It was heartening to see Satyajit Ray favourite and Bengali cinema's iconic Soumitra Chatterjee inaugurate the 24th edition of the Kolkata International Film Festival along with Bollywood Big Man, Amitabh Bachchan, and Shahrukh Khan. Also on the dais was Waheeda Rehman, who brought back haunting memories of movies like Guru Dutt's Pyaasa and Dev Anand's Guide. Presiding over all this was the West Bengal Chief Minister Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee.
But a film festival springs to life with the kind of selections it offers, and in its eight-day run, the Kolkata Festival has an interesting basket of movies and documentaries from 70 countries that will be screened across 16 venues in the city that once helped Indian cinema attain fame and recognition on the world stage.
Spread over several categories, including competitions, are 171 features and 150 shorts and documentaries. These include Arijit Biswas' directorial debut, Sun Goes Around The Earth, featuring Kolkata scientist K C Paul – who has been trying to prove that the sun goes around the earth, and not the other way around.
Notwithstanding a celebration of hundred years of Bengali cinema (the first, Bilwamangal, opened in 1919) and Australian motion pictures, the Festival will also zoom its camera on contemporary Tunisian movies.
Some of other titles are Atul Taishete's Vartak Nagar, a poignant picture about four children during the hard days of the Mumbai textile strike in 1982, and Praveen Morchhale’s Widow of Silence (about a struggling Kashmiri woman and her efforts to get a death certificate for her missing husband). And Shaji N Karun's She will certainly be a highlight talking about the travails of woman in Kerala's Malabar who is gang-raped.
The feast of films will also have on offer works like Japan's Shoplifters (Palm dÓr clincher this year at Cannes), Singapore's A Land Imagined (Locarno top prize, the first ever for a Singaporean title), Yomeddine ( a road trip by a leper in Egypt), Mexico's first all-black cast effort, La Negrada, Romania's I Do Not Care If We Go Down In History As Barbarians ( a political satire on the Odessa massacre that led to the massacre of tens of thousands of Ukrainian Jews and Russia's Strangers of Patience (a blind woman is trapped by a photographer) and Australia's Mary Magdalene.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author, commentator and movie critic)