IFFM 2021: six festival gems to beat the lockdown blues

Editor's note: This article originally stated the festival as running between August 15 - 30. This has since been updated to reflect the new dates as the festival has been extended.

Indian Film Festival of Melbourne has returned with a bang in 2021, with a stellar selection of more than 120 films in over 27 languages that include seven world premieres and 76 Australian premiers.

Southern hemisphere’s largest annual celebration of Indian cinema, the festival prides itself on showcasing the best films Indian sub-continent has to offer and screens an exuberant program of fiction features, shorts, documentaries, arthouse, regional and mainstream Indian cinema produced during the year. 

“This year’s festival showcases an astonishing range of cinematic styles and subjects, with extra space in the program given over to exciting young talents and independent voices, who are continuing to present extraordinary films despite the pressures of the last 18 months,” says IFFM director Mitu Bhomwick Lange.

IFFM director Mitu Bhomwick Lange with the world renowned actor Shah Rukh Khan during the IFFM 2019 festival. SOURCE: Outlook India   

“Whether in cinemas or at home, IFFM is evolving to bring audiences together safely.”

Notably, this year’s festival purposefully highlights the incredible contributions of Indian female filmmakers and showcases 33 films made by female filmmakers in various formats. Some notable sections include the 17-minute short Bittu, India’s official entry to Oscars 2021 and Shut Up Sona, a documentary exploring singer Sona Mohapatra’s fight for gender equality as one of the most active voices behind the Indian #MeToo movement. 

It also tributes the established institutes of Indian cinema and honours the renowned filmmaker Satyajit Ray to celebrate his centenary birth year by showcasing some of his monumental productions including Ghare Baire, Pather Panchali, Ganashatru and Agantuk.

IFFM 2021, through its extensive program, explores interlacing themes of race, gender diversity, humanity, sexuality, spirituality, displacement, coming of age, belongingness and invites the audience to watch and reflect long after the credits have rolled.

Congratulating the efforts of the IFFM team, Victoria’s Minister of Creative Industries Danny Pearson said that through “celebrating diversity through cinema, IFFM attracts more than 35,000 people annually, making it the largest festival of Indian film culture in the Southern Hemisphere”.

“Film is a powerful medium. It opens us up to new perspectives, helps us reflect on the past and imagine the future. Importantly, at a time when we can’t travel abroad, our screens connect us to stories, cultures and places beyond our borders.”

The hybrid festival launches on August 15, the day of India’s 75th year of independence. Initially set to run in theatres with the accompanying online collection, IFFM 2021 tackled the reality of the pandemic and has now been flipped on its delivery – with the virtual festival running from August 15 - September 27 featuring an expanded selection of films online which are free to watch Australia-wide.

Fortunately, or purposely so, IFFM’s online component was designed with ease of access in mind wherein the viewing experience is fast, flexible and seamless – you can add your films to a watchlist and screen them at any time during the festival. There’s also an IFFM app available on AppleTV and the App Store, so you can watch your selections via iOS devices or on your TV. The films, varied in languages, all contain English subtitles and are available for streaming by simply creating a free account. 

So as most of us, much like the festival, continue to adjust to the reality of a virtual world and look for inspiration, entertainment and an all-together escape from the drone of another lockdown, here are six impactful IFFM gems for you to explore.


An unusual film made in unusual conditions, A Rifle and a Bag explores the lives of two surrendered Naxalites who are navigating a reality they had sworn to transform. After a decade of armed struggle for the rights of their tribal communities, Somi and her husband deserted the Naxalite movement and surrendered to the police to raise their two sons. But the non-revolutionary path and the desire to integrate into the Indian society makes them wonder if they made the right decision.

The 89-minute documentary has been screened at the Busan International Film Festival, Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, Dharamshala International Film Festival and Visions du Reel. The film has been directed by three women, one of whom is an Indian filmmaker (Arya Rothe).

To watch the film, click here.


A sincere tale of how borders upend lives, the 67-minute documentary is about people who live on the very edges of India - a country with a particular obsession with its borders and stories long impacted by history, politics and violence. Borderlands is the story of their precarious existence teeming with triumph, tragedy and longing. 

The film intercuts between six character-led impactful stories and showcases five languages and tales of extraordinary lives, constructed through 120 hours of footage. The film has previously been screened at the DOK fest Munchen, New York Indian Film Festival 2021 and the Mumbai Film Festival 2020.

To watch the film, click here.


Drawn from real-life incidents, Bridge reveals the unusual struggles, and the empowerment of rising from it, faced by a teenage girl residing at the bank of a tributary of the majestic, overflowing Brahmaputra river. The 125 minute-long film stepped into the limelight when Shiva Rani Kalita, who plays Jonaki, won the ‘best debutant actor’ at the 2021 Ottawa India Film Festival.

The film was shot in real-time to showcase the six seasons, especially the monsoon of Assam. The film has previously been screened at several festivals and won ’best film’ at the Thrissur International film festival 2021, ‘best film’ at the Golden Jury International Film Festival 2020 and was included in the ‘top 10 films’ at FIPRESCI 2020. 

To watch the film, click here.


Based upon the 1916 novel ‘Ghare Baire’ by Rabindranath Tagore, Ghare Baire is a 1984 Indian Bengali romantic drama film by director Satyajit Ray, the narrative is based in 1907, on the estate of the rich Bengali noble, Nikhilesh. In the chaotic aftermath of Lord Curzon's partition of Bengal into Muslim and Hindu states, the Swadeshi movement is trying to impose a boycott of foreign goods by claiming that imports are at the root of Indian poverty. Nikhilesh is living blissfully with his wife Bimala, until the appearance of his friend, the revolutionist Sandip, who is a politician agitating against British rule. Exploring love, longing and political forces, the film follows the now-assertive Bimala, who has to make a crucial decision. 

The film was in competition for the Palme d'Or at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival.At the 32nd National Film Awards, it won the National Film Award for ‘Best Feature Film in Bengali’.

To watch the film, click here.


Tackling the taboo around menstruation, the film explores a tale of a mother and her son. When Sonu's mom, following orthodox customs surrounding menstruation, is barred from mingling or entering the kitchen, she avoids the truth and tells Sonu it's because a 'crow touched her'. He innocently falls under the impression that crows are evil and starts despising the bird, ultimately viewing it as a monster. What follows are the consequences of keeping the taboo alive and the need for open conversations.

To watch the trailer and the film, click here.


Filmmaker Nila Madhab Panda’s Odia film Kalira Atita (Yesterday’s Past) talks about his own trauma of witnessing the ferocious sea gobble up village after village. The film follows a man’s return home, where he hopes to reunite with his family – only to find his home engulfed by water because of the rising sea level. We follow his story as he survives one cyclone and must find ways to survive, exploring moments of struggles and triumphs. The movie touches upon the issues of climate change and highlights the uncertainty of life, human fears and the celebration of triumph over obstacles.

To watch the film, click here

See the full program on the IFFM website

Pranjali Sehgal is a writer and journalist based in Melbourne. She is a member of SAARI's Editorial Team and can be contacted at pranjali@saaricollective.com.au

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