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Dizzying days for the cineaste

ISMAIL MERCHANT ambles down the piazza with novelist Anita Desai. Om Puri talks to friends and journalists whenever his little son allows him to do so. Aparna Sen tucks into a pizza in a street café, Shabana Azmi fires statements and questions everywhere, Girish Karnad in debonair kurta sips tea, Gurindhar Chadha answers delighted viewers, Adoor Gopalakrishnan chats with film scholar P. K. Nair and Derek Malcolm, The Guardian and Arundhati Roy reigns as the undisputed queen of Locarno for the season in ethnic designer witchery. Poor Aamir Khan, jury member, has locked himself up from all the fun of gazing and being gazed at.

For 10 days, the whole town breathed interest in India, a reflection of the general trend in the West. A Zurich museum had a Bollywood exhibition on, this month, Oslo had an Indian section in its October Films from the South Festival and Swiss women appeared in salwar kameez (someone invited me to a kameez boutique Sitaara in Thun), and huge Ganesha pendants. The most talked about event at the Locarno International Film Festival 2002 was the Indian summer package curated by Uma de Cunha. The choice of 30 films was no easy task and had been mainly a good one, though one could well ask why the well known "Elipatthayam" and "Shatranj Ke Khilari", and with more justification, how did the dated "In Which Annie Gives it Those Ones" by Pradip Kishan merit a place along with "Ardh Satya", "Mirch Masala" and "Tabarane Katha". The most exciting festival experience in Locarno was its night and midnight shows on the monster screen in its Piazza Grande with over 3,000 people packed in chairs and perched on balconies around or even steel grids. That was where you got the world premieres — Christopher Nolan's thriller "Insomnia" starring Al Pacino, Robin Williams and Hilary Swank; our own Pondicherry man Manoj Night Shyamalan's "Signs" with Mel Gibson playing the lead instead of the expected Bruce Willis.

If the former bored you, the latter made you wonder why Shyamalan is repeating himself in this cocktail of family drama, horror, sci-fi and spiritualistic quests. The closing film "Possession" was Neil La Bute's screen version of that bravura work, an academic quest, which develops with all the excitement of the thriller. It is based on British writer A. S. Byatt's novel of that name.

As we come to the end of 11 dizzying days, Indian summer turned into an Indian monsoon here. But neither overcast sky nor pouring rain could keep the cineaste away from the magic show where sound and visual took us to a world where fantasy became escape, and also a means of perceiving truth. — G. R.

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