In a splendid show of Bollywood camaraderie and the mingling of politicians and celebrities, the 20th Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF), India's second oldest movie fest - was inaugurated on Monday by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan and superstar Shah Rukh Khan.It was light, camera and action at the Netaji Indoor Stadium here, where an awed audience watched the stars descend and also saw the Indian screen giants raise a toast to the cinema buffs, in Bengali, for their sheer interest in films and love for the film personalities.
Draped in uttariyas (stoles) gifted by Banerjee, the Bachchan clan comprising Amitabh, his wife and veteran actor Jaya Bachchan, son and actor Abhishek and actor-daughter-in-law Aishwarya, seated on the dais, set the evening on fire with their oomph, charisma and reiteration of their links to Bengal.
Strains of light classical music by percussionist Bickram Ghosh, classical music vocalist Rashid Khan and singer Usha Uthup set the tune for the magical evening as Big B and SRK hugged each other briefly.
Indian filmmakers Amol Palekar and Shoojit Sircar graced the occasion with a host of Bengali film actors.
Looking suave in black tuxedos, Big B and SRK were assisted by the thali girl, actor Raima Sen in a bright red sari, as they lit the ceremonial lamp with Banerjee.
Thunderous applause went up as Aishwarya and Jaya followed suit.
A regular fixture in big events of the state government, Shah Rukh, also the state's brand ambassador, was greeted with loud cheers as he urged international delegates to try the variety of sweets from Bengal.
Attired in gold and black, Aishwarya, the former beauty queen launched the official brochure while veteran actor Tanuja and Jaya released a music CD of Bengali music.
Jaya, in a sophisticated white-beige sari, said she was delighted to be there with the rest of the family and wished grand-daughter Aaradhya would join them one day on the same stage.
"It has become a family event for us," she said.
Both Tanuja and Jaya, acknowledged that the Bengali audience is "the best in the world" while a very sporting Aishwarya congratulated the orchestra on their rousing performance and thanked the chief minister in broken Bengali.
"Amader poribarer proti apnader ashirvad bhlaobashar jonyo onek onek dhonyobaad (thank you for the love and affection that you have showered on our family)," said Aishwarya.
Among the international delegates, award-winning Australian filmmaker Paul Cox was present to witness the spectacle that he compared to a soccer event.
"I thought I was in a soccer field," observed Cox, who was astounded at the size and scale of the ceremony.
"When you see a film on the big screen you realise the true power of the cinema," he noted.
Cox is part of the jury that decides the winner of KIFF's maiden competitive segment- the best international women directors.
Actor Irrfan Khan hoped the film festival "would inspire the new generation to find their own voice and engage an universal audience".
"I think I should change my name to 'Dhhonyobad' (thank you in Bengali)," said Irrfan, triggerring delirious roars from the spectators when he uttered a few words in Bengali.
SRK, who had at last year's opening gala promised to talk in Bengali, did so spiritedly and with full gusto.
Present for the fourth opening ceremony, the superstar remarked the event gets "bigger, better, flamboyant and more vibrant" each year.
After SRK's stress on the role of Indian cinema in uniting people in a technology-driven world, Big B's thought-provoking speech on the changing role of women in society, mirrored in cinema, perfectly rounded off the evening.
Banerjee on her part expressed her desire to transform the regional film industry into a world-class facility and bring Hollywood, Bollywood and world cinema to Kolkata.
Boasting of a rich oeuvre of 137 films from 60 countries, the fest will see 40 international delegates and 15 segments. There will be 31 Indian films, including 13 Bengali films. It concludes Nov 17.