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Old films mar India festival in Washington

Maximum India has been everything it was expected to be – a resounding success – but for its films: old art house productions, usual suspects pulled out from the stable of ponies reserved for film festivals.

art and culture Updated: Mar 16, 2011 01:26 IST
Yashwant Raj Yashwant Raj

Maximum India has been everything it was expected to be – a resounding success – but for its films: old art house productions, usual suspects pulled out from the stable of ponies reserved for film festivals.

The host, Kennedy Center, is aware of the criticism, but is taking it on the chin. Alicia Adams, who has curated the 20-day Indian cultural bonanza, said the film section was put together with the help of actor Nandita Das.

“Once you ask an artist to curate (the show) you can’t then say I don’t want you to do this – you can’t interfere,” Adams told Hindustan Times on Monday. The attempt was then do liven up things to make the best of it.

The films were arranged around the theme of women in Bollywood – Devi (1960), Mandi (1983), Mirch Masala (1985), Fire (1996), Four Women (2007) and its only concession to contemporary films Dhobi Ghat (2011).

“While the films are old we have tried to bring over their directors to talk about their work so they (the films) are not stuck in time,” said Adams, adding, “and that’s how we have tried to mitigate that.”

Maximum India is a series of art and culture shows being hosted by Kennedy Centre of performing Arts here in collaboration with the Indian Centre for Cultural Relations. It’s really Kennedy Centre’s show all the way.

It’s been a resounding success so far. And Chef Hemant Oberoi, the most expensive show there, at $100 a head. But he is a sellout, drawing crowds as big if not bigger than those thronging the free shows running elsewhere in the complex.

But the star of the show could easily have been Shah Rukh Khan. He was ideal for the opening ceremony, but for his security detail. “Too expensive for us,” said Adams, who had a budget of $ 7 million to curate the shows.

Adams, who is vice president of international programming and dance at the Kennedy Center, spent over two and a half years and made seven visits to India to select artists and performers for the 20-day festival.

And she has put together an impressive package: a mix of old and new in all them major categories of performing arts – dance, music – classical, jazz and Bollywood – theatre, and literature. But for that one weak link: films.

“Audiences are primarily interested in what is new,” Adams said, adding, “Dhobi Ghat is the one that is selling.” She wishes all the entries were new but was not possible, not with the kind of money Bollywood demands.