I was watching the Tunisian film Tender is the Wolf in one of the smaller auditoria and sitting within earshot were two talkative ladies who, going by their exchanges, had never once in their lives been exposed to the idea that bad things can happen in the world. To be fair, Tender is the Wolf is a claustrophobic film full of unpleasant goings-on and without a single likable character, but never before have I encountered such a high level of shock and moral outrage from film-watchers, expressed continuously. (It was like a heightened version of what happened at the Brokeback Mountain screening I wrote about in this post.) One or both of my neighbours must have uttered the phrase "This is so terrible!" at least 60 times. If they were characters in that Amol Palekar film, they would have intoned, "Life has ripped away our rose-coloured glasses."
Most idiotic remark of all: during a scene where a prostitute is being raped by a lowlife, there's a shot of the rapist thrusting away purposefully. And one of the ladies goes:
"This is so terrible! Why doesn't he STOP?!"
I felt like offering her a cookie.
In other news, here’s proof that I'm now a Cinefan veteran: I've been quoted in more stories about the festival this year than I've actually written. And one of them called me “Jai Arjun Singh, a local blooger...” Yay yay.
Having attended the festival since it began eight years ago, it’s good to see the growing sophistication of the event, and the increasing attendance. But a part of me remains ambivalent about the democratisation. Maybe it’s sour grapes: I first became interested in world cinema at a time when hardly anyone in Delhi outside of film students/scholars went to such festivals; certainly, no one else in my circle of friends or acquaintances was into such movies when I was growing up, which contributed to making my adolescent years very lonesome. (Your cue to go "Awww...") Also, options in this city were limited, and I had to put in a lot of effort to get access to such films: trudging regularly to embassy libraries to rent from their small collection of videos, keeping an eye out for one-column notifications in newspapers about a tiny "film festival” going on in some corner of the city. So I sometimes feel almost disgruntled about how fashionable “world cinema” has suddenly become, and how much more accessible it is to today’s generation, thanks to the DVD culture. (In my part-time office, colleagues regularly exchange discs of Kiarostami and Wong Kar-Wai films and discuss them as unselfconsciously as they would any Bollywood film. Which is good on many levels, but it also makes me feel odd in a way I can’t explain. Am probably being elitist/proprietorial.)
Anyway, on a lighter note, there are still many comedies of errors involving people who are newbies to non-mainstream cinema. These people span many categories, including the “how can they show such terrible things” types I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Other categories include:
The "No idea why we're here" category: these are the people who (as I imagine it) see the word "film" written outside the Siri Fort Complex, which sets off a vague buzzing sound inside their heads – and so, arms outstretched like the zombies in George Romero's movies, they stagger into the nearest hall without the slightest idea of what they are going to watch. Then they stagger out 10 minutes later, shocked out of their senses by the fact that the film was in black-and-white (and Japanese! And made in the 1940s!).
The "We're just here to jerk off" brigade: It sounds like a lazy cliché, but for the longest time the phrase "film festival" in Delhi was, for many people (including the policemen who do duty at Siri Fort), synonymous with "uncensored sex scenes". To an extent this has changed over the years, but it still occasionally happens that a sad-looking creature in the next seat taps me on the shoulder, gives me a meaningful look and says, "Bhai saab, iss phillum mein scenes hain kya?" (If you point out that all films have scenes, they scowl and emit noisome vapours in your direction throughout the screening.)
And, at the opposite end of the spectrum:
The ones who never expected to see any “scenes”: an extension of the first category. It's always stunning to see the confidence with which a conservative family strides in, hands linked together, for the 9 PM show of a film they know nothing about, convinced that it’s going to be along the general lines of Mary Poppins. A few minutes later they flee the hall sobbing, hands placed over the eyes of the teenage daughter who has learnt life’s grisly truths way before she was supposed to (the film was In the Realm of the Senses!).
Unpunctual/clueless about how Time works: this is a generic category, not restricted to film festival-goers. It works like this: first, someone misreads the schedule, leading them to think that a film is being screened at 9.30 PM instead of 9 PM. Naturally, they then plan to reach at exactly 9.30 PM (because giving themselves a small window by reaching 15 minutes early would mean eternal damnation). Having failed to account for traffic, they will then reach the venue at 9.50 PM. There will be the inevitable stumbling blocks, someone will misplace a ticket or get into an argument with a security guard, which means they will enter the dark auditorium, noisily stumbling over everyone else’s feet, at 10.05 PM. Five minutes after they have sat down the lights will go on, because it was a 70-minute film and now it’s over.