The 38th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) has drawn a fair bit of flak for being, as sound byte-hungry television channels and star-struck sections of the print media put it, lacklustre. It is easy to see why.
Barring the well-publicised presence of Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan as chief guest on the opening night and appearances by sundry starlets during the subsequent 10 days of the film festival, IFFI 2007 kept gratuitous glitz and glamour out of the frame.
Genuine film lovers, who descended on Panaji to savour the best of Indian and world cinema, had a field day. In the absence of the mad rush and chaos usually generated by the arrival of stars, as was the case last year, cineastes could handpick their favourite films and watch them in peace, without TV crews and cameras getting in the way.
Indeed, the 38th IFFI has been the best of the four editions of the union government-mandated event that Goa has hosted so far. By the end of it, film buffs were understandably asking for more.
On show were some truly wonderful films, not only in the two showpiece sections of the festival -- Cinema of the World and Indian Panorama, but also in the sidebars like the newly introduced IFFI Goa Film Treasures and the mini-retrospectives of Swedish celluloid poet Ingmar Bergman and German master Volker Schlondorff.
"IFFI is finally once again looking like a genuine film festival. I must say the Directorate of Film Festivals (DFF) has done a great job in reclaiming the lost essence of IFFI's true character," internationally feted filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan told IANS.
Adoor, however, warned against complacency. "Continuity is an absolute must. DFF officials and people who have the best interests of IFFI at heart must sit down immediately after this edition ends and devise ways and means of building upon the improvements that have been achieved this year," he said.
Malti Sahay, former IFFI director, believes half the battle would be won if the person heading the DFF were given a longer run and greater elbowroom to pursue his/her vision. "It is really unfortunate that the tenure of the director of the festival is rarely more than a year these days," she said.
The present director, Neelam Kapur, was in charge of the show in 2004, the year IFFI moved to Goa. In 2005 and 2006, senior officials of the information and broadcasting ministry, Afzal Amanullah and V.B. Pyarelal, headed DFF respectively. Kapur is back in the saddle this year, but she is due for a promotion soon and it seems unlikely that she will last in her current job till the next edition of the festival.
The opening film, Romanian director Cristian Mungui's 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, winner of the 60th Cannes Film Festival's Palme d'Or, went a long way in setting the tone for the 38th IFFI. The unrelentingly grim film about a clandestine abortion in Communist-era Romania provided an early pointer to the fact that the latest IFFI would be a no-nonsense affair.
The festival lived up to that promise, unpooling some fantastic cinematic essays, including quite a few remarkable Indian films. At the top of the list of audience favourites were two Indian films: Shyamaprasad's Ore Kadal (The Sea Within) and Kolkata director Anjan Das' Jaara Brishtite Bhijechhilo (Drenched in the Rains).
The two Indian entries in the Competition for Asian, African and Latin American Films - Bollywood art director Samir Chanda's Bengali film Ek Nadir Galpo (Tale of a River) and Lenin Rajendran's Malayalam-language Ratri Mazha (Night Rain -weren't bad either. Add to these films the latest works of two of India's finest filmmakers, Adoor and Buddhadeb Dasgupta, and you have an Indian Panorama as good as any IFFI has had in the recent past.
That apart, the 38th IFFI had films by Denmark's Bille August, Japan's Naomi Kawase and Finland's Aki Kaurismaki. It also had South African Gavin Hood's Oscar-winning Tsotsi, and a wonderful crop of European films led by Frenchman Alain Corneau's The Second Wind.
One could, as always, carp about the big films and names that DFF failed to get, but what the much-maligned IFFI did manage to attract this year was good enough to keep the inveterate cinema enthusiast interested all the way through.