Let’s make a difference

It was great to be in sunny Goa, attending the International Film Festival of India (Iffi), and connecting with cinema makers and cineastes. Happily, the acting masterclass conducted by the very articulate Boman Irani, (and which I thoroughly enjoyed moderating) played out to a packed auditorium. Even though the session went on for over three hours, there was wide-ranging and intense questioning from the audience at the end of it. Boman had just flown back from Berlin via Mumbai and Dubai — yet he even had the energy to sing at the end of the class “Give me some sunshine, give me some rain…” from Three Idiots. And everyone joined in.
He had the audience in splits throughout with his spontaneous ability to make them laugh. As a backgrounder, I also gave a presentation on comedy in Hindi cinema; celebrating the great comic talent we have had in the past. Many of them are not with us anymore and deserve to be remembered: Mehmood, Johnny Walker, Gope, Kishore Kumar, Tun Tun…
Of course, Boman has proven that he can excel in both comic and serious roles, and because he is entirely self-taught, his journey proved inspirational for many of the young aspiring actors in the audience. Can there, however, ever be an ideal age to re-invent yourself and embark on a fresh new career? Boman’s example makes it obvious that age is no bar. But hard work, focus — and of course, talent are essential ingredients.
Overall however, at Iffi, (despite a few highlights and everyone’s best intentions) this year, too, we missed a marvellous opportunity for creating a world-class festival, thanks to the poor infrastructure. The sheer lack of facilities — the need for better auditoriums, cinema halls and even exhibition halls to package international cinema and cinema history — remained a bottleneck. Also surprising was the continuing minimal support the festival attracts from the indigenous cinema industry. While it is easy to blame the government, it would be equally easy for megastars like Shah Rukh Khan to lend a hand and make it into an exciting event. But no doubt voluntary work, without adequate compensation, is a difficult task. And so we had the bizarre sight of Saif Ali Khan “dropping in” for the closing ceremony — and exiting before long. I don’t really blame him though, because at the finale, the music was so deafening that most of us sat with our fingers plugged in our ears, and, ultimately, we were forced to sheepishly edge towards the door.
This time, too, there were the usual complaints about the screening facilities: and one of my friends actually sat through almost an entire film screened upside down! Among the positives: the attendance of some interesting film persona such as Mira Nair, Anurag Kashyap, Boman Irani, Freida Pinto, Fatih Akin… but a lot more is possible. One strong suggestion would be to start the work immediately and not wait till next year. Even infrastructure can be set up very quickly — if there is a will to do it.

Meanwhile, back in Delhi where everyone is depressed about the scam after scam scenario, we went to see Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey (KHJJS) on the Chittagong uprising. Even though the film had its flaws, it has an enormous impact (I felt) because it is amongst surprisingly few movies made on the freedom struggle. In any other country, barring the slow-paced first part, the film would have been widely debated and appreciated as it is a sad reminder of our collective betrayal of the sacrifices of the freedom fighters and the idealistic children portrayed in it. The ideology and the patriotic fervour all seemed to belong to another planet. The enormous price paid for our freedom is almost forgotten, today. That was a different India, with high values and moral courage... How could this corrupt, malevolent India be the same that so many had died for? Now our icons are the Rajas and Kalmadis grinning at us unabashed, having allegedly helped misappropriate our money. KHJJS is probably a more meaningful film than Peepli Live, but of course, no one cares about our history anymore, as facts are distorted everyday in front of our eyes and issues are obfuscated. There is, thus, a complete disconnect between the film and “modern” India.
KHJJS reminds us of a time when teenagers could dream of dying for our country — but the film is, right now, playing to a confused youth. Worse, our democratically-elected politicians are sending out the wrong signals to young Indians, exhorting them possibly to lie and cheat. It is a strange environment in India today — and I have to admit that I cried throughout the film.
And this is not the only thing which makes one cry in Delhi. Along with everything else, the security for young girls in this city has also become questionable. Yet, a few decades ago, when I was working in a TV channel I could hop into my own car and drive home after an edit, late at night, without any fear. And a decade prior to that when I was studying here, we would even hitchhike around the city quite happily. But now no one would ever dream of going anywhere alone after nine at night. People speak of dropping women and girls to their doorstep at night, as there is an implicit acknowledgement that “anything can happen”.
Even the chief minister Shiela Dikshit, a woman, has not ensured that systems are in place to provide a secure environment for working women. Where is the police? Where is the efficient response system if anything happens? Why is there such an atmosphere of fear?
Why have we regressed so much in this capital city? And why don’t more women protest and demand security? Where is their anger?
It is exactly this which puzzles me about the 2G scam as well. Why are we all sitting at home calmly following the dodgy behaviour of the government and the disruption of Parliament by the Opposition? Why aren’t we on the streets — demanding that our money be returned to us? As KHJJS amply proves, we may have completely lost our ability to make a difference…

The writer can be contacted at kishwardesai@yahoo.com

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