Friday, July 15, 2005

Thoughts on Cinefan

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.


  1. So Jai, if this is an Asian film festival, how do "House of Sand and Fog" and Moroccan films fit in? Is it because House of Sand and Fog is about an Iranian family? (with a ghastly fake Iranian accent by Ben Kingsley, who sounds more Arab than Iranian).

    About Indonesian cinema (and I'm assuming that you had that country in mind when you spoke about small film industries), there have been some new developments. About the past, the best book is Krishna Sen's "Indonesian Cinema: Framing the New Order" (she's apparently a Jadavpur University alumnus and teaches in Australia). Directors like Garin Nugroho and Slamet Rahardjo come from this era.

    Lately though there have been a bunch of new filmmakers, some trained abroad who've tried to make films that explore innovative themes while keeping an eye on the commercial considerations. One such much talked about film was "Arisan" by Nata Dinata. Another was "Kuldesak" (cul-de-sac) by Riri Riza.

    And then I was reading the other day that Indonesian-born Sindhi producer Ram Punjabi (the biggest player in the Indonesian entertainment business) plans to collaborate with Bollywood talent to produce Indonesian films :)

    (:( Sorry for the meandering comment)

  2. Don't miss Tropical film of the year so far !!

    And of course Tsai Ming-Liang's What time is it there? and Hou Hsio-Hsien retrospective too!! Great chance to see these films on big screen.

  3. and yes, Wong Kar-Wai's film is called "In the mood for love" ;)

  4. House of Sand and Fog was a depressing movie with top-notch performances. I could almost feel the emotions each of the major characters were going through. Sounds cliched, but a movie works for me when I can place myself in the character's shoes and rationalise their thought processes.

  5. Hey Alok, thanks for pointing out the mistake, have changed it now. Am appalled at myself, especially since I love that film. (The typo probably had to do with the fact that I posted a long comment about U2 on another blog recently!)

    Thalassa: Thanks for the inputs – and never apologise for long, informative comments!
    The festival has many sections like East-West Encounters and Special Screenings that permit the screening of films that aren’t strictly Asian.

  6. Damn it Jai, you gotta make your topics more mediocre or something. I ended up typing my comments in a blogpost cause they were getting too long.
    Here's the link:

  7. if you are gonna see Panther Panchali, u should ideally see the entire trilogy.

  8. Oh, this is wonderful, I was just wondering which films to catch at the festival. Now I have some clues. Thank you!

  9. I find that the most acclaimed films seem to be the ones that are most heavyhanded with the message. This year I'm choosing my films by accident rather than choice. Based on what's playing while I'm there, a title I liked, etc.
    Last year the screening of a film I'd planned to watch was cancelled and Last Life in the Universe was shown instead. I'm extremely thankful for that, because it was a great movie and I hadn't even heard of it before.
    I suppose I should catch 2046, I loved In the Mood For Love
    Thanks for the recs:)

  10. I'm no film buff, but - I prefer "Joy Baba Felunath" to "Shona'r Kella". An aberration.

    Sandip Ray's "Nishijapon" is disappointing. Two-dimensional, poor development of what could have been a beautiful under-stated vignette in his father's hands.


  11. I look forward to hearing your observations on 2046. I loved "In the mood for Love" and I'm waiting for 2046 to be acquired by the local DVD rental guy.

  12. i have to say i totally agree with the rant about siri fort. i have had exactly the same experience on numerous occasions, and the sheer incompetence/arrogance/offensiveness of our average hharyanvi (sorry for the ethnic slur, but it's true) policeman is to be seen to be believed. and i don't like watching films in siri fort anyway - much prefer habitat. so lately, i have avoided it.

    i think your'e also spot on about the general tediousness of much of what passes as 'good cinema' at film fests. nonetheless, i think the enterprise, high-minded or otherwise, is worth it, because a) i love the film-ferst atmosphere (i wrote about it as one of my favourite things about delhi in my blog) and also b) hidden in there amidst the muck are always some true gems. i always get a kick when some film is released to critical acclaim here in the US and i'm like, oh, but i watched it for free in delhi two years ago. and i've watched some genuinely good stuff there. stuff, like a palestinian film called rana's wedding, which was both perceptive, very funny, wry, and which i would never have come across otherwise. so i persist. :-)

  13. ps: please, please watch mahanagar. it's one of the best films ever made, i think. almost perfect.

  14. hello,

    dont miss stray dogs. lovely movie.