Rituparno Ghosh, whose Bengali movie, Abhoman, is to be screened at the ongoing Marrakech International Film Festival, will not be here. The organizers are not too happy with this. One of them told me that “we had agreed to everything he asked for, club class ticket and the like…Now he has written to us saying he will not be coming. We are in a mess”. The Festival takes pride in introducing the director and his or her actors before every screening, and Ghosh’s absence would be noticed by an extremely cinema literate audience here. And with some of the greats from the movie world, such as Mike Figgis, Christopher Walken, Emir Kusturica, Elia Suleiman and Abbas Kiarostami here, it seems entirely like Ghosh’s loss.
Marrakech has had a special relationship with Indian cinema. In its first years, Amitabh Bachchan was one of its invitees, and a few years later Vishal Bharadwaj made a huge impact with his Omkara (based on Shakespeare’s Othello, but set in Uttar Pradesh’s badlands). The open square where it was screened came alive with hundreds of Moroccans, who could not stop clapping and dancing. I still remember some young Moroccan girls dressed up in sari and trying to speak to me in Hindi. They told me that they had picked up the language by watching Hindi television serials!
The India connection remains unbroken with Nandita Das here on the jury this year. This morning, when I was chatting with Nandita Das, she said that festivals such as Marrakech afforded a great learning experience for her. As they would for many others, I am sure. Kiarostami, for instance, is such a fine person, and so knowledgeable that one can learn so much from him, she averred. He also appeared very considerate when he said on the opening night that art was not something to be judged, and he hoped that those who might not win an award here would not take it to heart. Every film had its intrinsic value and merit, but unfortunately the jury could only choose a certain number of movies for prizes, he added before declaring the Festival open in Farsi.
In fact, each juror had to declare the Festival open in his or her language. Das spoke in Hindi, and she thought that it was a great way of inaugurating a festival. “I think this is a really well organised event” she said. Having recently attended the International Film Festival of India at Panaji, where, much to her chagrin, her debut feature, Firaaq, was shown without English subtitles, she could not help comparing Marrakech with Goa. She was all praise for the Moroccan festival. “It is such a young Festival, and see how well it is being conducted.
“I think IFFI needs to get far more professional. There is no comparison between IFFI and Marrakech”, Das quipped. “Every festival is now getting to be a bit of show biz, a bit of spectacle. At the same, no good festival would ever compromise on core issues like the quality of movies, the standard of the jury and the participation of audiences”. Sadly, IFFI seems to be gearing more towards a vulgar kind of show, and it pays little attention to content or jury. A festival is not about having hundreds of films. It is not quantity, it is quality. Only if a festival concentrates on these that it can hope to attract the right kind of attention.
Gautaman Bhaskaran has been covering the Marrakech International Film Festival for several years.