Many winters ago, when this writer walked into the opening party at the Deauville Asiatic Film Festival on a cold March night, the musical strains from Gandhiji’s bhajan greeted him. Imagine hearing Ishwara Allah Thero Naam in a remote French city on the north Atlantic Normandy coast -- where once the Allied forces landed signalling the beginning of the end of the Axis power. Well, the bhajan of peace sure enough evoked this writer’s emotions of patriotism -- and a longing for home.
Surprisingly, this writer was battered with the same kind of feeling when he entered ‘China Night’ the other day here at the ongoing Cairo International Film Festival. The songs that were being played that evening at the party -- held to mark the festival celebrating China as its guest of honour -- were from Hindi and Punjabi movies. Many of these were Bollywood hits, mostly from the films of the 1960s and the 1970s. One number that kept playing and replaying was Churaliye Hai... from Yaadon Ki Baraat. Seemed like Bollywood having mesmerised the Chinese.
Tang Xiufan, Cultural Attache of the Chinese Embassy in Cairo, a young genial man, said that since Bollywood songs had great appeal in Egypt, it was decided to play them at the celebration. “We know the popularity of Indian film songs the world over,” he beamed, happy that there was at least one person in that evening’s gathering who had walked up to him with a look of immense appreciation.
China Night also marked the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Egypt and China. “China Night is a great platform for China-Egypt cultural exchanges,” said Liu Yongfeng, Charge d’affaires of the Chinese Embassy in Cairo.”China Night at the festival not only shows the longstanding friendship and mutual trust between the two countries, but also enhances genuine understanding and friendship between the two peoples,” Liu added.
Magda Wassef, President of the festival, was happy that 20 films from China were being screened here -- “focusing on contemporary Chinese cinema with various kinds of narrative styles and movie schools”.
The celebrated Chinese director, Jia Zhangke -- who was honoured with the festival’s Excellence Award -- is showcasing some of his most significant works, including the Cannes competition title, Mountains May Depart.
The film is in a way a critique of the market-driven prosperity in China. Set in Jia’s hometown of Fenyang -- as his other works have been -- Mountains May Depart chronicles the new wealth in the world’s most populous country and how this has brought about a seemingly relative freedom, transforming the nation. But what Jia asks through his narrative is whether this is a good thing.
Some of the other Chinese titles at the festival are Diao Yinan’s Black Coal. Thin Ice (a thriller about a detective falling in love with a murder suspect), Ning Hao’s No Man’s Land (an adventure set on the Gobi Desert), Buddha Mountain (jury member Li Yu’s take on teenage confusion in contemporary China) and Feng Xiaogang’s Cell Phone (on how sensitive info stored in a mobile instrument can prove dangerous).
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the Cairo International Film Festival.)