Small films, big bashes and celebrities in their designer ensembles, that’s what IFFI has gotten reduced to. But with things turning intolerably bad, there could be more trouble brewing - the inglorious ghost of this year’s IFFI signals a warning that all may not be well for next year’s festival, if at all there is one in Goa.
At many of the screenings this year at the festival, each time the film ended, audiences hooted and yelled profanities, not as a reaction to the film, but by way of venting their anger at the poorly put-together show. The same reaction was much in evidence when they had to get out of the theatres to make way for other movie-watchers waiting in long serpentine queues.
Not a very pleasant thing to happen, least of all in a land where guests are treated as Gods. That may be too far-fetched, but it all boils down to the basic question which everyone connected with such festivals ought to ask: For what are film festivals meant? And exactly for whom are we spending millions?
Quite unambiguously, all of us would agree film festivals are all about movies, movies and more movies. One looks forward to watching films which may be superbly crafted, competently handled by able directors, or wonderfully acted. Or films which could turn out to be abysmally bad. Or further still, films which don’t affect the audiences at all. In short, everything that classifies into the world cinema category. A film buff doesn’t look for mediocre fare but obviously waits impatiently for such festivals to show-case the best.
The International Film festival of India (IFFI), our very own answer to the Cannes or the Toronto film festivals, should also be ideally dishing out the same fare to film aficionados from across the world. Some of the delegates who come as far as Germany, France, the UK, the USA, Switzerland or Saudi Arabia, Iran, China and this year’s focus country Argentina - just to name a few of the 40 participating countries - devour cinema passionately and look forward to educating themselves and feasting on the 10-day extravaganza that each host country puts up.
While organising such a festival on a grand scale, one would expect India to set world standards, not because it is the largest producer of films every year, but because it indisputably capable of orchestrating a perfectly co-ordinated event, where the best of world cinema gets projected amid all the glitter, trade facilitators, conferences and discussions that are usual adjuncts to screenings.
Sadly, our permanent venue in Goa failed miserably this year and had delegates, film critics, actors, directors producers fuming over the mismanaged experience.
“It’s the worst festival I’ve attended in my life,” pronounced eminent film critic Saibal Chatterjee. Incidentally, Chatterjee, like many others, didn’t have the patience to put up with the irregularities and left three days before the event got over.
Director Chitra Palekar, whose film Mati Maay was screened in the Indian Panorama said, “It’s in a total mess,” while art-house favourite actor Nandita Das was sad at the “poor selection of films this year.” Even actor director Deepti Naval, a regular at all such festivals, felt that barring Borat, Babel and Volver, nothing is worth seeing.”
And if this is what our Indian film buffs felt, who would like to imagine the plight of international guests. “Why are there so many people hanging around when there are no seats?” asked a Golden Palm-winning film director from Australia, who refused to be named or quoted. He was referring to the 3000-odd crowd that gathered at theatres which had a capacity of only 500-600 people.
That is not to presume that things have been as bad since Goa was made the permanent venue by IFFI, two years ago. In fact, in 2004, it was pretty much in order with proper sign-boards, schedules and good management which streamlined the flow of events so that visitors had a good experience.
Its downslide from a passable do to a downright chaotic and unruly global event amazes cinephiles, especially as the motto of the festival clearly states that "International Film Festivals aim at providing a common platform to film-makers and cine-goers to witness the internationally acclaimed films, to watch new trends and techniques being adopted by different countries leading to a healthy competition for bringing about an improvement in standards of production.”
One major reason for people getting incensed was the constantly glorified presence of Bollywood stars, who put in brief 10 minute appearances to perform at the opening ceremony or made fleeting entries whenever one of their films got screened. Manisha Koirala, Juhi Chawla, Shilpa Shetty, Anil Kapoor, Hrithik Roshan were celebrities who ‘condescended’ to make these blink-and-miss appearances and - you guessed it right – they were mobbed by fans all over.
As expected, television crews had a field day recording ‘bytes’ for their channels, which course their way into pointless speculative stories about why the Big B wasn’t invited to the festival, or who else was supposedly ‘requested’ to fly in but didn’t, and the like.
Was it the lack of headline-making hit films, or the media chasing Hindi film stars rather than covering the films themselves that most people bemoaned?
It was a bit of both, and by the looks of it, things are going to go from bad to worse if IFFI doesn’t get its act together.
One can only pray the organisers clean up their act and prove their worth so that people from around the world sit up and take notice. No one would, then, mind Bollywood glam dolls' invasion of the true cinefan's territory. We probably will not even mind if they hijack the show.