To Kolkata, with love

The 20th Kolkata International Film Festival, 2014 was bigger than before with 60 countries, 120 directors showcasing 140 films, presenting all kind of cinematic action for the cineastes of Kolkata in its 20th year. Dubbed as the quintessential film experience, the Kolkata film festival had the advantage of being held in one of India’s most vibrant cities.A city that has been celebrated in Cinema around the world, one whose streets are filled with lovers of the arts. This may explain why the city has always greeted talent warmly and revels in hosting events of cultural significance.

The 20th edition of the Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF) has been a coming of age for films in more ways than one. For the first time the Festival was competitive with the appropriately named prize the Golden Royal Bengal Tiger at stake. This sleek statuette had been designed by the State’s leading sculptors and was bound to be prized by its first recipient.

From the beginning of the festival to its end, Kolkata made its participants feel one with the city,  embraced by its warm heart and hospitable spirit. As promised, it was an illuminating showcase of world cinema and the concentration and admiration of the millions of cinema fans who live and work in Kolkata. In a splendid show of film stars, politicians and celebrities, the 20th Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF), India’s second oldest movie fest, was inaugurated by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan and superstar Shah Rukh Khan.

It was lights, cameras and action at the Netaji Indoor Stadium, where an awed audience watched the stars descend and also saw the Indian screen giants raise a toast to the cinema buffs, in Bengali, for their sheer interest in films and love for the film personalities.

Draped in uttariyas (stoles) gifted by Banerjee, the Bachchan clan comprising Amitabh, his wife and veteran actress Jaya Bachchan, son and actor Abhishek Bachhan and actress-daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, along with Irfan Khan, veteran actress Tanuja seated on the dais, set the evening on fire with their oomph, charisma and reiteration of their links to Bengal. Strains of light classical music by percussionist Bickram Ghosh, classical music vocalist Rashid Khan and singer Usha Uthup set the tune for the magical inaugural.

Indian filmmakers Amol Palekar and Shoojit Sircar graced the occasion with a host of Bengali film actors. Both Tanuja and Jaya, acknowledged that the Bengali audience is ‘the best in the world’ while a very sporting Aishwarya congratulated the orchestra on their rousing performance and thanked the chief minister. Among the international delegates, award-winning Australian filmmaker Paul Cox was present to witness the spectacle that he compared to a soccer event. ‘I thought I was in a soccer field,’ observed Cox, who was astounded at the size and scale of the ceremony. ‘When you see a film on the big screen you realise the true power of the cinema,’ he noted.

Cox is part of the jury that decides the winner of KIFF’s maiden competitive segment- the best international women directors. Actor Irrfan Khan hoped the film festival ‘would inspire the new generation to find their own voice and engage a universal audience’.

Shah Rukh Khan, the superstar, remarked that the event gets bigger, better, flamboyant and more vibrant’ each year. After Shah Rukh Khan’s stress on the role of Indian cinema in uniting people in a technology-driven world, his thought-provoking speech on the changing role of women in society, mirrored in cinema, perfectly rounded off the evening.  

SRK urged international film-makers to relish the experiences of the Kolkata Film Festival. Khan, who is the brand ambassador of Bengal, said that cinema has a role in uniting diverse communities.
‘Social networking, for example, allows you to interact with others without really interacting with others. This is why cinema matters, because it brings people together in a single experience of life to which they relate collectively.  He said, ‘There ought to be a feeling of celebration and happiness, a sharing of India, of life and its experiences at the film fest,’ he added while describing Kolkata’s joie de vivre as the greatest celebration of life.

‘There is expectation for a breath of fresh air and exceptional stories once again,’ megastar Amitabh Bachchan said. He added that turning to literature for stories will provide a breath of fresh air to Indian cinema, ‘It is exciting to know that many young filmmakers in Bengal, with new ideas and new vision, are again turning to literature for inspiration. There is expectation for a breath of fresh air and exceptional stories once again, and that shall overwhelm cinema in India.’

He said young filmmakers, not just in Bengal, but all over the country may like to symbolically look upon those who make films based on stories from literature. Giving the example of late maverick filmmaker Rituparno Ghosh, he said Ghosh gave Bengali cinema a completely new ray of hope and often looked at literary works for motivation. Ghosh’s Chokher Bali and Naukadubi based on Tagore’s fiction are very fine examples.

‘Contemporary writers like Suchitra Bhattacharya and Shirshendu Mukherjee also became a source of inspiration for him,’ he said. For a period of time in the eighties and nineties, Bengali cinema underwent a change to meet the vagaries of the box office and this can be directly related to its severance of popular traditions particularly with literature’, he said while crediting Ghosh for a revival.

Describing West Bengal as the epitome of natural beauty with its picturesque landscape and beautiful people, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee urged the global film fraternity to use the locales for their films. She projected her state as a potential destination for shooting movies from across the world. ‘I urge filmmakers from Hollywood and Bollywood to come and shoot their films in Bengal - the cultural capital of the world. From beautiful sea beaches to hills and picturesque landscapes and of course the beautiful people, Bengal is the right destination for you all,’ she said.

Kolkata was warmed up to the magic of cinema. Crowds thronged steadily at the 20th Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF). If Pasolini, the Italian film based on the final days of legendary filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini, drew a large audience, Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, Jitka Rudolfova’s Delight and Maria Douza’s A Place Called Home enthralled viewers. Each of the three films ran to a packed house at Nandan I. In fact, scores watched the films from the staircases and foyers of the auditorium. With films like Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut and Amos Gitai’s Tsili were set to be screened over the weekend, the next two days saw even bigger crowd at Nandan. Long queues formed almost an hour before the 9 am, 11:45 am and 3 pm shows got underway.

Many like sales executive Ashis Datta didn’t mind the wait. ‘You hardly get to watch a Kubrick film or any new European cinema on the big screen. For people like me, the film festival is like the pujas. You don’t miss any good film.’ If Pasolini left him spellbound, Delight was a very bold film as well, he felt. Rudolfova’s Delight turned out to be the Friday favourite with the audience. A captivating account of a woman’s tumultuous relationships, largely through text messages, the Czech film was indeed a treat. If Delight explored the travails of relationship, A Place Called Home was about a nostalgic journey back to the roots. The 20th chapter of the Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF) had its first competitive segment, introducing a new category - International Competition (women directors films) — it was screened 15 films made by women filmmakers from across the globe.

The category had attracted 72 entries. ‘Awards were given to the best woman director and the best film by a woman director. The award, named Royal Bengal Award, with a cash prize, the largest amount offered by any film festival in the country,’ said State Information and Cultural Affairs Secretary Atri Bhattacharya said.

An added attraction this time was the screening of French auteur Jean-Luc Godard’s 3D film Goodbye to Language, which won the jury award at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. Paying tributes to legendary yesteryear actor Suchitra Sen, who passed away in January this year, the festival screened seven of her films as part of the Special Tribute category. The eight-day film fest which also saw a photo exhibition of Sen’s life and works at Gaganedra Pardarshanshala at the city’s Nandan complex. The curtain dropped on the KIFF with the prize distribution ceremony. The names like Farah Khan, Amol Palekar, Prosenjit Chatterjee and Madhabi Mukherjee shared the stage with Oscar winner Megan Mylan and eminent filmmaker Paul Cox. This is the first time the film fest has turned competitive. ‘I’ve been part of the film festival every year but ever had I heard of filmmakers being awarded. I’m happy that now deserving filmmakers are getting the recognition,’ said Mukherjee.

Before the prize distribution, folk singer Shahaj Ma and Kartik Das Baul enthralled the audience with evergreen songs. The jury members and guests on stage were felicitated by filmmakers Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury, Koushik Ganguly, Kamaleshwar Mukherjee and actresses Parno Mitra and Gargi Roychowdhury, among others. Koneenica Banerjee felicitated Farah. Ministers Amit Mitra, Firhad Hakim, Subrata Mukherjee, Arup Biswas and film personalities like Arindam Sil and Prosenjit gave tokens of appreciation to the guests.Megan said it was an honour to be in the land of Satyajit Ray. She felt happy that she was able to make a film from a real-life story in Bengal. Farah Khan said, ‘One might think it’s more difficult for women to make films but it’s not. ‘I’m proud to be part of an industry where the number of woman filmmakers is more than any movie industry on earth. I hope that we outnumber the men so that next year, the category will be films directed by men.’ If celebrities ruled the closing ceremony at Nazrul Manch, film-lovers filled the auditoria in scores on the last day. ‘This was a great experience and a wonderful opportunity to catch up with world cinema. I just loved it,’ said Farah Khan.

On the final day, Israeli film Eyes of Thief and The Golden Era from China were the star attractions. Amos Gitai’s Tsili drew a huge crowd for the 3.10pm show. Despite being a weekday, the 20th Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF) attracted a fairly large crowd as it bid farewell to the city on Monday. Movie critics, film buffs and those looking to catch an ‘unusual film’ gathered at the Nandan complex one last time, leading to a jubilant and noisy atmosphere on the final day.Mamata Banerjee on her part expressed her desire to transform the regional film industry into a world-class facility and bring Hollywood, Bollywood and world cinema to Kolkata.

The 20th Kolkata International Film Festival was an experience that few places in the world can hope to replicate. In a city where the government holds a liberal positive approach to all kinds of art and where the people are open minded and accepting. So much so that all films were welcomed and most rewarded with standing ovations as the credits rolled.
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