By Neeraj Nanda
Melbourne: Years back when I landed here the weather was awful – it was raining and cold. My relatives were cosy enough to give me and my family the warmth and support a new migrant needed. Government help was also handy and so were a few I came across on streets and shopping malls. Little did I know this was not enough for a new migrant with a ‘cultural shock’? Life was drab except for the VHS cassettes of Hindi movies hired from ‘Haroon’s Shop’ after a small tram trip on Burke Road. Slowly it became our life line as we passed time watching old and new movies. It was expensive those days and once in a while Haroon released a Hindi movie on big screen in Chinatown cinemas. The days of VCD’s and DVDs had yet to arrive. The idea of an Indian Film Festival with film personalities remained a dream. Technology surged and access to Indian movies (all languages) became easy. But the urge to see Bollywood on the big screen laced with the presence of popular stars remained. This was possible only in a film festival. Such a festival could also forge commercial and cultural links between Victoria and India. Little did I know something was in the offing?
The predecessor of the Mind Blowing Films where Mitu Bhowmick worked had started to release Bollywood biggies at the Hoyts. A sort of integration of Mumbai cinema with mainstream Australia. As I understood Indian movies were not just for Indians. Even they were advertised in mainstream newspapers. A revolution of sorts had begun. The drabness faced by a new migrant was coming to an end. The Aussie’s were being treated with another slice of India. The others being Curry and Cricket. Menwhile, the new Mind Blowing Films (MBF) led by Mitu initiated an Indian Film Festival called ‘Bollywood and Beyond’ in 2009 which continued in 2010 and 2011. The feast of desi cinema lay bare for anyone to see and enjoy on the big screen amidst the creeping DVD revolution. ‘Bollywood and Beyond’ had new, old and classical Hindi and non Hindi movies. The die had been cast for bringing Melbourne under the magical spell of the world’s biggest film industry.
In Mumbai, on March 2012, the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne (IFFM) was announced as a key Victorian government initiative to strengthen commercial and cultural ties between Victoria and India. In recognition of its large and diverse movie-loving population, both Australian and Indian, Melbourne would host an annual celebration of the world’s most prolific film industry.
The inaugural IFFM was opened on May 2012 at Hoyts Melbourne Central by Ted Baillieu, Louise Asher and a host of India’s biggest stars and filmmakers, including IFFM Ambassador Vidya Balan, India’s reigning leading lady.
Vidya Balan at present the biggest female box-office draw in India, as well as the most celebrated Indian actress of her time, has served on the Cannes jury with Spielberg, won a National Award, five Filmfare Awards, and five Screen Awards. Her movies Paa, Ishkiya, No One Killed Jessica, The Dirty Picture, Kahaani and Ghanchakkar have made waves at the box office.
As IFFM’s Ambassador, Vidya Balan has been helping cultivate the many links between India and Victoria. Recognised for helping to change the way Indian women are portrayed on screen, she is the ideal ambassador: as passionate about Indian film as she is admired for her contribution to it. I interviewed her for SAT two times (2011 and 2012) and found her to be an excellent communicator, versatile and knowledgeable.
In March 2013 the former Premier of Victoria, Ted Baillieu, announced that MBF would deliver IFFM following an open tender run by the Victorian government and Film Victoria. MBF was judged to be the obvious choice given their prior successes as film festival organisers, support from the Indian film industry and the backing of key corporate sponsors.
IFFM has big variety and has been providing a broad range of films representing Indian cinema in all its glory, from commercial hits to exciting new wave voices. The festival also provides a rare big screen outing for regional gems from other subcontinent countries including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal. Films are selected their content, visibility at other key international film festivals and their relevance to that year’s themes.
In IFFM 2012 the festival screened over 35 films from India but also across the subcontinent, including over 18 Australian premieres and 2 world premieres. IFFM returned with a bang in 2013, joining the worldwide celebrations for Indian cinema’s 100th anniversary. Screening over 60 films in 10 languages, including 17 Australian premieres. There has been a talk of recycling movies at the IFFM. One who has been to different festivals cannot but call it unfounded.
I have been to other festivals (the last I covered was India’s International Film Festival in New Delhi for the Business India Television before it was shifted to Goa) and realised the import of old and classic movies in a festival. No festival in the world can have all the new and unreleased movies. It never happens.Watching a new, old or classic on the big screen is in itself an exciting experience. A festival is like a bunch of flowers with many colours and fragrances.
I was present when the 2013 festival opened with the magical screening of India’s first ever silent feature, Dadasahib Phalke’s Raja Harishchandra, exactly 100 years to the day since its premiere at Bombay’s Coronation Theatre, and finished with a coup, screening Bombay Talkies only three days after its gala screening in Cannes. Raja Harishchandra being a silent movie was accompanied by live music by musicians. It was a treat never to be forgotten.
Other highlights included the Australian premiere of Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist, the Australian premiere of Pakistani film Josh, and Delhi in a Day, as well as a world premiere when Jimmy Sheirgill arrived to unveil his Punjabi film Rangeelay (Jimmy was interviewed by me for SAT and it can be viewed on You Tube). Over at Federation Square’s ACMI, 100 years of Indian cinema were celebrated with a string of unforgettable classics.
Victorian fans and filmmakers alike have learned from, and engaged with, some of the biggest movers and shakers from Indian film and TV during special Q&A screenings and Master Classes. Whether it was Raju Hirani and Abhijat Joshi on writing comedy with a social conscience, revered filmmaker Rituparno Ghosh exploring realism in Indian cinema, the iconic Simi Garewal discussing the evolution of Indian women on screen over 100 years, Kabir Khan describing his journey from documentaries to blockbusters, the National Award winning director Onir sharing his crowd funding secrets or National Award winning designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee talking about story-telling with fabric, IFFM offered a unique chance to pick the brains of the leading lights of the world’s busiest film industry.
Meanwhile, emerging directors from India, Australia and New Zealand competed in the annual Western Union Short Film Competition, with guest judges having included prolific Australian director Paul Cox and Indian blockbuster director Kabir Khan. A joint venture between IFFM and Western Union, this unique competition is one of only a few in the world that is free to enter, with winners earning trip to India, screenings in cinemas and the chance to make industry connections.
According to 2012’s winner, Johan Ratnatunga, “The Western Union Short Film Competition is a fantastic opportunity for filmmakers to showcase their content and have it watched by legendary Indian filmmakers that are otherwise hard to reach – especially from Australia. Working with a respected festival such as IFFM helps establish your name as a creator and, ultimately, you can see your content up on the big screen. It’s a thrilling experience to hear the audiences react as they watch. Since my participation I’ve secured development funding for a feature film from Film Victoria and established a YouTube channel with 80,000+ subscribers and over 300,000 views a month.”
Victorian winner Varan Sharma, currently assisting Shaad Ali on Kill Dil, notes, “The competition is the ultimate platform an aspiring filmmaker can hope for. The exposure, the reach and the encouragement offered are unparalleled. For me, the Western Union Short Film Competition will always be a major milestone that gave me confidence, and a showcase.”
Performers get in on the action too at the Telstra Bollywood Dance Competition in Melbourne’s Federation Square. A dazzling line-up of contestants, from all age groups, lit up the stage in front of a huge crowd and some daunting judges. Victorians were thrilled to share the stage in 2013 with the ‘Michael Jackson of India’, Prabhudeva, while award winning director and choreographer Farah Khan handed the night’s best dancer with a return ticket to India.
In the last two years, Melbourne has hosted some of the biggest names in the Indian media landscape, creating lots of buzz, not only in Australia but in India too. Enjoying a proximity that could rarely happen back home, stars and fans have shared many wonderful moments, from marriage proposals to celebrity serenading. IFFM moviegoers have been able to get interact, often hilariously, with some of India’s biggest stars, such as Vidya Balan, Rani Mukherjee, Priyanka Chopra, Malaika Aurora Khan, Shahid Kapoor, Sohail Khan, Juhi Chawla, Pamela Chopra and Jimmy Sheirgill, to name just a few.
The incomparable Vidya Balan will once again be in Melbourne with some of India’s most exciting stars and filmmakers arriving to meet fans and filmmakers and experience Victoria’s bustling production base. Favourite special events will make a return while 2014 will also feature the first IFFM Awards, honouring the year’s Best Performance, Best Director, Best Film and announcing the winner of the Audience Choice award. Showcasing India’s hugely diverse film output, IFFM continues to build bridges and open eyes, hearts and minds through the magic of the movies.
This magic creates unbreakable bonds of friendship between the subcontinent people and mainstream Australians. The world’s biggest film industry’s presence in Melbourne with IFFM opens many a vistas for business, cultural exchanges, coproduction’s and just enjoyment between India and Victoria. Exciting times lie ahead!
- SAT News Service.
Source: SAT, December 2013 edition.