Filmi and festive

Come mid-October, and there’s pure oxygen in the air. Read: International film festivals, the only opportunities to catch up on the best of world cinema. That’s been my survival kit actually, over three decades, in cities as diverse as Mumbai and New Delhi to Thiruvananthapuram and Goa. No need to jet to the Cannes, Venice or Berlin fests, it’s all here.

Sadly though, with time and tide, New Delhi has been wiped off the festival map, discourtesy the ministry of information and broadcasting, which was seized by the thought that the Goa beaches are perfect for feni and games, besides boosting the tourist industry. I really miss the Delhi winter festival where asli movie lovers would descend for a fortnight’s banquet of movies and sigh, even romance. The memory of Kamal Haasan courting Sarika over a coffee and Kurosawa at the Siri Fort café persists.
So do other tattle-worthy scenes like Rekha traipsing into the Siri Fort’s foyer, to be asked by Doordarshan TV, for a byte. Famously, without an eyelid’s bat, she asked, “But where is he?” Now those were the days of Silsila. And truly consummate acting!
Teenaged Aditya Chopra and Karan Johar would jot mental notes on Polish and Czech films, but would clarify that no one compared to Sooraj Barjatya, which is why you can detect a strong influence of Maine Pyaar Kiya in their early movies.
To light the inaugural lamp —which meant a lot of fretting over a candle and matchbox — only the most happening B-town actress would do for Delhi’s ruling party. Once Divya Bharati was flown in. Flanked by an assortment of ministers, she wondered, “Why me?” How heartbreaking is that, in retrospect? The actress, who died at the age of 20, was quite flummoxed by all the attention from the powers-that-be. Coerced into sitting through a Japanese film followed by an Iranian one, she fled, shaken but not at all stirred by the event.
Today gratifyingly, Indian international film festivals aren’t judged by the presence or the absence of Bollywood star personalities. Sure, they’re still de rigueur for lamp-lighting and some journos will still bemoan the lack of the Khans, Kapoors and Bachchans at the screenings. But come on, a few exceptions apart, they’re not interested in world cinema, so let them be.
Many stars, like Shah Rukh Khan, baldly state that they don’t see films, not even their own. And there are no mainstream filmmakers making a beeline for the fests either, put off perhaps by stricter copyright laws tightening on plagiarism.
Any which way you look at it, the ministry’s Delhi festival is extinct, Goa is going, going, gone (lacks lustre). As for Mumbai’s MAMI, it’s gaining muscle by showcasing the creme de la creme from world cinema, under the stewardship of Shyam Benegal. Still, Thiruvananthapuram has an edge, remarkable for its accent on quality rather than quantity. It has also managed to present the elusive German auteur, Werner Herzog, as a star guest, a feat which would be equivalent to getting Julia Roberts to host one of the film magazine award functions. No kidding.
Slowly but steadily, international film festivals are no longer the elitist indulgence they once used to be. Students throng the venues, priding themselves on watching five shows back-to-back. Indeed, I can’t wait for Mumbai’s MAMI to roll, come October 17. But er... here’s an honest confession: Two months later, I’ll miss the New Delhi nip, a Kamal Haasan-Sarika romance in the Siri Fort café. And Rekha sashaying in to ask, “Where is he?”

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