Having a long-term association with IFFI and being part of the core team that played a crucial role in moving the festival to Goa in 2004, Indian film industry veteran Amit Khanna is well-versed with the transformation of the Festival over the years. In a chat with Pickle, Amit Khanna pours his heart out on the subject that is very close to his heart
Indian film industry veteran Amit Khanna’s association with International Film Festival of India (IFFI) goes back to 50 years when he was a student in a Delhi College. However, he was drawn into the industry when he came in close contact with noted Hindi film actor Dev Anand in 1969 while assisting him with the organisation of an inaugural IFFI dinner party the late actor threw in Delhi that was attended by who’s who of the national and international film fraternity.
This association, Amit Khanna recalls, continued unabated for many years and after “I was in Navketan Films, (production company launched by Dev Anand) we continued that tradition and he would always throw a party”.
Amit Khanna was part of IFFI organizing committee for many years. “I was part of the industry organization and our endeavour was to involve everybody from the industry by ironing out any differences whatsoever between different stakeholders,” he says.
He was part of the team that played a crucial role in moving the festival to a permanent location in Goa in 2004.
However before it could be done, a lot of ground work was done with the support of some visionary people in the government. “In 2003, Sushma Swaraj went to Cannes Film festival as part of the FICCI delegation. There she saw the sheer grandeur of the festival and said ‘let’s do it like this’. She was the first person who accepted the idea (to move IFFI to a permanent location) and set the ball rolling. Ravi Shankar Prasad and Arun Jaitley later followed it up. There was a committee set up later and then I think Congress had come into power.” The committee that was set up included Khanna, Yash Chopra, noted director Shekhar Kapoor and Bobby Bedi, Manmohan Shetty apart from one or two more people. “Despite best of our efforts, any decision on the matter did not seem to be forthcoming. So, we decided to meet Mr Manohar Parikar,” Amit Khanna says.
After some prodding, the late Goa Chief Minister left the matter to be decided by the committee. “Finally, a conference was convened and I announced it. Though we had gone ahead with the announcement independently, the government at the Centre understood our stance and IFFI got a permanent venue. I am happy that IFFI will be celebrating its 50th anniversary this year in Goa,” he adds.
On the question of how the film festival has evolved over year, the industry veteran says that it has opened up a new chapter in Indian cinema. “In 1952, I think the first film festival was held in Bombay with new realism as its most powerful theme. New realistic films deeply impacted people like Bimal Roy, Guru Dutt and others. This led to progressive cinema like ‘Do
Beegha Zamin’ emerging out of India for the first time,” he observes.
He feels that this trend is here to stay in India “because no other country in the world has got such as strong local domestic industry”. But for that to happen, the emphasis should be on “good filmmakers getting ample exposure”.
“There should be lot of facilities for film students, for film technicians and younger filmmakers who need to travel to Goa to see films,” he suggests. According to Amit Khanna, making it cheaper budding filmmakers and film students to travel to Goa can go a long way in helping them develop better understanding of global cinema.
“Provisions should be made for the people to travel, whether through railways or any other means of transport, from major film centres in India like Guwahati, Bhubaneswar, Trivandrum, Hyderabad, Bangalore, etc. If you want to expose Indian film technicians, film markets and film students
to global cinema at least this facility should be provided,” he opines.
Having a permanent auditorium for IFFI with a good number of screens, is another wish of Amit Khanna, who wants to see a world-class infrastructure for the festival to be developed sooner rather than later.
“We are not buying independent films from the world and showing it here because there are not enough screens for our own films. We have only 9,000 screens and we make 2,000 films in a year. Half of our films are not released. If you are unable to release foreign films there is no need to hold a market for them,” he says.
One of the many achievements of IFFI has been that it has been able to showcase Indian films to directors and programmers from other film industries, whether it is through Indian panorama or other sections, Amit Khanna admits. “These kinds of bridges should be built. That is the main role of a film festival in India.”
“I am proud of IFFI. It is good to see that India has a festival of international repute” he says, adding that had it not been for IFFI, I could have not seen films of masters like Luchino Visconti, Júlio Bressane, Jean-Luc Godard and had exposure to Latin American cinema or African cinema.
“It happened because of IFFI. That is the area which we need to emphasize and focus on,” Amit Khanna says.
He is also upbeat about emergence of other film festivals in India. Khanna adds that he wishes to see India becoming a country where the younger generation attends film festivals in large numbers. “That’s the whole idea of organising state festivals.”
While Amit Khanna backs promotion of films at regional level, he is also of the opinion that having big international names or upping the glamour quotient of film festivals simply won’t serve the desired purpose.
“If you invite big stars what will happen? You are wasting time, money and energy and the paraphernalia to organize the festival is so large.,” Amit Khanna says. The film industry veteran also suggests making “IFFI the window to world cinema for the younger people, film students, film fraternity, film enthusiasts and let’s call the programming guys from other festivals and showcase Indian cinema. Celebrate more cinema; parties and glamour is a side part”.
To ensure glamour at festivals like IFFI, efforts should be made to call only those stars whose films are to be featured at the festival.
One of the biggest achievements of India in recent years has been the initiative of opening a Film Facilitation Office, Amit Khanna adds. “I must compliment the Prime Minister who took the initiative and ordered setting up of the Film Facilitation Office.”
“The festival should be run by a small group of experts selected for a minimum period of 5 years. The Government should appoint juries for selecting films. Instead of having people who are no longer active, there is a need to involve younger people. The twin objective of IFFI in the coming decade should be ample exposure to young professionals and students to the world cinema and showcase Indian cinema to top festival programmers and critics from abroad,” sums up Amit Khanna.