Saturday, October 18, 2003

Film fest boredom
Amita Malik

Amita MalikTHEY say the camera does not lie. Nor, for that matter, do sound recorders. So if the opening of the International Film Festival 2003 was a collossal bore inside the auditorium, it was much worse on the small screen. Watching it for my column, I could not even switch off. Other viewers had the same complaints.

To begin with, except for two European jury members, who could hardly be ignored, the stage did not show a single foreign film personality. Everyone, from the Deputy Prime Minister to the secretary of the I and B Ministry, went on stage and made speeches. Had it not been for Kamal Hassan, the chief guest and Kareena Kapoor, the girl who lit the ceremonial lamp, there would have been no Indian film people either. In Moscow, the delegations from each country are presented on the stage.

In Cannes, Berlin and Venice, only the festival directors make a brief speech and if there is an outstanding guest from international cinema, another brief appearance is made, and then one plunges into the opening film.

This year, although mercifully they had dispensed with Bharatnatyam and bhangra on the stage, the speeches took 42 minutes and many of them were in Hindi. The PM also speaks in Hindi at the UN. But there are interpreters for people from other countries to hear translations. Again, the speeches were all about India, and even a sophisticated festival goer like Kamal Hassan spoke about piracy although foreign guests might have liked to hear of the status of foreign films in commercial cinemas in India, or Indian connections with their cinemas, but no, it was all about the number of films we make and how great we are. In fact, it was more a national rather than an international event and India was the loser.

Every independent channel made a special effort to cover the event with reviews, previews, mini interviews and I would not like to single out any channel for praise, except that Doordarshan, as usual, got the monopoly of the direct full-length telecast. Its dull anchors (Suneet Tandon, a film specialist, was curiosly missing) and the fact that the I and B Minister repeatedly referred to Kareena Kapoor as Karishma Kapoor and omitted CM Sheila Dixit in the list of the dignitaries he welcomed made things even more tragi-comic. Since India is now aiming to become a mini-Cannes at Goa, it is time the government got film professionals and the help of the curiously disinterested industry, so that neither in the auditorium nor on the small screen do we show our provincialism and our bureaucratic minds during an international event of this stature.

One of the best things about Shekhar Guptaís Walk the Talk is that one is perpetually left guessing as to whom he will interview next or where he will interview them. Saurav Ganguly at Eden Gardens, the Karnataka CM in a little village where they drank green coconut water. He did start rather predictably with Amitabh Bachchan and some of the other usual suspects, but that has changed and one looks forward to surprises. Vir Sanghviís guests are a little more predictable, but always interesting. And he certainly brought out the essence of that most lovable actor-director, Rahul Bose. This is more than can be said of the generally flagging 1 to 1, which needs a very subtle mind to interview oneself. Here the subjects have been predictable. We have had the man for all seasons, Mahesh Bhatt, and if we havenít had that other man for all seasons, Javed Akhtar, he is bound to pop up sooner or later. Usha Uthup is always pushing her songs and saying the same things and was one of the worst ones recently. I once asked theatre personality E. Alkazi why one saw so little of him on TV. He replied: "One should know when to say no." A lesson our men and women for all seasons would do well to emulate.

Ever since CAS came up, cable operators have been behaving particularly arbitrarily. They are particularly nasty about giving free-to-air channels because they donít make big money from them. Some even ask for big money from the channels to put on their channels. My operator arbitrarily cuts off free-to-air channels such as NDTV, India (Hindi) for instance, and gives some highly commercial advertisement-laden local channels. It seems the viewer comes last, after the cable operators and then the blundering, dithering government. Surely the customer as the old saying goes, should come first. But then, this is India.