Let’s get real, please

Let’s get real, please

Asia’s biggest film festival cannot afford to be starstruck. How about scraping off all the glitz and focusing on real talent?

The 50th edition of the International Film Festival got off to a rousing, colourful start at the Shyama Prasad Mukherjee Indoor Stadium in Panaji, Goa, on Wednesday. According to reports, IFFI spent over Rs 20 crore for the festival. The city of Panaji is bedecked in IFFI colours and motifs. The official logo with the IFFI mascot, the peacock, is painted all over the city as wall murals, as colourful overlays on exposed brick walls, as signboards on light poles, and even branded rotundas that wink at you at busy junctions in this sweltering, seaside town.

Special guests this year included superstar Rajinikanth, who was honoured with the IFFI Icon of Golden Jubilee award, an award that recognises his star power and contribution to Indian cinema for over 50 years. While Shivaji Rao Gaekwad urf Rajinikanth’s (this is how Karan Johar, the host of the inaugural ceremony, introduced Rajinikanth to the crowd) talent is unquestionable, what is true is that Rajini’s more successful movies are campy play-to-the-gallery gun-toting, ball-juggling, cinematic hijinks that cater to the lowest common denominator. You know, those that are easily impressed by how a lit matchstick or a smoking gun travels to the moon and back, and upon landing, lights the cigarette hanging from Rajini’s mouth. Not exactly the kind of cinema that an international film festival boasts of showcasing to the world. Rajini’s movies, especially those of late with wig and shades intact, are popular masala entertainers at best, to watch which readers are contractually obligated to suspend their disbelief and leave it at the admission counter.

Even if we can leave aside his recent movies and consider just his contribution to the cinema trade, as also some of his earlier films with K Balachander that still resound as social commentaries, and let’s not forget Thalapathy either, the institution of the Golden Jubilee award feels more like a marketing gimmick than actual recognition. One criticism that is common of film festivals, including Bengaluru’s international film festival (BIFFes — albeit on a much lower scale), is they toe the line of popularity and invite people known more for their glamour quotient and their ability to attract paparazzi than actual talent. To that end — why should Karan Johar host anything? His great contribution to cinema as an art form are ‘Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna’ and one-quarter of ‘Lust Stories’, and his ability to stay in the news not so much for his directorial prowess as for his ugly fights on social media. A country that has the likes of Satyajit Ray, Hrishikesh Mukherjee, and Puttanna Kanagal in its bragging rights kitty, can look for talent beyond the Bollywood billionaire brigade to flag off an event that celebrates the spirit of cinema.

The beautiful and gracious Suhasini Mulay, whose debut film Bhuvan Shome finds itself in this year’s retrospective section, and who also celebrates 50 years in Indian cinema this year, would have made for the kind of compere that popular Bollywood celebrities can only dream of being. Having an actress of her calibre present (or be presented) the Golden Jubilee is the stuff film festivals should be made of. 

International film festivals everywhere else honour the art of cinema, not the trade of it. While trade is an important part of the business, being sycophantic and paying lip service to the art form through the medium of the film festival is something that is best left to satire in a play or in a book somewhere.

In other words: can we get real, please, dear film festival organisers? Someone I met at the festival had this to say about the festival. That when it was first brought to Goa by Manohar Parrikar, it was a festival for the filmgoer. In its current form, it’s merely for the delegates and the celebrities.

Let’s make it about the film next time, please. Not filminess.