The Festival Refreshed: A Personal Story of Indian Film Festivals: Episode 2

Indian Film Festival began its history in 1952. This was just five years after India's second film society in Kolkata had been founded by the tallest guy (Ray), Chidananda Dasgupta, Mrinal Sen and a handful of other cinephiles. Their prime purpose was to generate a serious cinematic culture in the wake of the post-world war (post colonial post structuralism was yet to come.)
Film Societies in Mumbai, Chennai and Delhi would open more or less at the same time. In Kolkata, as well as elsewhere, this generated cinematic stalwarts - the first generation of film critics and full fledged filmmakers who would rule India's participation in global cinematic scenario for the next five decades. (The last major festival awardee from India was Aditya Vikram Sengupta, for Labour of Love, that won the best Director award for debut film in Venice, in 2014). Throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s, festivals were the only gateway to international (and national regional) works, along with the weekly film society screenings. 

                                  Lav Diaz: This year's Golden Lion Winner at Venice    

Film festivals would be organized by the government, to disseminate cultural education and prepare dialogues with other countries. However, it was not long before film societies prepared their own curation charts, and went for week-long festivals once or twice a year. The trend continued in the 80s, 90s and well into the new Millennium.

People from the late seventies and early eighties generation may remember that DoorDarshan would telecast foreign films in late night slots, on Tuesdays and Fridays, in 1989. With the third DD channel, in selected cities, the number of such telecasts throughout the day would grow. Even in 1991, a large number of cinema halls in Kolkata would screen Greek, Italian, French and Japanese films, besides the regular Hong Kong martial arts platter, throughout the year. People would buy tickets to watch these films. So far as I know, it was similar in all the metro cities.There was a reason behind screening films from other countries, in the cinema halls, in my childhood. Hollywood studios would not release their films in India immediately after their release in the US. There would be some kind of treaty blocking this. Even blockbusters such as T2 would release two or three years later in Indian theaters.

As there was limited option for watching recent Hollywood, the pre-globalization India developed a taste for cinema from other cultures. Today, that taste is not so popularly widespread and not so distinct.

Here comes the scope for argument. My friends would shout out, "What do you mean? Today, there is no taste among the new generation? See how many more cinephiles are there because of torrents and DVDs?" This argument is not weak. Intercultural communication has multiplied unprecedentedly. At the same time, the number of people who speak multiple language with equal, A1/A2 level, ease has not really increased. I do not have any statistical data. But, as student of foreign languages for a long time (I tried learning sixteen different languages at different points of time, but met success with only three), I see a marked decrease in the enrollment in such courses, especially so far as the higher levels are concerned.

Surely, more people are watching films from outside their native culture. But, a large number of such films come from a handful of regional industries in India (so far as the Indian viewership is concerned) or Hollywood. Hong Kong martial art movies are not released here any more. So, I guess, the demand has decreased (again, I have no statistics for the number of such films released in the local market each year). Cinema is in the universities, more students are enrolling in media studies than they are in IT related courses (again a conjecture, no statistics. But, this seems to stand the statistical challenge.) But, film studies is in danger, and passionate cinephilia is under question. People are interested in the movie industries, not in the art (an article on what I mean by art may be accessed here.)

Film Festivals were organized by film associations with the aid of the governments. Film festivals, worldwide, would soon be accredited by critics. FIPRESCI - the international federation of film critics - with 46 member countries would play an active role in this (But, mind! FIPRESCI is dominated by Europeans and a handful of major filmmaking cultures. Representation of other film cultures would be according to the leaders.)

I spoke to Alin Tașçian, President, FIPRESCI, on her first visit to India as part of the delegation team to the Mumbai Film Festival, organized by Jio MAMI. She expressed a similar apprehension that cinephilia, as well as good cinema (what I mean by good cinema is expressed in the article already referred), are under threat.

A lot of films are accessible, at the press of the enter key on the computer keyboard. But, serious cinephilia is receding to oblivion. The lineup of this year's MFF, or any other film festival (even the most prestigious ones), would corroborate this fact.

There was fist fights and bitter shouts at the screenings of Lipstick Under my Burkha, because of the lust caught in visuals. That was the message widespread across the city. In itself, lust is not bad. But, definitely, that is not a synonym for cinephilia.

Film festivals were channels for the cults - the counter cultures in cinema. The wheel turned reverse in the wake of globalization. The politics that produced so many Miss Universes and Miss Worlds from India, produced a market-economy-based film festival paradigm too. FIPRESCI has limited choice to counter this force.

Today, cults do not exist. The most rebellious activities are the most conformist ones. We named this Postmodernism - this existential trend where there is no center. Hence there is no apparent margin too. 

But, really, is there no margin? If there is no margin, there would be no marginal entities. 

Our experience tells us the opposite. 

The center has spread its roots so much that it is no longer recognized as a foreign body. It has become the brain, we just mere limbs, of the culture. 

Today's culture is much more homogeneous.

Exactly, this is where film festivals and their curation are under threat today.

The big brain has appropriated the margin!

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