Report: Pune International Film Festival 2024 - Hindustan Times
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Report: Pune International Film Festival 2024

ByKappurvasu Vasudevan
Jan 31, 2024 07:03 PM IST

The 22nd edition of the weeklong festival that began on 18 January featured some superb international and Indian films and honoured a range of legendary figures

The audience at the opening ceremony of the 22nd Pune International Film Festival reacted enthusiastically when festival director Jabbar Patel announced that PIFF’s theme was “Cinema Is Hope”. Recalling that the event had come a long way, he observed that films bear witness to the scars of our times: “We laugh, cry and rage with the characters in films. In the process, we rediscover the profound humanity that binds us all together. Movies are beyond the entertainment tag; it is a shared heartbeat, a tapestry, woven from countless threads of experience. We are fellow travellers on a cinematic odyssey when the lights give way to darkness in a movie hall.”

Director of the Pune International Film Festival, Jabbar Patel, presenting the SD Burman International Award to music director MM Keeravani. (Courtesy the Pune International Film Festival on X @piffindia) PREMIUM
Director of the Pune International Film Festival, Jabbar Patel, presenting the SD Burman International Award to music director MM Keeravani. (Courtesy the Pune International Film Festival on X @piffindia)

The audience at the opening ceremony of the 22nd Pune International Film Festival reacted enthusiastically when festival director Jabbar Patel announced that PIFF’s theme was “Cinema Is Hope”. Recalling that the event had come a long way, he observed that films bear witness to the scars of our times: “We laugh, cry and rage with the characters in films. In the process, we rediscover the profound humanity that binds us all together. Movies are beyond the entertainment tag; it is a shared heartbeat, a tapestry, woven from countless threads of experience. We are fellow travellers on a cinematic odyssey when the lights give way to darkness in a movie hall.”

Marathi films called the shots in the Indian panorama section. Not far behind were two films from the south that dealt with the struggles of LGBTQIA individuals in India. With the focus being on the global arena, the Italian film A Brighter Tomorrow (2023) opened the festival and another Italian one, Kidnapped (2023), closed it.

In the former, director Nani Moretti, who shot to fame with the feature documentary Ecce Bombo (1978), presents the travails of a movie director caught in the web of an Italian Communist branch leader and his secretary thrown into existential chaos by the Soviet Union’s invasion of Hungary in 1956.

Marco Belloccchio’s Kidnapped shows poignant moments in Bologno’s Jewish quarter in 1858, when the Pope’s soldiers burst into the home of the Mortara family and take away their seven-year-old son, Edgardo. A delight right through, this film, which was part of last year’s Cannes Main Competition, showcases the acumen of the director, whose debut feature, Fists In The Pocket, won an award at Locarno in 1965.

Added to the package was the 97-minute Hindi film, Outhouse (2023), that highlighted the legendary talents of Mohan Agashe and Sharmila Tagore in the lead roles.

Pick of the Gulf

 

The Iranian film, The Wastetown (2022), had its magical moments but it was the 91-minute The Burdened (2023), a joint venture from Yemen and Saudi Arabia, directed by Amr Gamal, that shone. The story of a Yemeni couple and their children, The Burdened pivots on an illegal abortion.

Marathi cinema

 

A classic Marathi film that narrates the heartwarming story of young Shyam and his deep bond with his mother, Shyamchi Aai (based on a book of the same name by Pandurang Sadashiv Sane), a timeless tale of motherly love set in rural Maharashtra, definitely made a strong impression.

A scene from Shyamchi Aai (Film still)
A scene from Shyamchi Aai (Film still)

A queer romance drama

 

Jayaprakash Radhakrishnan shot to fame in 2016 with the thriller drama Lens which won him the coveted Gollapudi Srinivas National Award for best debutant director. He went on to make The Mosquito Philosophy (2019) and Thalaikoothal (2023). His latest film, Kaadhal Enbadhu Podhuudamai (Love is for All), premiered at the 54th International Film Festival in Goa last November. The bilingual film based on a true story has had its share of difficulties. Radhakrishnan had to convince the production house, Mankind Cinemas, to have a Tamil version. “For the producer, the Malayalam version was fine but he was sceptical about the possible outbursts in the event of a theatrical release in Tamil,” he says. Ultimately, however, everything went smoothly.

A scene from Kaadhal Enbadhu Podhuudamai(Love is for All) (Film still)
A scene from Kaadhal Enbadhu Podhuudamai(Love is for All) (Film still)

When Sam (Lijomol Jose) invites Deepa home and introduces her as her partner, all hell breaks loose. The dramatic climax brings to the fore the many issues that plague same-sex relationships in India. “Each of the five pivotal characters have their say. In my view, that’s the high point of the movie,” says the director. “There have been scores of incidents where the girls are driven out of their homes or are forcibly wedded to a man. One often reads reports in newspapers but when this is presented on screen, voices suddenly emerge to be heard loud and clear,” says Radhakrishnan who hopes for a theatrical release. “Such themes are meant for the younger generation. It is their life which is at stake. That, in essence, is the bottom line of the script,” he says.

Jyothika and Mammootty in Kaathal The Core (Film still)
Jyothika and Mammootty in Kaathal The Core (Film still)

Directed by Jeo Baby, the Malayalam language Mammootty-Jyothika starrer, Kaathal The Core, where the woman finds out that her husband is gay, is another truly impactful film.

Bajpayee and his craft

 

The hall was packed during the conversation between Jabbar Patel and actor Manoj Bajpayee who spoke about working in theatre, Satya (1998) as a turning point in his career, and how his latest film Joram (2023) too was a milestone for him.

Honouring the legends

 

A number of greats were felicitated by PIFF this year. Music composer, MM Keeravani, who was conferred the Distinguished Award – instituted in memory of music director Sachin Dev Burman – said it was as good as winning an Oscar. Keeravani recalled the poignant moment of the song rendered by Sachin Da in Aradhana (1969): “Safal hogi Aradhana mirrored the feelings of the protagonist in the musical score, which brought to light the feelings of a woman who had lost her husband. The essence would have been lost if the pathos had not been conveyed. An award in remembrance of the composer par excellence has been the icing to last year’s Oscar,” said the winner of the Academy Award for Best Original Song for RRR (2022)’s Naatu Naatu.

The voice of millions, Ameen Sayani, was also feted. The nonagenarian could not make it but the festival team ensured he got his due by going to his residence to do the honours. “Sayani’s distinctive and warm voice became synonymous with film music commentary, and his interviews with Bollywood legends added depth to his deep repertoire of knowledge. His impeccable diction and engaging style endeared him to millions of listeners. Beyond radio, Sayani ventured into television, hosting shows that further solidified his status as an eminent media personality,” said Jabbar Patel.

Sayani, who presented the immensely popular radio show, Binaca Geetmala, from 1952 to 1993, was a household name who played a pivotal role in shaping the musical preferences of generations.

Goutam Ghose accepting the PIFF Distinguished Award at the 22nd PIFF! (Courtesy the Pune International Film Festival on X @piffindia)
Goutam Ghose accepting the PIFF Distinguished Award at the 22nd PIFF! (Courtesy the Pune International Film Festival on X @piffindia)

Filmmaker and cinematographer Goutam Ghose, a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences Oscar committee and the only Indian to have won the coveted Vittori Di Sica Award in Italy, too received the PIFF Distinguished Award. “Awards do spur an individual, who may have seen the world of cinema in reputed festivals across the globe. I consider myself still in the learning process,” said Ghose, whose Raahgir; The Wayfarers (2019) was featured in the Indian cinema category.

Choreographer Leela Gandhi was also among the PIFF Distinguished Awardees. “The Marathi film Sangte Aika (1959) was an out and out Leela film where she brought out the aesthetic style of Lavani dancing. To date, one cannot forget the charm with which she brought out the nuances of a difficult style of dance. Her choreography stood out,” said Patel about Gandhi who has 75 films and 25 plays to her credit and has won awards for her roles in the Marathi films, Kartiki (1974) and Paij.

All in all, the 22nd edition of the Pune International Film Festival was a treat for film buffs.

Kappurvasu Vasudevan is a senior journalist covering arts and culture. He lives in Chennai.

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