When the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) got a permanent venue at Goa's Panaji in early 2000 after years of wandering existence, the response was mixed. As much as it was appreciated that the Festival's gypsy life--where it had to pitch its tent in different Indian cities year after year--was finally over, there was also a marked fear that IFFI would find it difficult to ward off Bollywood influence.
Mumbai and its essentially Hindi language cinema were so powerful that they could easily take over the Festival in Goa, which was at a nodding distance from India's financial capital. The fear seems to be coming true.
Watching the festival's opening ceremony on November 20 at Panaji left me in little doubt that IFFI had indeed allowed itself to be overpowered by Bollywood. Till the time Shankar Mohan was the festival director, he had managed to keep Big Bollywood at bay. But now with no permanent director at the helm of affairs, the festival appears to be tottering and in the grip of Bollywood.
The opening ceremony conveyed this all too loud and clear. Right from the anchors on stage – Mandira Bedi and Amit Sadh – to the celebrities invited and present, it was amply clear that it was a Bollywood show all the way. With dignitaries like Subhash Ghai, Madhur Bhandarkar, Ramesh Sippy, Siddharth Roy Kapoor, Prasoon Joshi, Poonam Dhillon, Karan Johar and Akshay Kumar at the inaugural ceremony, it could have left none in doubt that IFFI was an out-and-out Bollywood affair. It seemed such a shame that a director like Shaji N. Karun – who has given us great works and whose She opened the Indian Panorama – was not invited on stage!
What we saw was sheer tamasha, which included a quiz session by Johar with Kumar and the Union Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting, Colonel Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, in attendance. What was this doing in an international cinema event! What is more, there was also some sort of pole dance to entertain guests. True, the dancers used strings, not poles, to gyrate.
Most of us will not be surprised that IFFI has been taken over by the Mumbai movie mandarins. For years, Bollywood has publicised itself – certainly outside the country – that it is Indian Cinema. The other language films were sidelined as regional cinema. Unfortunately, who is to tell Bollywood that Hindi is ONLY one among the many Indian languages – and if these are termed regional, so too should be Hindi. It cannot become the main lingo of a nation as diverse as India with 22 officially-recognised languages.
The same kind of attitude prevails at IFFI, where Bollywood takes over with its language and idiom, crushing the soul and spirit of the rest of India. It was so apparent at the IFFI opening.
I would suppose that if at all the Bollywoodisation of the Festival were to checked and reversed, IFFI must have a strong Director, who will remain there for a long period of time. Several names were floated in the past few years, Srinivasan Narayan being one of them. Many years ago, he was part of the Festival, and more recently he headed the Mumbai Film Festival (MAMI), running it with impeccable precision. There were other names, and there was also a strong case for the continuation of Mohan. He need not have been retired. Does Cannes or Venice or Berlin retire its Director because he has turned a certain age.
Unfortunately, IFFI appears to have become no one's baby, orphaned and left by the wayside. Yet, it spends taxpayers money, in fact crores of rupees year after year. Nobody would mind this, provided IFFI does not remain a huge Bollywood bash – of the kind I saw the other evening.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author, commentator and movie critic)