The prestigious Indian Panorama opened here today at the International Film Festival of India with the Konkani work, Paltadcho Manis (The Man Beyond the Bridge). This is the first ever Konkani movie in the Panorama section, since its inception in the 1970s. This year, there are 26 films in this section, which, according to Festival Director S.M. Khan’s note in the Panorama brochure, affords “a top-of-the mountain view of Indian cinema”. He adds: “This section presents a 360 degree sprawl of the Indian cinema which in its vast sweep encompasses many subcultures and lifestyles. The cinema that emanates out of this varied cultural landscape is equally diverse and unique”.
Sadly, Khan could not be farther from the truth. Over the years, the Indian Panorama has been attracting “muck” as one cineaste at Goa rightly pointed out. Most of the 100-odd movies that were sent up for possible selection in a section that was first envisaged to showcase the works of talented newcomers and masters were of abysmally poor quality. And out of this, a seven-member jury (of which I was a part), chaired by Muzaffar Ali, picked 26, the maximum number that can go here.
How good was this choice? The answer is not far to seek. For one, there were some on the jury who failed to understand that this is an Indian Panorama, not a Bengali or Tamil or Malayalam or Oriya Panorama. Often, this key aspect is lost sight of with members bogged down by their own linguistic and cultural preferences. They forget that they are part of a pan-Indian body selecting pan-Indian cinema.
Obviously, the selections were unfair or, at least, not as fair as they ought to have been. And this must be said in the interest of public money and trust. This year, Kerala Café, for instance, should have certainly made the cut. But it did not. On the other hand, entries, such as Kutty Srank, Ijjodu and Shankara Punyakoti should never have been chosen. But they were, and all these three made it into the Panorama because they got the Chairman’s casting vote.
It is well known by now that the Chairman watched but very few films, and another member, Bobby Bedi, did not attend the screenings for 13 out of the 15 days that the jury saw the movies. Bedi was out of the country. Ali was away in Lucknow for at least three days. The usual and almost sacrosanct practice of daily jury deliberations chaired by the Chairman was dispensed with.
Raghu Menon, Secretary in the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, told me at an informal meeting in New Delhi that it was his dream to make IFFI a world class event. It is a dream that so many of us share. But the selection of the Panorama jury by the organizing Directorate of Film Festivals and the privileges it extended to some members like Ali and Bedi were highly questionable.