Sunday, January 13, 2013

Festival follies

In the last couple of months, I’ve watched more than 50 movies at the Mumbai and Goa film festivals together. I am pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to get hold of even 10 of these mostly brilliant movies, either in the digital or in the real world. I have seen Sundance darlings, Cannes favourites, and many movies lionised at other festivals in the world. Hell, I watched a few American movies that Americans haven’t yet got to watch ( Gimme The Loot, The End of Love, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Smashed, etc).

While I was turning myself into a potential synaesthesia sufferer, I couldn’t help wondering if India is ready to see such utterly majestic cinema. A movie is best enjoyed when watched with a little bit of context. This doesn’t mean one should pore over the back issues of Cahiers du Cinéma and Sight & Sound — there’s always a first time. But what I have noticed is that most people who land up at the film festivals tend to not follow up on what they’ve watched.

Recently, I got introduced to the South Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo. After watching one film of his, I didn’t know what to make of it; there are random long shots and bizarre close-ups and the vacant shots leave nothing to the imagination. But when I started watching more of his movies (he’s very prolific), I could join the dots. But few people seem to do this. Why?

This Independence Day, Salman Khan’s Ek Tha Tiger had a preposterous 1,250 shows in Mumbai alone. There must be an enormous amount of demand for this frankly ridiculous amount of supply. Someone should tell those multiplex owners that they would receive a special place in heaven if they could allocate at least one show every day to world cinema. Forget world cinema for a second; the Tarantino-esque Tamil movie Aaranya Kaandam went completely under the hood. That fate might also await my find of International Film Festival of India ( IFFI) Goa: Rituparno Ghosh’s magnificent Chitrangda. The Bengali auteur’s take on sex change and gay relationships is nuanced in a way reminiscent of European cinema; the protagonist’s parents come to terms with their son’s metamorphosis in a, let’s say, non-cinematic way.

At IFFI Goa, people used to walk out of what they called “slow movies”. The Argentinian film The Wild Ones is not outright amazing, but it rewards the viewer who is patient. Half an hour into the movie and people left the theatre in droves. I thought this weirder and grittier version of The Hunger Games has its flaws but is nevertheless beautiful. In a post-screening Q&A with the audience, the director Alejandro Fadel said his film professor always used to say, “There are no slow movies, only the audience is anxious”.
In the West, the big-budget gorillas’ profits help fund meaningful cinema from the same studios and directors. Here, on the other hand, the self-satisfied belief is that the big money spinner is the best movie in every department. Even the country’s “most intelligent” actor, Aamir Khan, has no hesitation in saying that he can’t sit through a Yasujiro Ozu film (this, while promoting his wife’s art-house flick, Dhobi Ghat).

The only flicker of hope for this country seems to be Kerala. I’ve met quite a few Keralites who are more than just passionate about South Korean cinema. Their first tryst with Korean cinema began a few years ago at the totally awesome International Film Festival of Kerala and ever since they have been worshipping Kim Ki-duk et al. Even the reclusive Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul was not just present but also agreed to serve on the jury in 2010 because he was impressed with the festival’s audience and its perennially brilliant line-up of films.

I still remember making my weekly trip to the PVR in Bangalore in 2008-09 for the solitary foreign movie it used to show. I watched some of the best movies on big screen at that time. Suddenly, they stopped it. Lack of patronage must be the reason. Apart from tooting our own horn about making the second-largest number of movies in the world after America, we should introspect a little bit. Let’s not fall back on Western accolades. They just admire our song-and-dance routine and are always bemused at how melodramatic and simplistic most of our cinema is.

That’s why, for us Indians, these film festivals are a bit of a fantasy world. The Internet-generation analogy can be going to a TED conference and coming back to the soul-destroying banality of daily life. Sadly, the Indian film festival-going audience works hard on looking serious, but isn’t, not at all.


Post a Comment

<< Home