Out of Focus
The last Indian international film festival of the millennium sadly lacks all focus. Indeed, it does seem ironical that despite having been the nation’s show window to Indian cinema, the annual cine jamboree has failed to evolve an identity of its own. Relentlessly, it hangs on to the visage it donned at the time of its inception when it was devised as a vehicle to promote a certain brand of cinema that went by the name of Satyajit Ray and Shyam Benegal. Strangely, the mandarins in the information and broadcasting ministry and the Directorate of Film Festivals have failed to realise that cinema has moved miles away from the nouvelle vague over the past three decades. Technologies have grown, the economics is different, genres have evolved and dissolved. But more importantly, the audience profile has undergone a drastic change, thereby shifting the entire emphasis from avant garde to popular cinema.
One which blends artistic technique with mass based appeal. The Indian festival seems to be trapped in a time warp, failing to come to terms with the fact that the New Wave died long years ago. Not only in India, but the world over. So that today it continues to float rudderless - a country cousin of Cannes - appealing neither to the niche audience nor to the man in the street who fails to find anything of interest in this non-Hollywood, non-Bollywood brand of cinema.
The anomalies are many. On the one hand, the Cinema of the World section by and large remains an exercise in mediocrity, since Cannes, Berlin, London and Locarno grab the best films of the year. IFFI must rest content with the crumbs alone. This year, amongst the 80 films being screened in this section, there are just a few must-see ventures: Theo Angelopoulus’ Eternity and a Day which grabbed the Golden Palm at Cannes, Roberto Bengini’s Life is Beautiful, John Boorman’s The General, Shohei Imamura’s Kanzo Sensei and Claude Chabrol’s Rien ne va Plus. Secondly, the shrinking contours of the Indian Panorama section is another pointer that change is expedient. Increasingly, the jury is finding it difficult to fill up the mandatory quota of 21 films since parallel cinema has run its course in the country.
This year, there are only 16 entries, mostly by newcomers, most of them being major disappointments. No artistic endeavours from Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Shyam Benegal, Buddhadeb Dasgupta and the other high priests of art cinema. At the infrastructural level too, IFFI continues to remain a foster child. With insufficient budgetary allocations and the absence of a permanent venue, it is forced to go a begging for funds from the Centre, the state governments and the Ford Foundation too. Naturally, it gets bogged down by proprietorial conflicts between the Centre and the states. More importantly, it fails to include the essence of cinema in its colourless canvas: the stars and the stargazers who are the mainstay of this mammoth industry which peddles dreams daily to 1.2 crore viewers in India.