Thursday, Jun 05, 2003
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By Gautaman Bhaskaran
Mr. Prasad told this correspondent at Cannes while announcing Goa as the permanent venue for the Indian festival that he would also work towards making it as important as Cannes, thoughts first mooted in 2001 by Ms. Swaraj while she visited the French Riviera.
The idea of a permanent destination for the hitherto moving or "gypsy'' Indian festival to be held in New Delhi this October is in a way revolutionary, given the political and regional pulls and counter-pulls of a nation as diverse as India. And, the decision to conduct the festival in Goa, undoubtedly a scenic locale with its beautiful beaches which are raved about even at Cannes with its picture postcard setting, is indeed welcome. Mr. Prasad said that a proper infrastructure could be in place in Goa as early as October 2004.
But once the initial euphoria of Goa as the permanent site dies down, the I and B Ministry along with its organising wing, Directorate of Film Festivals (repeat Festivals, in plural), must begin, and begin quickly a serious self-introspection: what is it that makes Cannes not just the biggest, but the most important movie festival in the world that virtually seduces thousands to flock to the Riviera year after year?
Although the Indian festival completed its 33rd edition last October, it has been in existence since 1952, and is in a way as old as Cannes, now into its 56th chapter. True, the Indian festival has not had as many editions as Cannes; there were many occasions when the Indian event was not held. There were reasons, one of them being that in the initial period there was no clear decision to organise it every year. Yet, this lack of experience, so to say, vis-à-vis Cannes can only be one cause, perhaps a minor one at that.
To begin with, the Indian festival must work very hard to remove at least one bad label that continues to stick to it. Even this May at Cannes, one heard complaints about film prints being "damaged'' at the Indian festival! This may or may not be true now, but it is a reputation that the Directorate must fight against with all the resources it has at its command.
Secondly, no movie festival anywhere on this globe can hope to receive favourable reviews unless it gets at least a dozen good entries and the works of some renowned directors. You can have two dozen bad ones, but at the end of the day, critics and other viewers will take back home memories of the good cinema they enjoyed.
Thirdly, it is equally important to invite big names: let us not forget, Cannes had this time on its jury celebrities such as India's Aishwarya Rai and actress Meg Ryan from the U.S. The Cannes jury has always had a touch of glamour from America's Sharon Stone to China's Gong Li and even India's Arundhati Roy.
Outside the Cannes jury, actresses such as Nicole Kidman, Penelope Cruz (Spain's current heart-throb) and Elizabeth Hurley (making waves with her current Indian boyfriend) added a touch of the ethereal to the French city by the Mediterranean this summer.
If the Indian festival is to catch the eye on the international circuit, it is imperative that men and women of not just substance but also fame be invited to New Delhi this October.
Fourthly, very little has been written about it outside the country, and it would be helpful to request some foreign journalists, let us say from France, Germany, Italy and so on, to cover the Indian festival. If it gets a good press, there can well be a flood of cinema and celebrities making a beeline for our shores in the coming years.
Finally, the significance of a market can never be undermined. Cannes sells also because of its highly lucrative and very large market where millions of dollars worth of celluloid stuff is bought and sold.
India hardly provides an outlet for pictures in foreign languages other than English, and this continues to be a sore point with distributors who may be interested in a kind of package deal: a festival screening plus a regular theatrical release. One fails to understand why subtitling or dubbing of foreign fare is not being actively pursued.
And, let the Directorate not forget that there is currently more than a mere passing curiosity about Indian cinema.
It is perhaps now or never to convert this into something definite, positive, and even wonderful.
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