When Shivajee Chandrabhushan graduated in sociology from Hindu College in New Delhi, he had a civil services selection in hand.
“But I didn’t want a desk job,” he says. “Besides, I wanted to give expression to my creativity.” So he landed up in Mumbai, worked as a voice artiste first and then as a photographer, before setting up his own studio in Andheri. He dabbled in music videos for a while and started work on a movie. Then, he happened to visit Ladakh.
The 35-year-old’s debut movie, Frozen, shot in Ladakh, opened to a packed audience at the ongoing Osian’s Cinefan Festival of Asian and Arab Cinema in New Delhi on Monday.
The black-and-white film captures the “innocent madness” of Lasya, tells of her life with her father (played brilliantly by Danny Denzongpa) and brother and how the Indian Army intrudes into their struggles.
Chandrabhushan spared no effort in making his first movie. He dealt with complex logistics and an unforgiving winter, flying in cast, crew and equipment because the roads from both Kargil and Rohtang were closed by snowdrifts. “You don’t see crane shots in the film because I couldn’t possibly have flown in a crane,” he told an applauding audience after the screening.
Chandrabhushan is among 10 film-makers who are debuting at Cinefan. Frozen is in the Indian competition section though, while others, variously from Iraq, Korea, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Iran, Japan, the Philippines and India, are in the First Features section.
One week, 138 films, predominantly from Asia and Arab regions, seven screens, 100,000 film buffs. The palette includes masters of the craft, debutants and both inspiring and plain bad cinema. The 9th edition of Cinefan exemplifies a festival that has grown dramatically over the years.
“Even two years ago, if I told someone that a lakh people would pay to watch movies from regions they didn’t know films were made in, they would have sent me to the funny farm,” says Neville Tuli, founder-chairman of Osian’s.
After the India International Film Festival moved to Goa, Cinefan has become New Delhi’s pre-eminent film event. “They bring films from all these countries where there is not much of a film industry or film-making infrastructure,” says writer Jai Arjun Singh. Singh has been going to the festival for the past six years. “It improves every year. The same team has been behind this for a while, so if there are some glitches one year, you can rest assured these would be fixed in the next.”
Films have travelled from as far as Egypt, Malaysia, Lebanon, Thailand, Hong Kong, Bahrain, Turkey, Germany, France, Bangladesh, Japan, Pakistan and China. They bring you city and country, joy and tragedy, pride and dissent, glory and shame, struggles for freedom and rebellion against tyranny—of religion, state and tradition.
Till last year, Cinefan was a festival of Asian cinema, and Arab films constituted a separate section. This year, its rich fare has earned it a place in the festival’s primary theme.
There is also a distinct Japanese flavour this year. A Kenzi Mizoguchi retrospective, a samurai films section that features the 1961 Akira Kurosawa classic Yojimbo and a contemporary section, are attractions.
On Saturday, Siri Fort witnessed a Benshi performance, the first in India. Benshis are live narrators who, in their day, turned silent cinema into a performing art.
If old film posters fascinate you, the festival is worth visiting just for that. The main foyer features many rare posters—of films, magic shows, rock concerts—that transform the ambience of the festival. There are posters of Harry Houdini’s magic shows, of sci-fi horror films —“the most difficult to procure”, says Tuli.
The “divas” section upstairs includes Marilyn Monroe, Ingrid Bergman, Betty Grable, Audrey Hepburn and Lauren Bacall among others as well as Madhubala, Sadhona Bose, Nargis, Meena Kumari and Aishwarya Rai. Who gets the most attention? Six Bond girls—tall, blonde, sexy and seductive—side by side on the spiral stairway.
I have seen nine so far, mostly in the earlier part of the week. As is the case with all film festivals, it has been a mixed bag. The few good ones, however, more than make up for the many bad ones.
Reha Ardem’s Times and Winds, the first one I saw, was marvellous. The film is deceptively bright and cheerful on the surface, you have to make an effort to remember that the handsome young boy is serious about killing his father. The camera (Florent Herry) is absolutely in love with the landscape of rural Turkey, resulting in a visually brilliant film. It’s a smorgasbord of emotions, portrayed with hope and humour.
Robert Bresson’s 1983 classic Money, screened in one of the smaller auditoriums, was received with silence.
Only when loud snores, varied in tone and detail, started puncturing the mostly silent soundtrack did I realize that the French master was receiving the “classic” reception. Nasser Bakhti’s Night Shadows looks into the dreams and realities of immigrants in Geneva, while Marwan Hamed’s The Yacoubian Building is a remarkably detailed portrayal of life in central Cairo.
Mai Masri’s Children of Fire is a moving film about the life of children in Palestine under Israeli occupation. It was made in 1990, but holds true for children of people everywhere who have to fight for every bit of freedom.
Raymond Red’s Bayani (1992) is inspired by the Philippine national hero Andres Bonifacio. It’s a tale of heroism and betrayal, told in a certain style of film- making characterized by slow movement, limited expressions and situational drama.
Rajiv Nath’s Anubhav was a disappointment; Ranjith’s Signature tries (and fails) to make a statement against terrorism.
If you have missed the festival so far, worry not, the schedule still has almost three days and some good films left. Yojimbo, Falafel and The Battle of Algiers (see box for schedule) are all a must-watch.
The closing film, Cut and Paste, should not be missed either (Cinefan has a tradition of reserving the best for the last). Though, be warned—buy tickets in advance and get there early. In past years, crowds have broken down doors and barricades at Siri Fort.
Sunday will also see the screening of the award-winning movies in Indian, Asian, Arab and First Feature segments. “I couldn’t have asked for a better opening in terms of audience response,” Chandrabhushan had said. On Sunday, when they announce: “And the winner is…”, many hearts will miss a beat.
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