The buzzword among film lovers this summer is world cinema—a category defined not so much by what it is, but what it isn’t—not English, not Hindi and not regional Indian. The wave is palpable not only in the film festival circuit but also in theatres and now, a TV channel of world cinema is in the offing.
The channel, to be launched by UTV Films by the end of 2007, will be dedicated entirely to films by directors as diverse as Akira Kurosawa, François Truffaut, Michael Haneke, Wim Wenders, Claude Chabrol and Abbas Kiarostami. UTV says it is likely to be a paid channel on the lines of the Independent Film Channel in the US. “It’s premature to think of the economic prospects in such a short span of time,” says Siddharth Roy Kapoor, executive vice-president, marketing and distribution, UTV Films, “but we have entered the category after a lot of research analysing its growth potential.”
As the TV channel takes shape, the company continues to screen world cinema at Adlabs theatres in Mumbai, Pune and Chennai from their recently acquired Olive Collection. The July schedule includes David Lynch’s spooky thriller Lost Highway and Krzysztof Kieslowski’s lyrical drama, The Double Life of Veronique.
In the same month, Sony Pictures is releasing the Chinese action thriller, The Curse of the Golden Flower, directed by Zhang Yimou, and starring Gong Li. Set in the times of the Tang dynasty, more than 1,000 years ago, the film (releasing in Mumbai and New Delhi on 20 July), is about a dysfunctional imperial family, its dark secrets and the conflict that arises when the secrets are unveiled. Says Sharon Thomas, head of indie films, Sony Pictures, “To some extent, the decision to release The Curse of the Golden Flower in India was based on the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. But our research shows that the Indian audience is looking for alternatives to Bollywood blockbusters and multiplex films.”
In Mumbai, the Katha Centre for Film Studies began a festival of world cinema, In the Sky of Cinema, at the Alliance Française auditorium last year. The second chapter of the festival opens in Mumbai this month, showcasing a package that includes films from South Korea, Taiwan and East Europe, besides rare experimental films from the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune. “The idea was to revisit the new wave of the 1960s in Europe that was known for experimental films made to support an ideology or revolt against an ideology. But we expanded the time periods, while keeping the themes more or less the same,” says Prabodh Parekh, the festival’s director. The South Korean new wave package includes the politically charged Mandaladirected by Im Kwon-taek andThe Black Republic by Park Kwang-su. The East European package includes Jiri Menzel’s Closely Watched Trains, Miklos Jansco’s Elektra, My Love and Krzystof Zanussi’s Behind the Wall.
The French new wave takes over from there. A festival of films by François Truffaut, forever the favourite in film schools in India, will be held at Alliance Française, New Delhi, over six Saturdays in July and August—a chance to revisit The 400 Blows, Jules et Jim, and The Last Metro. “We have around 3,000 members in our club and from time to time, we received requests to screen Truffaut’s film,” says Rajpal Sharma, head of the cine club at the French embassy in New Delhi.
So, is world cinema here to stay? Aruna Vasudev, director of the Osian’s Cinefan Film Festival, which opens in New Delhi in July, says: “We tend to make much of words and labels. World cinema has been a part of various film festivals in India for many years. The positive is that these films are no longer just film festival staples. People have access to other kinds of screenings.” In this year’s Cinefan festival, the spotlight is on Asian and Arab cinema.
Besides festivals and theatrical releases, the most telling index of the growing popularity of world cinema in India is the newly revived National Film Circle (NFC) of the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC). After actor Neena Gupta took over as managing director of NFDC, the defunct film club became active again from 2002. In May, the NFC organized a festival of contemporary Russian films and, every Saturday, screenings of Indian and world cinema continue at its office in Worli, Mumbai.
Here’s where to get familiar with world cinema
1)In the Sky of Cinema
The Katha Centre for Film Studies presents a festival of new wave films from East Europe, China, South Korea, Taiwan and FTII, Pune.
From 25 June to 29 June. At Alliance Française, Churchgate, Mumbai. From 10.30am to 5.45pm. Open to college students and teachers. For registration details, call (022)-26313198.
2) Screenings of world and Indian cinema
The National Film Circle organizes weekend screenings of films from Japan, China, Europe and India.
Every Saturday, at the National Film Circle, NFDC, Dr Annie Besant Road, Worli, Mumbai, at 6pm. For annual registration (fee: Rs1,000), call (022) 24965652.
3) The 9th Osian’s Cinefan Film Festival
A festival of contemporary Arab and Asian cinema.
From 20 July to 29 July. At the Siri Fort Auditorium Complex, Alliance Française and PVR Rivoli, New Delhi. From 10am to 6pm. For registration, call (011) 41743166.
4) The French New Wave Festival
Screenings of classics by François Truffaut.
On 6 July and 13 July; and 3, 10, 17 and 24 August. At Alliance Française, New Delhi. At 5.30pm and 7.30pm. For registration, call (011) 43500200.
5) Festival of Iranian films
The best of Iranian new wave director Alireza Raisian’s films will be screened.
From 17 to 19 July. At the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. From 6.45pm onwards. Open to members of the IHC film club.
Arjun Razdan contributed to this story.