Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tongues Of Fire! Indian Film Festivals Abroad

Sun June 22, 2014

The rise and shine of Indian film festivals abroad

Arriving in London, I found that there are two somewhat allied film festivals that were running almost back to back, both placing Indian cinema on a pedestal. One did so within an Asian canvas and the other was exclusively Indian.

‘Tongues of Fire’ presented its renamed The London Asian Film Festival (LAFF) over June 1 to 14. The festival, now in its 16th year, is spear-headed by its founder/director Dr Pushpinder Choudhary. LAFF opened with Nagesh Kukunoor’s Lakshmi, on a real-life case of child abuse and prostitution in Hyderabad with the director present. Kuku later conducted a Master Class. LAFF paid tribute to two great filmmakers who passed away recently. One was to Yash Chopra. His wife Pam Chopra attended and chaired a discussion on her legendary husband. The other was on the reputed filmmaker from Bengal, Rituparno Ghosh. Several recent films from India were screened.

caryAlmost a month later, London is paying host to a newer festival pertaining only to India. The London Indian Film Festival is the brainchild of Cary Rajinder Sawhney, a familiar figure in Indian film circles. He is part Indian, born and raised in the UK, but spends a lot of time in India boning up on his decades of research into Indian films. Like so many NRIs, he also spends time with his family in Delhi. An aside here: NRI is somehow a discomfiting acronym suggesting an exile from one’s country of birth – as is Bollywood , an umbrella term for all of Indian cinema, when it is just a segment, in numbers and genre, of India’s film production.

Cary’s background in cinema is rich and varied. He worked for the British Film Institute at one time, and then became a film programmer covering Indian and Asian cinema for the London International Film Festival, which he does to this day. He is also a filmmaker of shorts films, who is now embarking on his first feature. His debut work Looking For You (2009, 12 mins, a mystery romance on a reincarnation theme set in London),screened at 12 international festivals, his short film Khanna (2012) won the Future Filmmaker Award at Palm Springs Short Film Festival (2012) and Best Short Award at New York Indian Film Festival (2013).

Five years ago, Cary decided to launch his own London Indian Film Festival (LIFF). He runs this annual event ( held this year over July 10 to 17) as executive and programming director, assisted by writer/journalist Naman Ramachandan and a dedicated team, in which I am involved as well as founder-advisor.

The highlights of LIFF, 2014 are ‘A Conversation with Farhan Akhtar’ , ‘Master Class by cinematographer Santosh Sivan’ and a rare appearance by Nana Patekar, lead actor in the closing Marathi film, Hemalkasa, directed by Samruddhi Porey. The film presents an inspiring insight into the life of the revered Magsaysay Award winner, Baba Amte. LIFF will open with the Emma Thompson-produced UK film Sold, directed by Jeffrey Brown on child prostitution fed into Kolkata from Nepal.

Film festivals exclusive to Indian films began sporadically about fifteen to twenty years ago. They were regarded as a niche event catering to an ethnic audience’s nostalgia for a former homeland. Today, dozens of Indian film festivals dot the world, more emerging each year, besides the many Asian ones in which India plays a major role. They are attended by an increasingly mixed audience where Indians are often outnumbered. These festivals are valued by Indian filmmakers because they give a solus position to the cinema emanating from India, and also as prized venues which help them gain international goals.

In earlier years, press conferences offered the only opportunity for a festival audience to interface with the filmmaker. Today, the Indian film festivals provide larger platforms of Master classes held by Indian filmmakers, or Conversations by leading film personalities (last year at LIFF it was Irrfan Khan who regaled his audience as he talked to filmmaker Asif Kapadia (whose film The Warrior launched Irrfan on the international scene).

Now, films are often introduced by leading names in the film industry. The question/answer sessions after each film are a major draw. There are also days set aside for filmmakers to meet leading local film professionals who guide them on on structuring their production costs on a new film and also on making advance inroads into foreign markets. At times, authors can present their latest books on Indian cinema.

Courtesy: http://thecitizen.in/ - India's first independent on-line daily which was launched on January 27, 2014.reproducing Uma da Cunha's column

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