By Utpal Borpujari
For a film festival that has gained respectability for being one of the region’s best platforms for showcasing of Asian and Arab cinema, the Osian’s Cinefan Film Festival in New Delhi adopted a slightly muted avatar in its 11th edition this year, perhaps unwittingly adapting to the recessionary times we are living in. Shifted from its hot-and-humid time slot of July end that saw hordes of movie lovers perspire in the process of catching up with some great cinema in the last ten years, to a more enjoyable autumn of October end, the realities of time probably also made it subtly drop its “Asian & Arab” tag from its title. For the first time, the festival, reduced to seven days this time from its usual ten-day tenure, even opened with a film not from the region, but from Europe.
There were no giant names from the world of Asian and Arab cinema in attendance at the festival this year, and neither were there many of the recent most-talked-about films from the region. But then, all this probably provided the organizers of the festival with an opportunity to go for some interesting experimentation with its format, and going by the way things finally shaped up, the future editions of Osian’s Cinefan – hopefully with its “Asian & Arab” tag back – will be a much more exciting event to be in.
What 11th Osian’s Cinefan Film Festival will be rememberd for is surely the effort to make it a place where cinema is not just seen, but also discussed vigorously. The festival has had elaborate discussion forums in the past too, but this time, the effort was to make them more structured. So, under the recent initiative titled “Osian’s Learning Experience” (OLE), every director whose film was shown at the festival got an access to discuss their films extensively with the audience outside the theatre. And the experience was quite educative for both sides, one might surmise, going by the long question-answer sessions many of them found themselves in.
The biggest response, of course, was to the discussions that the audiences had with the young brigade of filmmakers from the Hindi film industry. It saw the likes of Anurag Kashyap, Vishal Bhardwaj, Imtiaz Ali, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar and Raj Kukar Gupta, who came along with one prominent technician involved with each of their films, participate in extended sessions sharing their take on their work and the art of cinema as a whole. Their films – Dev.D, Kaminey, Love Aaj Kal, Oye Lucky, Lucky Oye!, Luck by Chance and Aamir – were part of what was called the “New Stream” section, introduced to represent the new kind of cinema that is coming into Indian cinema that is trying to stir up a perfect mixture of new styles, good stories and popular entertainment, often successfully.
However, the section was restricted to just Hindi cinema, even though very interesting cinema is being created by a similar, young brigade of filmmakers in notably Marathi, Bengali, Tamil industries too in recent times. For an international festival, it surely will be imperative to reflect the “new streams” emerging in various parts of the country, instead of just restricting it to just the obviously most popular Hindi industry.
The festival this year had an eclectic representation of quite a few experimental films, and some of the delegates even were heard murmuring that there was too much of experimental stuff in the competition section – though this argument is fallacious since film festivals are places where all forms of cinema has equal right to be in, even if they do not necessarily cater to popular tastes even within the festival goer crowds.
For the first time in its history, the festival this year had its spotlight on India, and the brightest spark from the country came in the form of Paresh Kamdar’s Hindi film Khargosh. Almost fable like in its treatment that journeys back and forth between reality and realism, the film is about a child’s coming to terms with the ways of the lives of adults. With brilliant visual design, an incredibly minimalist background score and rich representation of small-town India, Kamdar’s film worked its magic on the juries, the critics as well as the audiences. Proof – it walked away with a special jury award and the audience award apart from sharing the Network for Promotion for Asian Cinema (NETPAC)-International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) award with Syrian film The Long Night by Hatem Mohammad Ali, a powerful study of how political events often destroy personal lives of people that walked away with the Best Film Award of the festival.
The festival’s opening film Hooked by Romanian director Adrian Sitaru was another film that showcased what a number of films in this edition proved time and again – that cinema is a medium open to all kinds of experimentations, many a time engaging the viewer completely. Shot innovatively with the camera always presenting the viewpoint of one of the three main characters, this small budget film gave an interesting beginning to the festival, which bestowed a lifetime achievement award on lyricist-poet-filmmaker Gulzar. With films with interesting themes, including Behnam Behzadi’s Iranian film Before the Burial which won the best actor and actress awards for Ali Reza Aghakhani and Negar Jhaverian, and the special jury award winner The Wailing Wall by Elyse Baccar of Tunisia that focused on the Palestinian situation, the festival was a mixed fare of about 100 features from 25 countries. But as they say, difficult times give rise to innovative ideas, and as Osian’s chairman Neville Tuli promised at the closing ceremony, next year, the festival will be back to its full glory, with the new initiatives of this year giving it a further shine.
(The writer served on the NETPAC-FIPRESCI jury at the festival)
(Published in Deccan Herald, www.deccanherald.com, www.deccanheraldepaper.com, 15-11-2009)