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At Venice Film Festival, a Missing India, Which Though May Sparkle at Egypt's El Gouna

Why is it that India gets missed out in some of the best film festivals in the world, asks Gautaman Bhaskaran.

Gautaman Bhaskaran |

Updated:September 8, 2017, 11:40 AM IST
At Venice Film Festival, a Missing India, Which Though May Sparkle at Egypt's El Gouna
Why is it that India gets missed out in some of the best film festivals in the world, asks Gautaman Bhaskaran.
Live From Venice

Missing India:

As much as it may not be exactly fair to expect every major film festival in the world to fill its basket with Indian cinema, one does tend to get a trifle disappointed when there is no presence from a country that still holds the record in annual production. Despite churning out about 1500 movies year after year in a mind-boggling number of languages, India often goes missing at festival majors.

This year at the ongoing 74th Venice Film Festival, I could see just two titles that had some kind of a link to India. One was our own director, Ritesh Batra, who seemingly treading in the footsteps of Manoj Night Shyamalan (who has made Hollywood his home, helming English language works), has made two movies after his remarkable hit, The Lunch Box, and both in English. One of them was The Sense of an Ending, a British-American thriller based on a novel by the same name by Julian Barnes and starring Jim Broadbent and Charlotte Rampling. The other creation of Batra was Our Souls at Night with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda – which played at this year's Venice.

The other India connect work at Venice was Stephen Frears' Victoria and Abdul – which starred Judi Dench and Indian actor Ali Fazal, and he was quite good and made his presence felt opposite someone as great as the actress who once-upon-a-time portrayed M in the Bond thrillers.

Why is it that India gets missed out in some of the best film festivals in the world. As the veteran cinema critic, Derek Malcolm – who was once a legend in The Guardian – told me at Venice: “Indians just do not care about their presence outside India. They are content with their own home-grown market, and that is enormous in a country where cinema is still one of the cheapest means of entertainment”. He certainly had a point.

But yet, I notice a galloping tendency among Indians to showcase their films in the international arena. They want to compete at the Oscars. They want to be at Cannes. They want to be in Berlin, and they want to be at Venice. This time, I am told a whole lot of Indian directors and producers had made a beeline for Venice, sent their latest works. But nothing got in, and a top official of the Venice Film Festival told me that Indian cinema was still a little behind the kind of artistic development seen in the cinemas from other countries. He, of course, did not want to mention any names, and fair enough.


Irrfan Khan:

It is in this context that I felt happy that a new festival starting this year on Egypt's Red Sea coast and called El Gouna International Film Festival will have two Indian dramas. And this was revealed to me at Venice by the Festival's Director, Intishal Al Timimi (who was the Artistic Director of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival before it pulled down its curtains some years ago, letting its more glamorous counterpart at Dubai live on). One of them will Anurag Kashyap's Mukkabaaz (whose English title is The Brawler). It has new actors and the story line is still under wraps, but will be out soon -- once it premieres at the Toronto International Film Festival, which is now starting to unroll.

The other work is an India-Bangladesh production, Doob or No Bed of Roses. Helmed by Mostofa Sawar Farooki, the movie has Irrfan Khan playing a straying husband. An intimate family fare which steers clear of the usual melodrama associated with the cinema from the subcontinent., No Bed of Roses examines the kind of angst and devastation such infidelity causes to those all around the man.

Here is what Screen had to say about the film after it was shown at the recent Shanghai International Film Festival.

“Boasting an excellent central performance from acclaimed Indian actor Irrfan Khan, and with its nuanced cultural approach to a familiar subject, Doob should enjoy further festival attention following its June premiere in Shanghai and subsequent play in Moscow. While the movie is struggling to find a release in its native Bangladesh due to a controversy surrounding its alleged similarities to the life of the country’s late filmmaker Humayun Ahmed, the presence of Khan and strong word of mouth should help it find traction with international fans of cinema from the subcontinent.

“In his first collaboration with award-winning Bangladeshi writer/director Farooki, Khan is characteristically magnetic and surprisingly empathetic as Javed Hasan, a famous film director who causes consternation both private and public when he divorces his wife in order to marry his far younger lead actress, Nitu (Parno Mittra). It’s a situation further complicated by the fact that Nitu is a former classmate of Javed’s daughter Saberi (Nusrat Imrose Tisha); as established in an early flashback, the pair were hugely competitive in school and this theme of one-upmanship carries neatly through to a battle for Javed’s attention and loyalty”

Khan is sure to add sparkle to El Gouna!

(Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author, commentator and movie critic covering the Venice Film Festival.)
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