The Story of India’s Tryst with Cinema

By Pickle  November 24, 2019

Started as part of the Government of India’s efforts to institutionalize the film industry, the International Film Festival of India is also the story of Indian cinema’s evolution since 1952. Here is how the story unfolded
By Manoj Srivastava

The first edition of the Film Festival was headed by Mohan Dayaram Bhavnani, Chief Producer, Films Division and organized with a budget of Rs. One Lakh only in five cities of India. The Festival began in Mumbai on January 24, 1952.

To a country that was heavily feeding on Hollywood ever since the WW-II, the arrival of European cinema was a revelation. In the words of Film Historian, B.D. Garga, “Of the 50 Feature Films screened from 25 countries, the largest number came from Italy, among them Roberto Rossellini’s Open City and Vittorio De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves and Miracle in Milan, which came closest to the Indian socio-economic situation.”

The second edition of the Festival could not be organized till 1961 and then again, the third one in 1965, the fourth in 1969 and the fifth in 1974-75 because of various factors like wars, lack of funds and other multiple factors.

From the third edition onwards, in 1965, the International Film Festival of India became competitive and therefore graded as ‘A’ category festival by the Paris-based Federation International de Producers de Films (FIAFP). With this recognition, the festival in India came on par with Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Karlovy Vary and Moscow festivals.

The current logo and tagline of IFFI ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (The World is One Family) and the Peacock were adopted during this edition. This was also the year after which the Government of India decided to take the initiative of ‘Filmotsav’, which was to be a non-competitive version of IFFI. The Festival hereafter was to be called IFFI (Competitive) and Filmotsav (Non-Competitive) and organized in alternative years. While IFFI was to be organized in New Delhi, the Filmotsavs were to be organized at major Indian film production centers like Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, and Trivandrum by rotation. The pattern continued till 1989 after which the word’ Filmotsav’ was discarded and all Festival editions were named IFFI.

The Indian New Wave movement was gaining momentum in the 1970s and these films were finding spaces in international film festivals. However, these were costly times with no free flow of information about Festival participation. The Government of India introduced the Indian Panorama, a collection of 21 Best Indian Feature and Non-Feature films, which were to be converted into a package of films and sent for participation in foreign film festivals during the 6th edition of IFFI. Films and filmmakers under this umbrella were now promoted and sponsored by the government to sustain the movement. This edition also witnessed the emergence of the first regular Film Market set up by Indian Motion Picture Export Corporation.

Filmotsav’s Madras and Bangalore editions of 1978 and 1980 were visited by legends like Istvan Szabo, Sumitra Lester Peries, Emile de Antonio, Shyam Benegal,

Girish Karnad. Since then, each city got to host Filmotsav after a gap of almost 12 years. The local enthusiasm was tremendous. This enthusiasm further created space for art-house cinema and a fan following which led to setting up of other international Film Festivals like Kerala, Kolkata, Chennai, and Bangalore almost 20 years later.

The French New Wave took almost 10 years to reach India but when it did, it ignited the young minds. Films like ‘Bhuvan Shome’ by Mrinal Sen (1969), ‘Us Ki Roti’ by Mani Kaul (1970), ‘Maya Darpan’ by Kumar Shahani (1972), ‘Swayamwaram’ by Adoor Gopalakrishnan (1972) found a ready domestic platform in IFFI to create an audience for Indian New Wave.

Roman Polanski, then 44-year-old, attended the Filmotsav, Bangalore in the Year 1980 as the Festival presented a retrospective of his films. Michael Cacoyannis, the noted Greek Filmmaker, too, attended the Festival which had Devika Rani Roerich as the Chief Guest.

Filmotsav 1982 began in Kolkata at the Rabindra Sadan. The Festival had a retrospective of Jean Luc Godard films and the tickets for all his films were sold in two hours.

In early 1990s, the complexion of Indian Cinema began to change again due to several factors like arrival of satellite television, Doordarshan, the state television, slowly losing its monopoly and control over Indian masses made a dent in the fan following of the Festival which till now had enjoyed complete madness and monopoly over the Indian masses supported by State-funded bodies like Directorate of Film Festivals, National Film Development Corporation, Doordarshan and others.

The 32nd edition of IFFI in Delhi ushered in the new century. Earlier, not many Hindi commercial films had been able to find space in any edition of IFFI except for ‘Parinda’ by Vidhu Vinod Chopra, but this edition had ‘Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’ of Sanjay Leela Bhansali, a supposedly commercial film with smattering of minimalism of art-house cinema-style sporadically.

The 33rd edition of IFFI at Bangalore could not take place due the flood situation in the State. This was the time when the Government of India began contemplating on an alternate venue and do away with the concept of a traveling film festival. Many places to root the Festival were suggested like New Delhi, Kochi, Pondicherry and Goa, and finally Goa was chosen.

The 33rd edition of IFFI took place in New Delhi pending a decision on Goa. The highlight of the Festival was 10 versions of ‘Devdas’ produced in various Indian languages. The competition was now restricted to Asian Films. The ‘Film Bazaar’, as seen today, took shape at this edition in Delhi’s Siri Fort Auditorium Complex.

Goa was the new high for the 35th IFFI. There was enthusiasm all around, hope, expectations and the film industry participated in full force. New venues like Inox Auditoria, a promenade was developed, roads were improved, special intersections created, existing buildings like Old Goa Medical College and Kala Academy were modified and restored. Thespian Dilip Kumar inaugurated the Festival along with the Governor and Chief Minister of Goa.

The 39th IFFI in 2008 launched a business platform for International Short films by the name Short Film Center. The Film Bazaar began to gain prominence with the Co-Production Market and the Film Lab.

Actor Ben Kingsley attend the 40th edition of IFFI in 2009 in Goa and delivered a Master Class. The Red Carpet was instituted at the Festival. Online ticketing was introduced.

Inaugurated by Shah Rukh Khan, the popular Indian actor, the Festival added a new venue in Margao, Rabindra Bhavan during the 42nd IFFI in Year 2011. The concept of Film Village was experimented with to accommodate the low budget Festival delegates

From 43rd IFFI onwards the Festival shifted its inaugural ceremony to Bam bolim Stadium to accommodate a crowd of over 9,000 in the Year 2016.

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