Most of my time in the next 10 days or so will be taken up by Cinefan – the annual Asian film festival, which starts tomorrow. Actually, I dissemble: I probably won’t be spending more than 4-5 hours each day at the fest. Yes, I do see the romance there is in spending days at a stretch at a screening venue, discussing films with friends, poring over schedules and film synopses, ticking off movies to watch, making decisions when the timings of two films clash, and then watching four, maybe five, films in the course of a day – it’s all very heady and I look forward to this time of year partly because it’s fun watching others go through that routine. But somehow I’m not quite into that sort of thing myself. And especially not the last bit: three movies a day (and they all have to be pretty good) are more than enough for me. Any more and my eyes hurt, my attention drifts, I get cranky and start snarling and then my friends all go away and sit elsewhere, leaving me in the company of the nose-digging, crotch-stroking security guard who’s waiting patiently for “hot scenes” to come.
Another thing– and I don’t know how to say this without seeming a complete pleb – is that, outside of the special screenings/films in competition/director tributes, many of the films shown at Cinefan every year are just very average, if not downright tedious. There are movies that you’re supposed to applaud because they “educate” you about other countries and cultures, or because they were made against vast odds, in the face of government oppression and practically no financing; never mind that some of these films are so heavy-handed and preachy that it’s impossible to open yourself to them. (It’s always possible, of course, to stand up and applaud once they’re over, to show you appreciate the “message”.) Some of them quite honestly make me want to rush back screaming to the good old days of Govinda and Kimi Katkar.
I know I’m not being fair. Most of these films come from countries that have no movie industries to speak of and that produce just three or four films a year (I was shocked when, in all my Little Blossom naivete, I first realised this - in the course of an interview with the lovely Indonesian director Nan Triveni Achnas a few years ago). These are places where films are made chiefly to educate, or as propaganda, and not to conform to our yardsticks of what constitutes “quality cinema” – yardsticks that have, in any case, been laid down by the established film-producing countries. It’s wrong to judge these movies by the standards we are used to. And it’s always very moving when Cinefan invites one of the directors of these small films to the fest, and you see the wonder in his eyes – the astonishment that so many people have come to watch his little film, which will probably never get any sort of distribution outside his country.
But well, what can I say? I've grown up with the notion that a film should be more than the sum of its messages, and beyond a point it's difficult to change established ideas. Life is short, and my contact lenses irritate my eyes after 12 hours, and my spectacles irritate my bulbous nose after 12 hours, and I get claustrophobic in crowded halls and so there’s only so much time I can spend inside an auditorium watching a Moroccan film about a poor family dying of thirst followed by a Kazakhstani film about a poor family dying of thirst. It’s sad, but there it is.
(Another reason I’m prejudiced is that the festival organisers – who I’ve interviewed a couple of times – are always so high-minded and tight-arsed about even the trashiest of these films being “meaningful cinema” compared to what comes in from Hollywood. Okay, we get the point, but PLEASE, stop being so sanctimonious.)
Anyway, so what am I definitely going to watch this year? Well, there are the five Satyajit Ray films, especially Mahanagar - which I haven’t seen before. Have seen the others but a very long time ago; am especially looking forward to Sonar Kella, with the great Soumitra Chatterjee as Feluda. And of course, Charulata. There’s this little film called Pather Panchali as well.
In the other sections, Nisshabd (Reaching Silence), which features a fellow blogger, The Letterhead. Sandip Ray’s After the Night…Dawn. Wong-Kar Wai’s 2046, a part-sequel to his lyrical In the Mood For Love. Vadim Perelman's House of Sand and Fog. And a few random choices from the Indian Competition section. Might blog about some of the films if I get the time, which is unlikely.
P.S. Some of the charm will be missing at this year’s Cinefan, with the removal of the India Habitat Centre from the venues list. It used to be the friendliest of the screening centres, and now almost all the screenings will be at Siri Fort Auditorium, a place I’ve never been able to develop much fondness for.