Goa puts best foot forward
The first thing that strikes a first-time visitor to the Media Centre at the Kala Academy in Campal, Panaji, the venue of the 35th International Film Festival of India, is that it is on par with the best in the world. It really is. Unlike the ramshackle, hurriedly put together work areas at other IFFI venues, this one has ample space, a sufficient number of wired-up stations for scribes scrambling to meet deadlines and high-speed Internet access to keep them in good humour.
The Goa government, on its part, has left no stone unturned to ensure that Panaji puts its best foot forward during the ongoing festival of films though the state, for obvious reasons, has representation in terms of entries. Goa has no cinema worth the name. Yet, o the opening day, the whole city, indeed the entire stretch from the airport to the festival's main venue, Kala Academy, was decked up with posters, hoardings and colourful buntings even as a carnival-like atmosphere gripped the environs.
The entire state machinery appears to be geared towards making the festival delegates more comfortable than they have ever been before. Government offices have been ordered to be closed at 2 pm everyday during the entire duration of the festival so that traffic flows smoothly around Kala Academy, which isn't too far from the State Secretariat. Policemen on the streets are extra courteous to occupants of cars that carry IFFI stickers.
A sprinkling of Bollywood stars sparkled at the 45-minute AR Rahman concert that preceded the screening of the opening film, Mira Nair's Vanity Fair. Conducting a 60-piece orchestra, Rahman, as is his wont, hit his straps without much ado and performed a few numbers from the upcoming Subhash Ghai film, Kisna. Dilip Kumar, Aamir Khan, Shabana Azmi and debutante Isha Sharvani, who plays a pivotal role in Kisna, were among the stars who put in an appearance on the opening night.
A spat that could have snowballed out of control was amicably settled just in time for the opening ceremony. The Goa government of Manohar Parrikar wanted the Rahman concert to be an open-air affair to enable the people of Panaji to be witness to it. But the Directorate of Film Festivals, it is understood, stood its ground and insisted that Rahman perform before an audience of a shade under 1000 in confines of the Dinanath Mangeshkar Kala Mandir Hall, a part of the Kala Academy complex. Finally, the concert, the first of its kind at IFFI, stayed indoors while gawky-eyed fans remained on the sidelines.
The people of Panaji will however be treated to at least two other major live performances - one by crooner Shaan at the Miramar Beach skirting the Kala Academy on December 4, the other by local icon Remo Fernandes, who is scheduled to perform at the closing ceremony on December 9.
Cinema is yet to take the front seat here. In a particularly telling poster up at virtually street corner, a clapperboard lies half-buried in sand. One only hopes that the image doesn't turn out to be prophetic and films, the raison d'etre of the festival, are actually overwhelmed by the sun, surf and sand of palm-fringed Panaji.