Back from Mumbai

in 6th Mumbai International Film Festival

by Yves Thoraval

Back from the 6th Mumbai Film Festival 2003, set up by the ‘Mumbai Academy of the Moving Image’ (MAMI) and chaired by Shyam Benegal, a seminal protagonist of the ‘New Indian Autheur Cinema’ from 1970 onward.

The three members of the Fipresci Jury, Madhu Eravankara (India), Till Brockmann (Switzerland) and Yves Thoraval (France), had first of all to view and comment on a package of 14 new Indian films made in 2002-2003 but of course they were also free to view other Indian films and World films whenever it was possible. In fact, our team spent their seven screening days in one of the biggest ‘Imax’ in the world (5 venues) set on the periphery of Mumbai/ Bombay, where all in all some 80 films were shown, hailing from India, Asia at large, Europe and the USA (the latter with an interesting array of new films made by Indian expatriates in America).

What about the Indian ‘autheur cinema’ today?

Interesting enough was the presence of some important ‘auteurs’ from various generations, not of all of them on their best form compared to their previous films, as if they reflected a certain disaffection for thise kind ‘vein’ from the younger generation (except maybe in Kerala and Bengal) while a successful ‘soft mainstream’ keeps going as shown by Mani Ratnam’s delightful ‘Kannathil Muthamittal’ (A Peck on the Cheek, 2002). Some great directors were there or had sent their films: the Keralite Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s ‘Nizhalkkuthu’ (Shadow Kill, 2002) while his ‘compatriot Murali Nair was there with his ‘Arimpara’ (A Story that begins at the End, 2003). Among the Bengali films, Goutam Gose’s ‘Abar Arannye’ (In the Forest… Again, 2003) and his compatriot Rituparno Ghosh’s ‘Subho Muharat’ (There After, 2002), while the Assamese Jahnu Barua’s shown ‘Konikar Ramdhenu’ (Ride on the Rainbow, 2002) as well as the interesting Bombayite Sudhir Mishra’s ‘Hazaroon Khw Aishein Aisi’ (1000 desires), an Indo-French venture that was withdrawn from the catalogue. But there were new faces in this Festival put under the sign of love, humour and derision such as V.K. Prakash’s ‘Freaky Chakra’ (sic, in English, 2002) and Rajat Kapoor’s ‘Ragu Romeo’ (the name of the ‘hero’, hindi, 2003). One can also quote Satish Menon’s ‘Bhavum’ (Emotions of Being, in the malayan language, Kerala, 2002), an insight into a modern and cultivated couple torn by the husband’s contradictions). (see Fipresci awards 2003).

‘Bollywood’ (aka Bombay ‘cum’ Hollywood) is in good form. The hindi ‘Golden humanist period -1930/60- was inaugurated by Bombay’s ‘dream factories’ like ‘The Imperial’, ‘Ranjit Movietone’, ‘Sagar’, ‘Minerva’, ‘Wadia’ and the legendary ‘Bombay Talkies’ of the couple Devika Rani and Himensu Rai. ‘Film City’, which succeeded the legendary ‘Filmistan’ (1942) was built on 170 hectares on the periphery of Bombay, is since 1977 the biggest open air Studio complex in the world. These films, ‘integrated’ on the Hollywood pattern -in the 30’s the ‘Bombay Talkies’ at its peak employed 400 techniciens, actors, musicians etc.. for their lifetime !!!!- was at this time a cultural symbiosis, between ‘Mughal extravaganzas’, ‘hindustani vein’ reuniting Hindus and Moslem films with social or religious connotations for the 7th Art of this time reunited all the professions in a kind of a ‘Total Work of Art’ without distinction between ‘mainstream’ and ‘auteur cinema’.

One may quote for the record some cult-films of that period like Raj Kapoor’s ‘Awara’ (The Vagabond, 1951), Bimal Roy’s ‘Do Bigha Zamin’ (Two Hectares of Land 1953, which bagged the International Critics Prize in Cannes 1954), Mehboob’s ‘Mother India’ (1957, Karimuddin Asif’s ‘Mughal-e Azam’ (The Great Moghul, 1960 ), Guru Dutt’s ‘Sahib, Bibi aur Ghulam’ (Master, Mistress and Slave’, 1962) and Kamal Amrohis’s ‘Pakeezah’ (Pure Heart, 1971) etc…

Not so long ago, ‘massala’ (spicy) films concocted by Bollywood were often mocked by the new urban generations for their immutable archetypes, between ‘kitsch’, fantasy and melodrama: 3,5 hours in average, 2 or 3 ‘megastars’, from 6 to 10 dances and songs in play-back, changes of costumes every 5 minutes and a total contempt for most narrative conventions. Until recently 5 million dollars were enough even for great productions but now dozens of millions are necessary to shoot films on the ‘hollywood patern’. These films find new outlets among some 200 million well-off Indians and, increasingly, in the West. For a kind of ‘media-commercial-middle cinema’ emerges, tired of ‘miserabilist’ or ‘intellectual’ films set in their own blend of modernity. Hence the vogue of films in English or in Hindi/English, such as Dev Benegal’s ‘Split Wide Open (1999) or Rahul Bose’s ‘Everybody says I am Fine’ (2000). Not to speak of lavish super-productions like Ashutosh Gowariker’s ‘Lagaan’ (The Tax, 2001) or Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s famous ‘Devdas’ (2002).