The so-called 'mainstream' is often a letdown. This is not just the case with the majority of the media outlets, but also holds true for the film world. This was proven by a number of filmmakers whose works were screened at the eighth edition of the International Film Festival of Shimla that concluded on Sunday evening. The event was held at the historic Gaiety Theatre, which remains one of the most prominent landmarks of this erstwhile summer capital of the British.

These film makers have been battling all odds, such as paucity of funds that result in short shooting schedules and amateur equipment. Yet their imaginations create films that tug at the audiences' hearts. These filmmakers take up real issues, and their stories depicting day-to-day life hit hard. The short films in particular made their mark at the festival, as did some excellent documentaries, feature films, animation films and music videos.

Iranian filmmakers have been making a mark across the globe and also won praise once again at Shimla. One of the most intense films 'The Boarding House' directed by Maryam Ebrahimvand left the audience spellbound. The film with feminist overtones deals addiction and rape.

The protagonist Mehri is fighting the urge to kill someone so that she can get enough money. She needs it to pay 'blood money' to get her imprisoned husband released. This is the money paid to the family of the person who has been killed. Mehri meets three young women lodged in the boarding house where she takes shelter. One of them is a rape survivor; another is a drug addict, and the third one has been separated from her family because she wants to be an actress.

'Pinky and Papa' was another film that deftly handled the issue of premarital sex and the ensuing pregnancy. Directed by Shivang Khanna and shot in just a single day, it revolves around Pinky, a college going girl revealing to her father that she is pregnant. The film portrays the various emotions that father undergoes, while the daughter is scared and deeply in need of support. The film ends on a positive note with the father extending the support desperately needed by his daughter. What makes the film worth watching is the dialogue between the two and the gradual changes that come over the father.

A positive trend in the world of films is the willingness of the filmmakers to try offbeat subjects which are a rarity in the mainstream film world. Take for instance the film 'Mukti' by Vipul Mahagaonkar. It tracks down Sambhaji Bansode and his wife who are residents of Dharavi in Mumbai and carry on with their traditional profession of singing devotional songs in front of a dead body.

"They are passionate about their profession of 'working for the dead'. But it is something that is a taboo in society. However, the couple believed that their bhajans emancipate the deceased and bring peace in the family that is left behind," said Mahagaonkar. The film portrays these unique 'concerts' at the residences of the dead, or during the funeral processions. Bansode and his team are worried about the survival of this endangered tradition.

Similarly the film 'Side Mirror' showcases society as seen from the viewpoint of an auto-rickshaw driver. It conveys the message that society is nothing but a mirror image of our own lives. The characters in the film are no different from any of us, living ordinary lives. Some are facing problems, looking for success without actually working for it, having perspective limited to their own world and turning a blind eye to evil even after seeing it. Viraj Zunjarrao has brought out all this in an effective manner.

'Tanishka' by Sudeep Sohni, was another unique presentation at the festival. The film is dedicated to an artist's childhood. It covers the journey of rhythm in an eight-year-old Bharatanatyam student. The film shows her daily routine of practice, performances, travelling and learning. Her life is nothing but practising and living the art form where rendering shlokas, rasas and shastras are an integral part of her routine.

All these film makers are speaking for people who stand on the margins of society, and are constantly engaged in the day to day battle of survival. Shridhar K S in his documentary 'Dhobi Ghat' has brought out the struggles of the community. Since Dhobi Ghat is located in Mumbai's Mahalaxmi area, the nerve centre of this metropolis, it is eyed by land sharks. "This is perhaps the biggest Dhobi Ghat in the world and the community is engaged in a fight for its survival and livelihood," Shridhar said.

While the washerman and women have adapted to technology and use machines but still wash white clothes by hand. Another unique aspect of the place is the marking and segregation of clothes, not even a single cloth has gone missing in decades.

The film 'Rat Trap' points at coal mining's destructive impact on the local tribal community. People have been compelled to migrate time and again as their lands and homes get consumed by increasing coal mining area. They are forced to become 'rat hole' coal miners, risking their lives. In the process several mishaps go unreported. The film by Rupesh Sahu shows their lives to be so devastating that they are called thieves in their own house and in the event of a mine collapse they cannot even claim the dead body of their family members.

In the Tamil work 'Katitham-Paper', director Vinoth Veeramani has touched upon the 'faceless' people of Indian society. "These are people with no Aadhar cards, no ration cards etc. They sleep at some place and vanish into oblivion when markets open in the morning," explained Veeramani.

The protagonist in the film is a six-year-old Anjali who participates in a national level painting competition despite not having even a basic colour and brush set. She cannot give her address for getting registered. The movie deals with her desire to participate, her painting being featured on the cover of the magazine that has organised the competition, and her recognition.

The disparities marking the society are prominent in the works of these young filmmakers. Pratik Bhoyar has showcased an unequal society in an interesting manner through his film 'A Day Under the Sky'. The story revolves around Aditya, a sincere primary student who decides to bunk school with three classmates who are from an underprivileged background. As they explore the day wandering through the village and the jungle, Aditya's understanding broadens beyond his textbooks. He learns children from a certain background are never allowed to watch television in affluent households, and are targeted.

The issue of irrational fear and human helplessness to overcome superstition in the context of hill societies was effectively depicted in 'Keel', the last film screened at the event. The film directed by Girish Harnot revolves around a feared deity that invokes uncertainty and impacts local psyche.

Raging issues linked to students' politics was depicted in the film 'Chhatra Sangh' made by Sandeep Kumar. Kumar brings out the realities of student politics in Jawaharlal Nehru University, Allahabad University and Delhi University. His work deals with the struggles of the youth and highlights the expanding canvas of student politics.

The issue of expectance and acceptance was appropriately brought out by Tridip Kakoty in his work 'To Embrace'. The film revolves around the concept of differing perceptions based on different personalities being absolutely a matter of personal orientation. How one perceives a subject is completely unique and cannot be termed as wrong, even though this might be in conjunction with societal norms. "Parents want their children to become something, while the latter want to do something totally different. Acceptance is something that brings peace," said Kakoty.

Environment was another theme that formed a part of the screenings. The film 'Polar Bears' by Singapore-based Shilpa Krishnan Shukla talks about thinking global and acting local when it comes to environment conservation. The work revolves around nine-year-old Anika who wants to protect the planet and save polar bears from extinction. But this mission does not sit well with her father. The two eventually come to a truce while visiting a nature trail.

Powerful music videos were also screened. One of them was 'Rise Up' , a motivational song on women empowerment made by Ebenezer Annadoss and Dr K Ebiraj. 'Chitte Dandru' by Ranjana Jaret is a song about the agony in the life of a woman who manages to smile in all circumstances. Ranjana's message through this video is, "Let this world proliferate and fly with peace and exuberance by protecting her precious smile and cheerfulness."

There were 86 films screened at the event of which 27 films were in the international category, 34 in the Indian category and four were in the Himachali category. The works that were screened spanned over 17 countries including Canada, America, Lebanon, Spain, Iran, Taiwan, Brazil, Iceland, Singapore, Mexico, Australia, Greece, Belgium, Denmark and Russia. Fifty film directors from across the country and abroad joined in to attend the event.

An added attraction was a film exhibition organised by the National Film Archives of India, Pune, depicting and deliberating the history and growth of cinema in India. What made the event purposeful was the screenings of films at the Model Central Jail Kanda and also at the jail in Nahan.