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Copyright 2004




Chennai International Film Festival 2003: Festive screen

SOMETIME ago, a young journalist in Chennai was trying to write a story on film festivals. She had made up her mind that there were hardly any audiences in the city for such festivals. People were not interested in foreign cinema or art house fare, she felt. The recent Hyundai Chennai International Film Festival December 2003) proved her wrong. Absolutely.

The one-week event which was primarily organised by the Indo-Cine Appreciation Foundation was one of the most well attended movie festivals in India. Kolkata probably has a higher degree of patronage and evokes greater enthusiasm. Chennai does not lag far behind.

What was even more heartening about the Chennai festival was the kind of viewers it attracted. There were hordes of college girls and boys who had been given special permission by their principals to watch cinema.

In a city where the medium still carries an unhealthy tag, the role of educationists in understanding the importance of good, meaningful and artistic films is to be lauded.

The Chennai festival proved useful in another way. For a city which has not seen a major international festival since 1991, the latest splash on screen came as a joyous relief to all those fans who had been regretting that Chennai had none while some other centres in India did have one each of their own.

Indeed, we have one in Kolkata, one in Mumbai, in Pune, in Trivandrum and in Hyderabad (International Children's Film Festival, and this city is planning to have another general one soon). This apart, there is the main International Film Festival of India, which is now in the process of seeking a permanent venue in Goa after years of gypsy existence, when it moved from place to place.

The Chennai International Film Festival, for instance, was largely a rerun of what one saw at New Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Pune. Although this was perhaps unavoidable, given its meagre budget of Rs. 10,00,000 (Rs. 7,00,000 came from Hyundai, Rs. 2,00,000 from Nalli, and the rest from advertisers), an effort must be made to correct this shortcoming.

Despite this, there were a few interesting pictures at Chennai. Italy's "The Soul Keeper" (by Roberto Faenza) was an invigorating study of the human psyche. Sigmund Freud's student puts into practice a novel method of curing a mentally ill Russian Jewess in 1905. The treatment is radical: it unchains her and the doctor, through a series of illuminating conversations, brings her back from the brink. She rises like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes of her lunacy to become the first woman psychoanalyst in Switzerland. The work is touching, without being overtly emotional or sentimental (a pitfall that Indian cinema walks into so often). As the opening shot of the festival, "The Soul Keeper" was a great choice.

Another remarkable feature was Germany's "Four For Venice" by Vivian Naete. Here a young woman, Eva, with two kids kidnaps a man, takes him to Venice and presents to him his adulterous wife. What is Eva's problem? Her own husband is the wife's straying partner. But unlike a typical Bollywood movie (remember, for example, "Silsila" with Rekha, Jaya, Amitabh Bachchan and Sanjeev Kumar), "Four For Venice" ends not just on a surprising, but also on a sensible note.

China's "A Sigh" also touches on adultery, but is disarmingly different, or should it be, realistic. Director Feng Xiagang treats the subject with sensitivity, and cuts out raw passion and melodrama, a highlight of Chinese cinema, which believes in authenticity rather than dramatic element to present a story.

Yet another absorbing entry was Slovakia's "The Rain is Falling on Our Souls", where a little girl decides to stay with her kidnapper and help him cross the border to safety. The novelty is treating narratives such as these is refreshing: auteur Valdo Balco has a no-nonsense approach, and he captures the turmoil in the minds of the captor and captive with a style that Indian celluloid men must take note of.

But, unfortunately, there were few celebrities from Chennai's tinsel town, and the Festival failed here. A small price, though, considering the hours and hours of joy it gave to the city's young and the uninitiated.

(This story appeared in The Hindu dated December 21 2003)

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