The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) has never seen more Indian films and their representatives than this year. Bengali filmmaker Rituparno Ghosh, Amitabh Bachchan, Preity Zinta, Rahul Bose and Nandita Das are among the denizens of Indian cinema currently in the Canadian city.
Ghosh's English language feature film The Last Lear had a red carpet premiere at the festival, which began on Sep 6.
Both the audience and the critics appreciated the movie, which is based on veteran Bengali actor Utpal Dutt's play Aajker Shahjahan. It revolves around an aging Shakespearean actor who takes on one of the bard's most challenging roles.
"The response has been beyond anything I've expected. Mr Bachchan is being treated like god. His Shakespearean oratory is sending audiences into raptures. You know I grew up on Shakespeare so I'm not so bad with it either," Preity, who plays the female lead in the film, told IANS over the phone from Toronto.
"Last year, when Karan Johar, Shah Rukh Khan and Mr. Bachchan came to Toronto with Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna, I couldn't join them because of a friend's wedding. I'm so glad that I came here with The Last Lear," added Preity.
Apart from that, Santosh Sivan's Before the Rains is also being showcased at the event. These films have helped in changing the perception of the West about Indian movies.
Film critic Christopher McKinnon pointed out the vital changes in the Indian movies on the TIFF website, saying: "A new crop of films from India defies the Bollywood tropes that Western audiences often mistakenly apply to all of Indian cinema. You won't find many scenes of singing and dancing, and hardly a frame of melodrama.
"Bollywood represents only a part of India's national cinema, and these diverse selections will show Toronto some daring and innovative new films from acclaimed filmmakers and actors."
Calling Amitabh "the most revered movie star on the planet", the festival compares the actor's performance in The Last Lear to Richard Burton and Toshiro Mifune (Roshomon).
"There was the red-carpet premiere on Saturday. And the comments on my performance are flattering. I'm honoured and embarrassed," said the Big B from Toronto.
Rahul Bose is representing Sivan's English-language film Before The Rains, about a British planter in colonial India who wants to build a road to the hills to commercially tap the spices grown there. He is equally delighted by the response to the Indian film in general and his film in particular.
"Santosh and I got a standing ovation after the first screening of Before The Rains. This was the first time that I was watching the film. And I must say I seldom feel so happy about my films and especially my performance. Fortunately, the feeling is shared here in Toronto," said Rahul.
Writing about Rahul's performance, Canadian critic Cameron Bailey said, "Rahul is the heart of the film".
Commenting on the appreciation that his film is receiving, Sivan said: "Actually I'm here in Toronto with two films. Before The Rains and also my AIDS film Prarambha, which is part of a four-film bouquet. All the four AIDS films have been very well received. As for Before The Rains, Rahul, Nandita Das and I are enjoying the attention."
Actor-director Satish Kaushik, who is representing his British film Brick Lane, in which he plays a foul-mouthed spouse-abusing Bangladeshi, is over-the-moon.
Kaushik said: "I travelled from Mumbai to Toronto with Shekhar Kapoor, Shilpa Shetty, Sameera Reddy and Vishal Bharadwaj. We had lots of fun. Shekhar showed me the trailer of Elizabeth 2. I showed him stills of my next film Tere Sang. It was nice to feel that guru and chela (teacher and pupil) were heading for the same festival for their films. You know I was assistant to Shekhar during the filming of Mr India."
According to Kaushik, Monica Ali, on whose book the film is based, is pleased with the overwhelming response to Brick Lane.
"The film has got tremendous praise here in Toronto. People want to know if I'm a real-life Bengali since I've got the accent so well. This morning I was given a complete makeover. I didn't even know what that was until I saw myself in the mirror after they finished with me.
"It was great to know that the Brick Lane author Monica Ali was very happy with my performance. In fact, earlier she had mailed my director Sarah Gavron and complimented her for casting a real life Chanu (the name of the character)," Kaushik said.