Saturday, July 31, 2004

Amita Malik Sight & Sound
Let’s have more telefilm festivals
Amita Malik

Nandan is Kolkata’s centre, and a very prestigious centre, for quality films. It has held retrospectives of the most famous national and international film greats. It has held tributes to Satyajit Ray and others.

It holds seminars on the cinema. Some years ago I participated in one such seminar on the French cinema. And it doubles as an auditorium for lectures by such distinguished people as Amartya Sen, the Nobel laureate, who spoke on the place of Satyajit Ray in the history of cinema. And now, it has just concluded a 10-day festival of television films in Bengali. I think the interchange of cinema and theatre artistes with TV started earlier in Kolkata and Bengali TV than even in Mumbai. Satyajit Ray made his film Pico for French TV but it was also shown in India. He also made Sadgati, with Om Puri and other cinema stars, for Doordarshan. It was based on the story by Munshi Premchand. The telefilm festival at Nandan was inaugurated with one of the finest telefilms made for Bengali TV, starring Soumitra Chatterjee. Having starred in many Ray films he is perhaps the best known Bengali actor in international circles. In Bengal he is also known for theatre. Tiktiki (The Lizard), made for the Bengali channel Tara Bangla, aptly opened the telefilm festival.

One is happy to report the festival is running to packed houses. It set me thinking how similar telefilm festivals could be successfully run not only in the metros but also in places like Chandigarh. I remember there used to be a flourishing film society some years ago, with top cop and cinema buff Gautam Kaul as one of its leading lights. When I lectured to the members some years ago I was amazed at the interest in quality cinema displayed by them. Chandigarh is also home to one of India’s top TV stars, the inimitable satirist Jaspal Bhatti. It is also a well-known theatre centre.

Such telefilm festivals organised in cities like Chandigarh, Guwahati, Pune and Thiruvananthapuram will not only give a fillip to telefilms, which have got overwhelmed by mainstream cinema on TV, it might also encourage interchange between cinema and TV as in most western countries. In addition, it might also throw up new talent. The danger of generalists interviewing specialists on TV news was amply illustrated last week, when Nidhi Razdan, whom I had praised in my column only last week for her anchoring of TV news, made a dismal business of interviewing author Amitav Ghosh , whose latest novel, The Hungry Tide, has just come out. Her questions were trite and her lack of contact with literature all too apparent. But it was unforgivable when she called Ghosh a historian, when to my knowledge he should be more accurately classified as a social anthropologist. I have again and again urged TV channels, and especially NDTV which is usually very careful about these things, to invite specialists to the newsroom, as they do in the matter of politics and defence, so that gaffes of this kind are not repeated. And in the case of people like Amitav Ghosh, someone like Indrajit Hazra should have been called in to match up to the challenge of coping with the many facets not only of Ghosh but also of his latest novel, which is a very complicated one with nuances not obvious to the generalist. Stick to politics, Nidhi.

The coverage of cricket, more sub-continental than Asian, from Sri Lanka has been, thank goodness, professional and pleasurable, in spite of Saz and Waz, although I cannot stand Chatterbox Bhimani. I saw Shekhar Suman in his first sit-in with the commentators, and he was not pushy nor did he try to take over. In fact, he stuck to his own field and did not pretend to be an expert on cricket. A very refreshing substitute for Mandira Bedi, who is not quite the women viewers’ delight she believes herself to be, and the men can make up their own minds.

The grimness of the hostage crisis in Iraq was more than balanced by the amusing news story of two teenage Haryana girls running away from home, with their father’s hard-earned savings, to reach Vadodara to meet Irfan Pathan and persuade him to marry presumably both of them. Irfan, of course, was in Sri Lanka, and advised them to return home and concentrate on their studies. A wise boy in his generation, apart from being an outstanding cricketer. And he is only 21 himself.