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INDIAN CINEMA

Festivals

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International Film Festival Of India 2004: A basket of attractions

After years, the International Film Festival of India has found a resting place. This year, 2004, it will be held in Panaji, Goa, from November 29 to December 8. All these years, the Festival moved from city to city each time; this involved for the organising Directorate of Film Festivals a huge amount of administrative work in setting up a camp at a different place, sometimes with very little facilities and scant infrastructure. Obviously, valuable time was lost, time that could have been spent in selecting good/latest movies, getting them over, chasing celebrities and coaxing them into accepting invitations to attend the Festival.

Last year (2003), the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, one of whose wings is the Directorate, attracted by Goa's Cannes-like mood and ambiance decided to make the place the permanent venue.

There were any number of obstacles: critics of the Goa venue cried that it hardly had film lovers, and when the Government changed in New Delhi, there were further impediments. The Congress-led Ministry at the Centre was, it was alleged, a little apprehensive about letting the Festival go to Goa under the Bharatiya Janata Party.

However, better sense prevailed, and the present Information and Broadcasting Ministry must have felt, and rightly so, that cinema must be kept outside the purview of political isms.But, of course.

The Festival this time will be held in a modern cineplex with four theatres and the 1000-seat Kala Academy auditorium in Panaji. There will also be open air screenings for the general public, quite similar to what happens at Cannes' seafront.

Mira Nair's latest, "Vanity Fair", based on William Makepiece Thackeray's novel by the same name will open the Festival. The movie, which was premiered at the Venice competition this year, has been commercially released the world over, and is slated to be in Indian cinemas just a few days after the Festival gets under way.

Reese Witherspoon (Left) as Becky

Thackeray's fiction, which spans three decades of early 19th century British social history, has been compressed by Nair into 138 minutes. Naturally, the celluloid version often appears hurried, and the pace quickens dramatically, though nconvincingly, to  portray innumerable subplots. Eventually, it loses track of time, and Nair's failure to show hercharacters aging over 30 years adds to a viewer's confusion.

The written classic is a sweeping satire of the craze for upward social mobility in an England flush with funds flowing from its colonies. Thackeray questioned his characters and their foibles as he went along penning his prose.

Nair's picture -- which I saw in Sydney in October 2004 -- does flash to comic moments in those parts where Thackeray ridicules -- in jest and in mock seriousness -- the  foolishness and snobbery of the early 19th century British society and the crass relationship between money and aristocracy.

However, Nair's temptation to inject doses of romanticism -- perhaps a takeoff from "Gone With The Wind" -- and multicultural gloss (two outlandish Bollywood type numbers, for instance) appears terribly clumsy from a director who gave us at least two great works: "Salaam Bombay" and "Monsoon Wedding".

Also Nair's main protagonist, Reese Witherspoon as Becky Sharp is sparkling all right, but somewhere one is left with the feeling that she does not quite ignite the screen.

The result, "Vanity Fair" has the colour, but is not bright enough to captivate and capture one's imagination. Admittedly, it is very difficult to translate a broad social canvas as Thackeray's 1848 "Vanity Fair" into film without excisions. Nair did not do that, and disappoints us.

Once "Vanity Fair" will be out of the way at the Festival, one can look forward to some of the attractions the 10-day event promises to screen. The most important is the main Asian Competition section. There are two Indian entries here: Anjan Dutt's (who worked as a feature writer in The Statesman, Kolkata, in the mid-1970s) "Bow Barracks Forever" and Sandeep Sawant's "Shwaas" (also sent for a possible Oscar nomination in the foreign language category).

There are two movies from China (Xiaolian Peng's "Shanghai Story" and Shen Wensheng's "Endless Way") among the 15 in this competition slot. Some of the other highlights here will be Israel's "Walk on Water", Thailand's "Beautiful Boxer", Hong Kong's "Butterfly" and Iran's "Beautiful City". These works will be competing for the Golden Peacock, Silver Peacock and another award. Cash prizes worth Rs 10 lakhs will be given away. Director Mani Ratnam heads a five-member jury here.

The popular Cinema of the World section has about 60 films from 40 countries. Kate Shortland's "Somersault" (Australia), Jeremy Peter Allen's "Manners of Dying" (Canada), Joliet Pierre's "Only Girls" (France), Claude Chabrol's "Flower of Evil" (France), Amos Gitai's "The Promised Land" (Israel), Pupi Avati's "The Heart is Everywhere" (Italy), Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "Bright Future" (Japan) and Sofia Coppola's "Lost in Translation" (USA) are some to watch out for.

The Festival will premier a few movies: India's "American Daylight", USA's "The Forgotten" and "The Incredibles".

Of course, the Festival will have its share of retros. Films of Ashok Amritraj, of Vittorio Gassman from Italy (who died in 2000), of Jean-Marie Gaston Kabore from Burkina Faso and of Jerzy  Stuhr from Poland.

There will be German movies made in Bavaria, Canadian, Egyptian, Taiwanese and Portuguese, as well as homages to Mehmood, Vijay Anand and Soundarya.

Looks like an attractive basket from the top, but will the package finally leave us supremely excited or just plain disappointed.

(This story appeared in The Hindu dated November 19 2004)

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