they symbolise? The answers have a mix of idealism, irony, sarcasm, dismay, hope and optimism. This film is as relevant today as it was over forty years ago.

Actual Experience No.4
Directed by OP Arora, English, Hindi, Punjabi, Gujarati and Marathi with English subtitles, B/W, 1969, 14 min


This film is a collection of interviews of women across the country, about their experience of using the loop as a family planning device. This was a controversial method, leading to serious health complications. The film reflected that and was therefore held from release for a significant period.

Keep Going/Lage Raho
Directed by SNS Sastry, Music, B/W, 1971, 4 min


This is a study in the celebration of film form with a sense of humour, like a lot of SNS Sastry’s work. With his uncanny ability to turn state propaganda film into highly subversive statements, Sastry takes us through a montage of the nation’s progress in the backdrop on the 1971 Indo-Pak war and ends the film with a ‘Make Love Not War’ image, marking his protest to the system.

Voice of the People
Directed by S. Sukhdev, English, Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi and Bengali with English subtitles, B/W, 1974, 17 min


“On the 16th of April, I read a news item that there is going to be an all India railway strike. I got a little worried. We decided to take the camera out to the people and ask them a few questions.” Filmmaker S. Sukhdev proceeds to interview the labour force and the average traveller in the city to make a compelling anti-strike argument for the state. The strike was called by labour leader George Fernandes who does not feature in the film.

Day 3

Violence, What Price, Who Pays?
Directed by Shyam Benegal, Hindi with English subtitles, B/W, 1974, 2 min


A “quickie” calling for an end to social unrest in the days before the declaration of national emergency.

They Call me Chamar
Directed by Loksen Lalvani, English and Hindi with English subtitles, B/W, 1980, 16 min


They Call Me Chamar was based on a newspaper report about a Brahmin man who was ostracised from his community for having married a Harijan girl. He was driven to living in the settlement of the Chamars, who lived by skinning dead animals. Vultures peck at dead carcasses as the filmmaker approaches the Chamar colony to meet the protagonists. Lalvani lets the couple relate their story, marking a powerful indictment of a cruel social system.

Our Indira
Directed by SNS Sastry, English, B/W, 1973, 9 min


Instructed to make a hagiographic profile of the prime minister, the filmmaker does exactly that, except by using subversive references from fiction films and the iconic Nazi propaganda documentary Triumph of the Will.

And I Make Short Films
Directed by SNS Sastry, English and Hindi with English subtitles, B/W, 1968, 16 min


In this film Sastry upturns all conventions of documentary and fiction filmmaking to debunk the supposed “truth” of the cinema-verite image. It is an irreverent and caustic note on the purpose of documentary filmmaking and the responsibility of a filmmaker – is s/he merely a technician involved in a formal exercise or someone engaged in the sociological concerns that films are answerable to. Is one of these purposes of filmmaking nobler or more respectable than the other? This film, often categorised as an experimental film, is a treat.

Directed by Mani Kaul, Music, Colour, 1980, 20 min


Concerning the arrival of commodities such as vegetables and livestock as well as human labour into a city from rural areas, this film explores the product-commodity-exchange value relationship. Representing in itself a variety of exchange values, money as capital destroys the natural specificity of people and things. In the process, the labourer is reduced to a mere commodity.


Nostalgia for the Light
Dir: Patricio Guzman
Sabad Nirantar
Dir: Rajula Shah

Rohan Shivkumar

Producing Images, Consuming Images – The spaces of the film industry in Mumbai

Cinema, that most suspect of all cultural production, with it’s aura of crudeness, vulgarity and popular entertainment, has always been subject to the policing tendencies of city planners. The ‘city’ that is imagined by them- neatly ordered, legible and cleansed, cannot accept the anarchy of the production and consumption of images that spill over the neatly drawn lines of the formal city.


This is true of the city of Mumbai – the city that continues to be the centre for the production of cinema in the country and attracts many migrants who flock to it in search of stardom and fame. This, in spite of the fact that real estate pressures make finding a home incredibly difficult; increasing xenophobic tendencies that emerge from ‘sons of the soil’ movements; and the rise of a middle class morality within the public realm that is suspicious of the migrant as a deviant.


But, the film industry does not merely survive, it thrives. The city morphs to facilitate the assembly line of production for cinema industry- slum pockets and low income areas absorb these forces as new neighbourhoods emerge with their own institutions, public spaces and ways of living that lie in between the cracks of the formal city.


In the presentation we will investigate the nature of the spaces within the city, that enable and facilitate the film industry in Mumbai. It is part of the research carried out during the interdisciplinary research art project Project Cinema City.


About Rohan Shivkumar
Rohan Shivkumar is an architect and urban designer from Mumbai and is the Deputy Director of the Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute for Architecture and Environmental Studies. He is interested in exploring cross-disciplinary ways of reading and representation of cities and has been involved in projects that attempt to broaden the ways in which we look at architecture and the city. He has been part of many conferences and events and has published essays on architecture and urbanism in international and national journals. He is also the co-editor of ‘Project Cinema City’ – a book that documents the multi-disciplinary research and art project exploring the relationship between cinema and the city of Mumbai.

General Programming
Subasri Krishnan


Programming (FD Films)
Avijit Mukul Kishore


Assistance with Programming and Publicity
Yashodara Udupa


Zohrab Reys Gamat and Kalidasan M


Website and collaterals
Vikrant MS and Nawaz Khan


Social Media
Sarat Chandra Gnanamgari


Gaurav Krishna


The team would like to thank everyone at IIHS for their support.