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Bollywood goes West

The 31st Toronto Film Fest has gone all out to accommodate a gamut of Indian films, writes Saibal Chatterjee.

india Updated: Sep 07, 2006 12:04 IST

The Cannes Film Festival always figures quite high on the agenda of many a Bollywood film production outfit. Want to generate some buzz? Get your film to the Riviera and watch the press back home go ballistic. But the truth of the matter is that the exercise invariably boils down to much ado about nothing.

For mainstream and off-mainstream Bollywood, the high-profile annual film festival that the Canadian metropolis of Toronto hosts could actually be a better bet in the long run. It is probably no coincidence that the two big Indian films that are in the official line-up of the 31st Toronto International Film Festival, Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna and Kabul Express, are from the two most market-savvy production companies in Mumbai, Dharma Productions and Yashraj Films respectively.

The biggest advantage of having your film in the Toronto festival is that it gives you direct access to the bustling North American distribution network, which, as we in India already know, can yield rich dividends, commercial and otherwise. Toronto is also where the pre-Oscar buzz, if any, is usually heard for the first time.

KANK is one of the films being showcased at the 31st International Toronto Film Festival.

Ashutosh

Gowariker’s Oscar-nominated

Lagaan

came to Toronto via the Locarno Film Festival in 2001 and went on to attain the sort of global visibility that few Indian films have managed in recent years.

A few years before

Lagaan

, Deepa Mehta’s controversial

Fire

, the first of her elemental trilogy, had premiered in the Toronto festival before finding international acceptance.

Last year, Mehta’s Water, a Canadian production with an Indian theme and a Sri Lankan location, earned the honour of being the opening night film of the 30th Toronto International Film Festival. The resultant buzz enabled the film to go into mainstream North American distribution.

KANK may have received mixed critical notices in India, but its producer-director Karan Johar is known to be harbouring Oscar ambitions for his long but characteristically facile drama about the pitfalls of marital infidelity. What better place than the Toronto International Film Festival to further that aspiration, however misplaced it may be.

Kabul Express, a songless road movie set in war-ravaged Afghanistan, marks a departure for Yashraj Films and, therefore, could be in with a better chance of being noticed by leading North American distributors and members of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

One member of the Kabul Express cast, John Abraham, already has a bit of a following in Toronto, thanks to his widely publicised appearance at the festival last year for the screening of Water.

In Deepa Mehta’s period film, he was a young Gandhian; in Kabul Express, he plays a character that is diametrically different, a contemporary war journalist. Toronto’s familiarity with the Bollywood hunk could help Kabul Express get greater play in the media than it would otherwise have been possible.

The festivals in Cannes and Locarno, two events that Bollywood sets much store by, had completely cold-shouldered Indian cinema earlier in the year. The 31st Toronto International Film Festival, in contrast, has gone all out to accommodate the entire gamut of Indian films. Isn’t that a cue of sorts for Bollywood to shift its festival focus across the Atlantic?