This one has to be lager than life. If Deewar is remembered for the line, “Mere paas ma hai,” the 38th International Film Festival of India in Goa has evoked this don’t-worry-just-guzzle piece of dialogue, “You liked the movie? Fantastic. Have a beer. You didn’t like the movie? Never mind. Have a beer.”
The barrels of beer have been frothing at Panjim’s GMC complex — which the taxi driver remarked, perhaps half-accurately — was a medical college (Goa Medical College) where he would once bring his kids for anti-malaria injections. Right at this moment, the sprawling powder yellow structure houses a concatenation of offices to ensure that India’s most high-profile international film event gets to the finishing line on Monday. Over halfway through, it must be acknowledged that it’s rocking, never mind the hiccups.
Organisational lapses, some last-minute glitches — Merde! The print expected from Paris didn’t arrive in time — and the conspicuous absence of Bollywood’s glitterati, are part of the festival roulette. Shah Rukh Khan was showcased at the inauguration. ‘That’s enough!’ is the attitude taken by the Directorate of Film Festivals, affiliated to the Ministry of Information and Festival. So why break into a dard-e-disco over the missing Bollywogs?
Right. There’s some sense and sensibility in that stance, especially when it is compared to to last year’s replica in Goa of a flashy, star concert show designed for NRIs. Evidently this time, a relative amount of austerity has been the agenda of both the Ministry and the Entertainment Society of Goa which co-hosts the event. Indeed, so far the countless films on display have been the super-heroes with — like it or not — a scene-stealing supporting performance by the ubiquitous lager mania. Quench easily done?
A women’s organisation quickly protested against the booze fest. But that has turned out to a storm in a beer mug. Some have complained about the rigmarole of reserving seats to the shows in advance. But the method seems to have worked: there were no serpentine queues, no fist bouts, no smashed glass doors. Goa’s student squad, recruited as ushers, was a smart idea, even if on occasion they teetered and tumbled down the steep stairs of the INOX auditoria.
Whatever the highs and lows, the worth of a film festival is to be gauged from a simple test — from its exposition of cinema normally inaccessible to the cineastes, film students and technicians. Or from films that do not show up at the neighbourhood multiplexes and the rent-a-DVD circuit. If at least a handful of excellent films are on view (let’s say one a day) — be it in Cannes, Berlin, Venice or Goa — the festival has justified its raison d’etre.
The initial lap of the IFFI has been glorious, above all for its opening screening of Romania’s intriguingly titled 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Directed by by Cristian Mungiu, the Cannes Palme D’Or winner saluted the power of friendship; a young woman organises an abortion for her hostel roommate, circa the 1980s when termination of pregnancies were unlawful in Romania. Alloying content with grainy technique, the result was unapologetically feminist in an era when the word has become unfashionable.
Poland’s Tricks, which snagged the top award at the Venice film festival, was an astonishingly descriptive account of a six-year-old boy’s relationship with a father, who may or may not exist. Following the child’s interaction with a world beyond his understanding, here was a neo-realistic Harry Potter — right from his almost suicidal confrontations with a speeding train to his interaction with an unfriendly flock of pigeons. Wonderful and witty, it has been another prize catch of the festival.
Also count among the Goa fest rewards: Norway’s Reprise, a troubled but constantly perceptive meditation on two friends who aspire to be intellectual writers. If this funkily cerebral film was memorable, so was the purely entertaining Orchestra Seats about the rags-to-unasked-for-riches story about a Paris bar waitress. Very Pretty Woman, very charmant.
Pakistan’s Khuda ke Liye, believed to be enormously successful at the ticket windows overseas, was cinematically cheesy. On the upside, it was ideologically courageous, articulating truths about censorious governance as well as the ghettoising of Muslims by the First World as potential terrorists.
Finland’s eminent auteur Aki Kaurasmaki delivered a stupendously stylised Lights in the Dusk, an Euro film noir about a security guard who willingly allows a femme fatale to prove that love stinks.
The sidebar events of the fest once again asserted that the IFFI need not distract itself and film connoisseurs with token gestures. The Ingmar Bergman retrospective, for instance, consisted essentially of widely rotated prints from the National Film Archive of Pune. Also, if Bergman’s passing away was acknowledged, why was the other great master, Michelangelo Antonioni, ignored?
To be sure, there is a roulette ambience about the IFFI. Every second film is chancy, and if it connects, then there’s the happy ending. At the midway junction, the festival has done well for itself — strengthening the case of Goa as the permanent venue for the event. Dissenting voices may continue to argue for the return of the festival to New Delhi. But from all evidence, that is a lost cause. The projection facilities at the capital’s Siri Fort complex just cannot compete with Goa’s multiplex-updated facilities.
Plus, the beach town appears to have gone out of its way to set up an extra auditorium at the renovated Maquinez Palace adjoining the medical college. A drive away to another subsidiary venue has been facilitated by a fleet of autorickshawallas serving as free ferry service. Now, even the cash-rich Venice doesn’t do that.
For once, most key details of the festival have been executed to a considerable degree of efficiency. The 38th edition of the IFFI, with its stock of quality cinema, finally seems to have found a home in the beach town.
And, of course, whether you liked the East European or Far East offering or not, there’s that amusing line of dialogue, “Have a beer.” Enough for any Devdas to turn teetotaller.