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Do film festivals help make small films make it big?

 

MONOJIT LAHIRI | Issue Dated: June 13, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Film festivals | Cannes Film festival | Berlin Film festival | Venice Film festival | Toronto Film festival | Small films | Bollywood |
 

Let’s face it. Film Festivals – local or global – have a certain snooty, intellectual, arty-farty, culture-driven aura about them. An image that screams superior, exclusive, unique! The message they seem to convey is, ‘We have nothing to do with the everyday mindless masala that you consume with such unsophisticated ganwar-glee because we are classy and niche, celebrating quality and not dumb-cluck 100-crore popularity! We remain committed to acknowledge and reward cinema that is original, fresh and edgy. Sure we are open to mainstream movies, but only if they push the envelope and infuse their material – beyond the stereotypical clichés – with surprise and delight that conforms to our template.’

This unspoken message emerging from the various Film Festivals across the world gives them a special place in the hearts and minds of the true-blue cognoscenti and offers distinct hope of life beyond the Khans!  It provides an exciting platform for filmmakers with original vision, themes and treatment to showcase their gems to evolved, cinema-literate and sophisticated audiences. These festivals (Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Toronto and London) give big or global recognition, praise and prizes, along with huge media coverage that come with the territory, thus frequently transforming an unknown filmmaker to an overnight celebrity. Hence, everything considered, Film Festivals are both, useful and necessary because they salute quality cinema; cinema with soul that reaches out and touches a universal chord, irrespective of geographical boundaries, linguistic barriers or star-power.  Cinema that celebrates truth at 24 frames per second.

Wonderful, inspirational, food for thought etc say some before offering a kill-joy query:  Do these Film Festivals, incidentally, help in pushing the commercial aspect of these great, sublime, hymned and celebrated masterpieces?  For example, in the just concluded  Cannes 2013, small-time, non-formulaic movies like Ugly, Dabba, Monsoon Shootout and Bombay Talkies were screened. Of course outside the competing films because no Indian film has been found worthy of competing in the last two decades, but that’s another story! So will it help their box office status at home in India?  In other words, does the stamp of a Cannes, Berlin, Venice or Toronto generate more excitement and curiosity for our audiences at home?

 Sociologically, it’s a fascinating issue. On the one hand, appreciation or certification from the firangs remain a cherished achievement in a land where Fair & Lovely rules!  However, when it comes to movies, funnily, it doesn’t wash one bit. The howling mobs don’t give a damn about what the global media said or what prestigious awards they picked up. It has to do with what they think and feel. Veteran filmmaker Shyam Benegal – who knows this syndrome inside out – offers his informed take on this subject. “Let’s get some facts straight. Film Festivals, across the world, are mandated to recognise, promote, publicise, celebrate and award ‘excellence in cinema’, irrespective of star, budget or country compulsions. The bottom line is simple. If the movie has a compelling narrative that excites and provokes in equal measure, that’s enough! In this scheme of things, commercial viability and box office potential don’t really feature, which is why respect and prestige are terms more commonly seen, read and heard at these events than preoccupation with the cash counter. Which is also why, while these films will receive critical acclaim and great reviews, they are unlikely to cause any great BO revolution!’’  Benegal is spot-on. Any number of our National Award Winners, then and now, have done the Festival circuit with great success, but tragically found zero resonance at home!  So, while Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee, Zoya Akhtar and Karan Johar along with their films and gang of little known stars had a well-deserved blast at Cannes, duly reported in breathless fashion by an infatuated Indian media to a hungry desi audience, how these films will translate at home remains to be seen. While cynicism or skepticism should indeed not enter this debate, it is also important to be realistic, grounded and not necessarily believe that Nawaz Siddiqui and Irfaan Khan or Anurag Kashyap and Dibakar Banerjee are all set to take World Cinema by storm!
 

Avid Cinema buff Avinash Behl brings in his spin. Articulates the 40-year-old Delhi-based movie junkie. “These are two separate planets so please don’t connect them.  Historically – with some rare, freaky exceptions – films that rock with the Festival juries and critics rarely do the same with mass audiences and not all the publicity of their rave western/international acclaim can ever influence theatre footfalls. If it was so, wouldn’t our art-house filmmakers, so popular with the Fest circuit, be box-office baadshahs?  Most of these poor bozos, despite the prestige, honour and respect abroad, continue to rot at home, begging for funds to do their next film! The sensibilities are different, especially in a star-struck-Bollywood-crazed and glamour-hungry constituency like ours where the culturally underprivileged rule and the Khans are monarchs of all they survey.  Sure it is better than earlier times, but compared to the rest of the world, we are way behind. Our problem is we are too self-congratulatory and get carried away too easily. The 100 years of Cinema tamasha, too, is a joke because in the world stage we have achieved practically nothing! Even today in year 2013, Cannes went back to the master, Satyajit Ray and his iconic Charulata that was made five decades ago.”

Let’s not take sides but wait and watch how Ugly, Monsoon Shootout and Bombay Talkies fare at home after their (so-called) responsive vibes at Cannes.  Hope its not total dabba! Here’s hoping for a day when our films win honour and prestige at the finest global podiums and healthy ROI at home, categorically proving to one n’ all that good quality cinema, offering universal appeal and high aesthetic worth. And hope it also finds a home in the hearts of mass audiences. What better way to salute, facilitate and commemorate the centenary year, right?  


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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017