Last Saturday, I was invited to the opening of the first Indian International Film Festival of Queensland (IIFFOQ). Brisbane has a large south Asian community and many Indian students at the three big universities, The University of Queensland, Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Griffith University and the training institute, TAFE. That this was the city's first festival celebrating Indian cinema was a surprise to me.
Chayan Sarkar (no relation of mine) and I had met only in May. I had grown tired of meeting people from mining or sales and was looking up LinkedIn for journalists, filmmakers, artistes and painters when I stumbled upon his profile. I watched the trailer of his film, The Sleeping Warrior (2012), which sort of connects some of the dots between Indian and Aboriginal spirituality. Like most tourists in Australia, I am very interested in the Aborigines. I wrote to Chayan. A couple of hours later, he replied, asking me to meet him. At 6.15 pm on that Thursday, we were sitting at The Three Monkeys Cafe at West End where we discussed, among other things, Bollywood Dreams, his company that produces, promotes and distributes Indian films. He talked about his film. I noticed that he used the phrase “the indigenous people of Australia” instead of “aborigines”.
He told me that he was launching IIFOQ on June 28. “Wow! That's next month,” I said. He was trying to put together a nice collection of Indian cinema, “not Bollywood”, for the audiences here. The venue would be QUT and he would be supported by the university's Creative Industries Faculty. (Right in the middle of the city, the university campus has a mix of heritage and new buildings. I love their idea of clubbing media studies and fashion technology under the same faculty. They even have a computer lab with shelves full of sewing machines!)
Besides a text message that mentioned that he would be attending the Cannes Film Festival, I didn't hear much from Chayan after that day. Then suddenly, last Saturday, I found the invitation to IIFFOQ in my inbox. We went to the inaugural ceremony. Instead of Bharatnatyam, they had chosen Mohinipatnam, the classical dance from Kerala, to begin the function. IIFFOQ was consciously trying to be different. They had my attention.
After the introductions of the members, panelists and dignitaries, the inaugural film, Dum Dum Deega Deega – Dancing in the Rain was screened. Directed by Ayush Kapur, the 15-minute film is one of the most powerful, optimistic films from India I have ever seen and propounds the theory, “The solution to your problem is often hidden in the problem itself, all you need is a different outlook.”
Over the next four days, Manjunath, Mystic Wind (Anjana Batash), Devdasi Children of Pune, 101 Questions (101 Chodyangal), The Sleeping Warrior, Deliverence (Bijolibalar Mukti), Bombay Movie, Jhijhak Kaisi – A documentary on breast cancer, Maa – The Mother, Qissa – The Tale of a Lonely Ghost, Colour of Sky (Akasathinte Niram), Pinky – Ek Satyakatha, Not a Fairy Tale (Rupkotha Noy), Once Upon a Time India and The Well (Vihir) were screened.
|A still from Dozakh|
My pick of the lot was the closing film, Dozakh – In Search of Heaven, written, produced and directed by Zaigham Imam. What starts as a regular film about the clash of two cultures in small-town India, turns into a riveting movie that drives home a simple point – that you are a human being first and then a man of faith. A Muslim cleric in a small-town near Varanasi repeatedly admonishes his son because he has befriended a rival Hindu priest. One day the son disappears. The cleric realises that he is, first and foremost, a father who can't bear the separation from his son. When his son's body is fished out of the mighty Ganges, the heartbroken father honours his son's last wish and does not bury his body. He gets it cremated.
I met Anne Demy-Geroe, the former director of the Brisbane International Film Festival, after the closing ceremony. She was visibly shaken. “I am still in shock. A Muslim cremates his son! I never thought I would see that.” We wondered whether it had been screened in India. It was, I discovered later, screened at the Kolkata Film Festival, Delhi International Film Festival, Third Eye Asian Film Festival in Mumbai, Bangalore International Film Festival and Kolhapur International Film Festival.
The only thing the opening chapter of IIFFOQ missed was the audience. Like all new Indian film festivals in foreign countries that strive to screen non-Bollywood cinema from India, the organisers at IIFFOQ did not actively invite Indian audiences (especially college students on campus) for the screenings. We often tend to forget that most of us had little to no exposure to films other than the mainstream Bollywood ones till satellite channels arrived India in the 1990s. Festival organisers often assume that mass Indian film-goers may not be interested in anything other than song-and-dance films with big stars. The result: Few 'intellectual-looking' Indians and fewer non-Asians make up the audience. It's not cross-over. It's a big mistake. Indian films, whichever category they belong to – parallel, art, short, long, feature or non-feature – are essentially for Indians. They must be invited to an Indian film fest.