There is no place in India where one can have more fun in the sun than in the state of Goa. But can it be another Cannes? Its natural beauty and its people's zeal for life are wonderful attributes no doubt. But is that enough of a qualification for Goa to be the permanent venue of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI)? I reckon not.
It is true that being a travelling film festival hasn't helped IFFI's cause one bit all these years. A demand to find a fixed resting place for India's annual celebration of cinema had been gaining ground for long. But Goa certainly does not look like the right answer.
The haste with which the information and broadcasting ministry has decided to shift IFFI to the western state, therefore, seems a little strange. The minister of state for information and broadcasting, Ravi Shankar Prasad, firmly believes that Goa has the potential of being a film festival venue in the Cannes league. There is no denying that it does, but as things stand on the ground today it would take at least 50 years for that potential to be realized.
Fifty years is a long time in politics. Information initially available from the I&B ministry had suggested that IFFI would shift to Goa only in 2005, giving the state culture department and the New Delhi-based Directorate of Film Festivals two full years to get the show on the road. But the lead-time has been halved. At a press conference in New Delhi on Tuesday, Mr Prasad announced that IFFI would begin rolling in Goa next year itself.
The Goa government, headed by Manohar Parrikar, is known to be extremely keen to play host to the festival on an annual basis. The state chief minister has declared that he will go all out to ensure everything is in place by next year.
But the question refuses to go away: can Goa ever hope to match Cannes? The information and broadcasting minister thinks it can. "The state is more beautiful than Cannes in many respects and there is no reason why it can't pull off the feat," he says.
But let us consider the more significant facts. One, Goa doesn't yet have an international airport and a festival venue cannot function without one. Two, it doesn't have the infrastructure required to run a full-fledged film festival. Three, its hotels are not concentrated in one place. While these drawbacks can be eliminated over time, the one problem that can never be surmounted is the lack of a well-entrenched cinema culture in Goa.
That stems from the fact that the state does not have a film industry though film crews from Mumbai frequently use its picturesque locations to can their musical fantasies. What is even more worrisome is that Goa does not probably have a large enough audience that is passionate about cinema, particularly the kind of cinema that festivals are meant to promote. No film festival can develop a character without active local support.
Cannes is a happening venue primarily because of high level of interest the annual film festival there generates among the local population. Every street corner, every commercial establishment, every shop and kiosk is, during the festival, plastered with posters of the festival and photographs of legendary stars. It would be a bit much to expect all Goans to respond to a film festival in quite the same manner. Cinema isn't soccer. Goans do love their football but films are an iffy area for them.
A permanent venue for IFFI, as we have seen, is a great idea all right, but Goa as we know it today might not be the right choice. Apart from taking away from the seriousness of the event, a film festival in Goa could turn out to be even more elitist and bureaucratically controlled than such events generally are in the heart of New Delhi. A rethink on the part of the information and broadcasting ministry would, therefore, certainly be in order.