IFFI has significantly contributed to the Indian cinema’s reach in markets around the world, says 82-year-old documentary and television filmmaker Dr S Krishnaswamy, who shared close rapport with legends like Satyajit Ray
The International Film Festival of India has a tremendous influence on India’s soft power and has significantly contributed to the Indian cinema’s reach in markets around the world, says 82-year old Dr S Krishnaswamy, well-known documentary and television filmmaker who has made over 500 films in a career spanning 55 years. He was the Secretary to the Jury of the 4th IFFI 1969 under the chairmanship of actor-director Raj Kapoor. He co-authored the book Indian Film with Erik Barnouw.
The other Jury members included Argentina’s Leopoldo Terre Niesson, noted writer R.K. Narayan, South Korea’s Han Chul Ryn (Critic), Poland’s Han Chul Ryn (Critic), Prof. Jerzy Toeplitiz (Critic from Sweden), actress and director Mai Zctterling from the UK, John Russet Taylor (Critic from USA), and Albert Johnson from the erstwhile USSR, among others.
“The 4th IFFI took place in the Convention Hall of the Ashoka Hotel,” remembers Dr Krishnaswamy during the time when cinema as an art form was taking shape. In addition to assisting the Jury, Dr Krishnaswamy also covered and wrote about the festival in The Hindu.
Dr Krishnaswamy is the son of legendary filmmaker late K Subrahmanyam, who was known for producing and directing the pathbreaking film Thyagabhoomi in 1937. He remembers his father attending IFFI in the beginning years.
Dr Krishnaswamy was active in the festival circuit for three decades and was instrumental in creation of festival for documentaries in India. During those days he was given the responsibility of creating market for Indian films in IFFI. “The focus was to get in touch with any potential importer abroad. The primary objective was to get together to match the film with the market. Art films had markets in USA and Europe. Art films could be sold in Indonesia. Some countries preferred only commercial films. The concept to promote Indian films was born out of IFFI”.
Besides the Padmashri Award, he has received four national awards for his
documentaries, the Lifetime Achievement Award of the US International Film & Video Festival, Los Angeles, the Honor Summus Award of the Watamul Foundation, Hawaai, and so on.
Dr Krishnaswamy was a close friend of filmmaker Satyajit Ray. “He never visited Madras (now Chennai) without visiting me. Satyajit Ray was the biggest influence of Indian cinema to the world.”
“IFFI has immensely contributed to the promotion and growth of Indian cinema. IFFI has done a great contribution over the years. It has had a chequered career – sometimes it has been extraordinary important, sometimes insipid, but overall excellent years,” says Dr Krishnaswamy.
“My film ‘Through a Different Lens’, that depicted contributions made by Indian cinema to Indian freedom struggle, and how some films reflected the spirit of the freedom struggle, was picked up and shown in festivals worldwide. It was originally screened in the non-competitive section of IFFI,” remembers Dr Krishnaswamy.
Dr Krishnaswamy says that cinema is a “very complex art form” and film festivals should accommodate all kind of films and genres. “IFFI has accomplished this aspect very well. From highly artistic films to successful commercial films a film festival should reflect everything. It cannot isolate itself.”
The globalisation of Indian cinema had its origin in the IFFI in two senses: the influence of important global filmmakers on India; and the impact it had on directors like Balraj Sahni and Satyajit Ray. That was the beginning of the rise of Indian cinema and India’s soft power. Dr Krishnaswamy is revered for his documentary ‘Indus Valley to Indira Gandhi’.
“Very nobly conceived and most ably executed; but the miracle is that the producer survived it,” said Prof. James Beverige of UNESCO about Dr. Krishnaswamy’s four-hour documentary in 1976. It was the first Indian film distributed under a Hollywood banner – Warner Brothers, who acquired the film from Krishnaswamy Associates who had taken a huge risk by producing this marathon film on borrowed capital. The film was not only critically acclaimed, but was a fabulous commercial success. It traces Indian history of 5,000 years.
There is also an interesting fact about this film. “Sov Export Film bought my film and never released it. Because, although the film was commercial success in India and had been released elsewhere when Soviet Union had scheduled it for release, Morarji Bhai became Prime Minister. But when they bought the film Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister. They thought it was politically incorrect to release this film. I told them it is not a political film. But they said, they thought that it was a political film and bought it thinking it was a political film. Eventually, they liked the film and released it changing the title to ‘Where Centuries Co-Exist’. It was released in several countries in this title — except where Warner Brothers had the rights.
Dr Krishanswamy is happy that the idea of shifting to IFFI to Goa to create an independent identity is accomplished. “I wish the golden jubilee of IFFI a great success.”