Indian film festivals come of age

On the eve of the Mumbai Film Festival, filmmaker Shyam Benegal had confidently said this is the best festival India has seen so far. As the festival came to a close amid the hits and the misses, the crowds cheering and hooting, his hyperbole became a fact.

Benegal, chairman of MAMI that organises the event, had reasoned that a festival is as big as its films. Showcasing the winners of the best festivals in the world, including Cannes, Berlin and Venice, if you couldn't go there, you could catch it here. And that was fair for Bolly-town. After all the biggest film-producing nation deserves one of the biggest festivals.

Yet, much to the delight of viewers, and often frustrations - after all, too many good films make you miss a few must-watch ones - the festival scored due to many other reasons as well.

The strongest were some stunning films in its International Competition section that carries a Rs.1 crore prize money, one of the biggest in the world. The mastery and control of the cinematic medium shown by these first timers challenges the dominance of masters. A few of them are bound to leave their stamp on world cinema in the next couple of decades. When they do, Mumbai viewers would proudly say they saw their films, and them, at MAMI.

Then there was the film mart, which is slowly becoming a very important event in the commercial cinematic calendar of the festival. There were people from non-traditional global markets, including Germany, South Korea, Japan and Latin America, scouting for the next Indian film to take back home.

'Rendezvous With French Cinema', a separate annual event for Mumbai, got clubbed to the festival, giving audiences not just a chance to see these films but also to interact with some French directors and actors who came to the country.

Having 20 percent films in the festival from India (besides the retrospectives), with none of them from the commercial filmmaking centres of India, the festival truly showed the storytelling prowess churning in this nation, which often does not get its due recognition.

The Open Forums every afternoon saw some cliche and a lot of fireworks. Veterans and newcomers to the mainstream commercial film industry debated the various aspects related to cinema. Is the art of Indian screenwriting dying, is there homophobia in Indian cinema, is taxation killing films? etc. Though a consensus could not be reached, laying down of the problems hopefully proved cathartic.

Not everything in the festival was rosy. The films that were expected to be popular often ended up being too popular to handle. People stood hours outside the halls for films like 'Pina', 'The Artist', 'The Turin Horse', 'Melancholia' and others. Taking a cue from previous editions, organisers held special screening for the leftover crowd every day at 10 o'clock. For a few films, even this wasn't enough.

Cinemax proved inefficient hosts for the prestigious festival as goof-ups in projections marred the the entire festival causing much screaming, heartburn and anger. Sadly, instead of Cinemax, it was often the festival organisers that received flak for the same.

Yet after everything was said and done, after the films were seen and many forgotten, what would perhaps be remembered is exactly what Benegal said. Film Festivals in India might just have come of age.

(21.10.2011 - Satyen K. Bordoloi can be contacted at 

Satyen K. Bordoloi

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