Time was when the International Film Festival of India shouted from the rooftop that its retrospectives and tributes were matchless. Admittedly they were. But over the years, even these sections appear to be getting unimpressive. This year, it is the general consensus among movie critics and festival regulars that the retrospective to Gurinder Chadha and the tribute to Germany’s Roland Reber smacked of poor judgement on the part of the organizing Directorate of Film Festivals.
Derek Malcolm, the respected British critic, admitted that though Chadha had made one or two interesting movies, she certainly did not warrant a retro. Another equally renowned critic, Rashid Irani, rued that this kind of choice was nothing short of disgraceful. The entire Cinema of the World category – which includes Reber and Chadha – was made up of awful films, he added.
Chadha admittedly made one gripping movie, Bend It Like Beckham. She really does not have anything else to show. Reber is an unknown entity even in Germany. The other day, one of his works, Angels with Dirty Wings, attracted the longest queues at the Festival till date. And for the wrong but obvious reason. It was semi-pornographic.
The only retro worthy of being there is that of Manoel de Oliveira’s. The man from Portugal is 101 years old, and is the only surviving auteur from the silent era. Born into an upper middleclass family of industrialists, he learnt the craft of cinema by watching Griffith, Gance and L’Herbier. He was also attracted to German expressionistic films and the creations of masters such as Eisenstein and Dreyer. Oliveira began making his own movies in the 1920s, first attempting documentaries that invited initial disdain. Great acclaim followed as more of his pictures popped out of the cans. Two of his magnificent films, I am Going Home and The Convent are part of this Festival.
As far as India goes, the Golden Jubilee Retrospectives honour master actor Soumitra Chatterjee, Sharmila Tagore and Asha Parekh. Tamil cinema’s gem, Kamal Hassan, who has also completed 50 years could not be included, because, as the Festival said, he had wanted at least seven of his movies to be screened. Only then could his journey as an actor be convincingly traced.
However, one must remember that retros, tributes and homages can be but mere frills in a festival. Ultimately, a festival is known by the crop of contemporary movies it can lineup and the celebrities it can attract. The Festival by the meandering Mandovi has but managed to offer, as veteran Festival-goer, remarked “a basket of eminently forgettable films”. As for the celebrity watch, it seems like a vain exercise with its Cannes-like Red Carpet being mute witness to mostly unheard of and unsung men and women.