Ravi Kottarakara, a film industry veteran of 40-years and a key IFFI member who has been associated with the event since the 80s, shares his journey, highlighting how the film extravaganza has grown by leaps and bounds since 1952, when the idea was conceived
I have been attending IFFI since 80s. You know that IFFI started in 1952. Frank Capra was invited and a small controversy took place when Pataal Bhairavi was screened. People asked why Pataal Bhairavi was screened. With humility they said, it represents the ethos and culture of Indian cinema. It has been screened not for any artistic representation. It was a big argument but then it still went on continuing, then every year we had IFFI.
I still remember watching film Taxi Driver. That was a Robert De Niro film and first of its kind in that genre. I found it slightly bold. I learnt the art of filmmaking from that movie. Next year, we had a Kannada film called Ondanondu Kaladalli which was directed by Girish Karnad and starred Sunder Krishna, Shankar Nag and Sundar Raj, screening at the event which took place at Delhi.
Since then, I started attending the festival every year. In 1980 we had Shatranj Ke Khilari and in 1981 we had Aakrosh. To my knowledge Aakrosh is the first film which was shot on 16mm and then blown upto 35mm screen. That movie won the first Golden Peacock Award. In 1980 there was Bhumika which was Smita Patil’s film directed by Shyam Bengal. Thanneer Thanneer was also screened the same year. Similarly in 1982, 1983 the festival went well. In 1984 the festival took place at Mumbai where I saw a fantastic film Koyaanisqatsi. The hero of the film was photography and the heroine was music. It took nearly 14 years to get the film made. The film represented the culture change. It stated that even if the culture will be replaced by globalisation and computerization, you will come back to the roots, to the nature, from where you started. The film was based on this and it is one of the finest movies ever made.
Earlier the film festival was of 14 days. First week 70 shows, second week 70 shows, every day 5 shows. One day N T Rama Rao chief minister of Andra Pradesh on his regular visit to the Ramakrishna theater where festival films were screened found that all the delegates had to go out to have lunch in between the short gaps. He immediately arranged Chicken and Vegetable biryani for all the 1000 odd delegates and told thier duty was to watch films and learn about cinema and gain technical skills.
The advantage of the festival is that it increased my knowledge and learning because you watch so many films. Slowly the government realized that we should have a permanent venue. By 2002, it was decided that the film festival should be given a permanent venue, like Cannes film festival has. They decided for Goa. The late Goan CM Manohar Parikar invited us to
hold the festival in his state. And since 2004, there has been no looking back.
Our festival is growing every year. Today it has come to a stage where we are having roughly 13,000 visitors and the number and the quality of films has increased. In fact, in 2005-06 we started the master classes which was a big success. Lot of people started coming in, number of foreign delegates also started increasing. They started doubling year by year. Since this is the 50th year, we are going to have a whole team of foreign delegates.
I am also thankful to the government for putting me in the steering committee every year. This year too, I am part of the committee and we are honouring around 12 stalwarts plus we will be screening around 24 films.
We will have Oscar section separately, then best of Indian films. For the first time, we are trying to make a film for the visually impaired being screened there. The most important is the selection for this time for the festival is fantastic. It will be in fact the better selection than Cannes. In Cannes they have gone little bit EU oriented. But, we have not gone EU oriented, we are only deciding the best films. Thanks to our government under the great leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi Ji, our I&B Minister Shri Prakash Javadekar has taken lot of efforts and his entire team, Directorate of Film Festival, ESG they had many meetings to ensure that this festival becomes a big success. There is going to be a big opening ceremony where Shankar Mahadevan is performing with a silent movie being screened along with the live recording. The most important thing is honouring and respecting legends. We are honouring the Great Amitabh Bachchan ji and Shri Rajnikanth. This festival is a place where you will see only festivities. Everyone being honoured, everyone enjoying. People have visual treat as they get so many films to watch. It is a journey since 1952, when this dream was conceived, on the footsteps of festivals like Cannes and Locarno. Today IFFI ranks amongst top 10 festivals.
Today we can proudly say we make some of the best films in the world. Not only art films, but commercial movies too. We should thank IFFI for making us stand at this position today. If IFFI wasn’t there, many of us wouldn’t have the awards, recognition that what we have today.
My father never attended 1952 festival but after that he attended all the festivals. His film Pasamalar was also screened in the festival.
People surrounding him, friends, all his subordinates like Rishikesh Mukherjee, Tapan Sinha, Basu Da, B R Chopra, Shakti Samant, C. V. Sridhar and all those stalwarts, they all watch films. Their intention is not just see the film but learning the art of filmmaking. My father always used to say, if you want to make good films, watch films and the right place to watch films was IFFI. That time we never had any place, we never had DVDs, there was no internet. Only place where you got access to foreign films was IFFI.
Till the time there are passionate filmmakers, the festivals will survive. It will only grow day by day and remain in the hearts of people because it’s a place where you watch the best films, speak to the great people who are involved with films, be a part of master class, learn things, learn from friends, fellow filmmakers, meet them and greet them. It’s a storehouse and like a huge library where you can watch lot of films, enjoy and build your career upwards.