The Adventure of a Lifetime

By Pickle  November 24, 2019

As IFFI celebrates its Golden Jubilee year, we need to look back at the Festival’s five-decade-long exciting journey to assess where it has succeeded or failed so that our learning about world cinema and different cultures could be deepened further
By B B Nagpal

Cinema has a deeper cultural root in India than in any other country, since it has played the role of the best media for spreading information and education in a country which has a huge number of uneducated people.

The International Film Festival of India (IFFI), which was started in 1952, has played a major unifying role as it has helped greater understanding of different cultures and traditions within and outside the country.

Even as one approaches the Golden Jubilee of IFFI from 20 to 28 November, it is necessary to understand the history of the Festival and make an assessment of where it has succeeded or failed.

The Festival has become the prime festival of the entire developing world as it features not merely Asian but also African and Latin American directors in its competition.

India has led the world in terms of the number of feature films produced every year, and it was therefore natural that the Government of the day under India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru started the first IFFI 67 years earlier in 1952, though it became an annual event only in 1975.

The first Festival in 1952 — which was non-competitive — was expectedly held in Bombay which was the largest film production centre in the country. The second festival was held in 1961 and this was also non-competitive. But the Festival became competitive with the third edition in Delhi in 1965.

That year was also the first time that the Indian festival was graded ‘A’ category by the Paris-based Federation International De Producers De Films (FIAPF) coming on par with Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Karlovy Vary and Moscow festivals. The fourth IFFI in Delhi in 1969 was also competitive.

India adopted at its fifth festival in 1975 a permanent insignia comprising a representation of the peacock, India’s national bird, with a permanent motto – ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakum’ (The whole world is a family). It was also decided that a competitive IFFI would be held every alternative year in Delhi alternating with a non-competitive Filmotsav which would be held in different film producing centres each time.

Consequently, Delhi hosted a competitive IFFI from 1977 to 1987 every odd year and the non-competitive Filmotsav moved from one place to another in the even years. While the Indian Panorama had been introduced in the Festivals in 1978, the 1987 Festival was the first to feature commercial cinema with the introduction of the Mainstream Section. After that, the competition section was stopped but revived in 1996 and ultimately devoted to Asian cinema.

The Festival had thus been held in Kolkata, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad apart from Delhi until 2003.

In 2004, the Festival moved for the first time to a non-film producing centre when it came to Panaji in Goa which has since become its permanent venue. The duration of the Festival has also been reduced to nine days.

I have personally reported every IFFI from 1977 to 2012 as a journalist. In 2007, I became the first editor of the festival daily when it was outsourced, and even renamed it as IFFI Daily, and held this post five times. Expectedly, this led to my meeting a large number of film personalities from India and abroad – with many of whom I still maintain close contact. I also served as a member of the preview committee for some years around ten years earlier. The committee which met in Delhi shortlisted the films from the large number of entries received.

But the best memories I have is of the period when it was a travelling festival. I recall that in 1982 during the non-competitive IFFI in Kolkata (then Calcutta), I had the opportunity to meet the master cine craftsman
of India, Satyajit Ray. In fact, this was soon after his lone Hindi film for Doordarshan, ‘Sadgati’ and he candidly spoke about how some film critics reacted to the film and how they virtually invented interpretations about the film. I also remember his boisterous laugh over a remark made in Parliament by nominated member Nargis Dutt who had criticised the then Film Finance Corporation (now NFDC) for funding only art films of the kind Ray made.

I feel that the most lavish festival I have attended was the IFFI at Hyderabad in 1986 when the Chief Minister and actor N T Ramarao put the entire state machinery in the service of the Festival. I recall how a Bollywood actress who broke her sandals, she was given a bus just to go to a showroom to buy new sandals!

Years later in Trivandrum (now Thiruvananthapuram), I recall visiting the famed filmmaker G Aravindan in 1988 during the Festival there, when he showed me sketches of some film ideas he had in mind. Unfortunately, he died a few years later and could not bring those ideas to fruition.

During the IFFI in 1992, I recall with gratitude the sumptuous home-cooked food I ate almost every day which the then Festival Director shared with me. The food came to her from the house of Kamal Haasan, and I am sure he still does not know that I partook of the food.

After the Festival moved to Goa, I remember veteran music director Anandji – who had come to Panaji as a section had been organised on films on music – telling me that music had lost its charm after the golden era of the fifties to seventies because music was being made not for the mind or the heart, but for dancing feet. The beat had taken over from lyricism. It was a truism which I will never forget.

And while talking about Goa, I am reminded of a festival for which I arrived just hours before the inauguration and had no time to register. The actor Suresh Oberoi who had flown in with me from Mumbai gave me his Silver VIP card, saying that he would in any case not be denied entry at the inauguration since he was a star. I will always be grateful to him for that gesture.

Unfortunately, I am reminded of a sad incident that occurred during a year when there was a section on films about football. We were attending an Open Forum when a director from a Latin American country whose film had been screened just collapsed on the dais and passed away moments after he had finished answering a question from the audience. It was a scary moment that refuses to go away.

For me, IFFI has been an adventure where I have learnt so much about the cinema and the culture of so many countries even as I enjoyed the films. I only wish the Festival would last a little longer and give us more opportunities for interaction with film delegates from India and abroad.

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