IFFI plays a great leveller in a country where Bollywood is often a synonym for cinema

There is something indefinably charming about our own IFFI — the International Film Festival of India — often criticised for being too bureaucratic. “There are too many heads, too many camps,” whisper more than a handful. The international bigwigs do not make it a priority, chip in others. Fatih Akin was here. But who cares? Not those who crib and carp as their favourite occupation. IFFI, for all its foibles, plays a great leveller in a country where Bollywood is often a synonym for cinema! It is but at IFFI, the 10-day show of camaraderie, that the fans and filmmakers, stars and cineastes get to interact in an atmosphere that encourages debate, respects dissent, and quietly applauds when praise is due. “Our idea is always to provide a platform for a frank exchange of views on quality cinema,” said S. M. Khan, director, Directorate of Film Festivals.

Why, just the other day during the 41st edition that concluded earlier this month, there was this unique spectacle of film star Priyangshu Chatterjee walking to a press conference unaccompanied by any hangers-on. A few minutes late for the media interaction, he quietly took his seat without a fuss even as director Goutam Ghose waxed eloquent about Maner Manush, his take on Lallan Fakir that was to later win the Golden Peacock in the competition section. Outside, Sonal Mansingh was followed on the red carpet by Nana Patekar, and, in the dark confines of the Black Box by veteran Sitara Devi. People paid their respects, maybe a few shook hands, moved on. Nobody raised a fuss, there was none of the flashing bulbs which make their presence felt when the same luminaries set foot in New Delhi.

Just as it was on the opening day when Ajay Devgn, Aftab Shivdasani, Gracy Singh, Manoj Bajpai and Divya Dutta did not have to dodge the media or play hide-and-seek with adoring fans to reach the venue. Even the CISF constables, Mahesh Singh and J.P. Sohania, manning the area, went about their business as usual. Nobody was a star, nobody was star-struck.

Yes, that is the best thing about a festival like IFFI here in India where otherwise fans tend to raise their heroes to the stature of deities. Why, its charms rubbed off on Gulshan Grover too. He turned a new leaf with I am Kalam, and only faintly reminded the audience that he is starring opposite Salma Hayek shortly. Not many were awe-struck. Just as when Mr India Pradeep Kumar walked in to talk of his film directed by Haobam Pabankumar. The film attracted media attention as did I am Kalam. And Subhash Ghai's Naukadubi — yes, even Ghai turned cerebral in Goa! Of course, Mira Nair's The Laughing Club evoked nostalgia and Leaving Home, that taps all the ripples in the life of Indian Ocean created, well, waves. Not to forget the ‘presence' of former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto through Baughman's film Bhutto. Some found the treatment too gentle, some questioned the film's attempt to raise Bhutto to a pedestal. But nobody ignored Bhutto!

Much like it always is with IFFI. Some contra voices, some complimentary. But hey, there is more to a festival than just stars and their movies. There are workshops, and as was the case this year, the master classes where the men behind the stars come to the fore. First to raise the bar was Rajkumar Hirani, who had a hard time stepping beyond 3idiots. Then came Resul Pookutty who left the audiences enthralled even as he talked of the technicalities of filmmaking, and even raised his voice for FTII.

Resul's session was anchored by veteran filmmaker Govind Nihalani, a man who deserves more accolades than have come his way. No wonder, Khan even managed to grin at the session. “I have never seen a technical subject being received so well…it was very interesting. It was our endeavour to focus on master classes and I am glad they have been received so well,” he said, before going to felicitate more filmmakers at the festival!

Not to be outdone by Resul in master class sweepstakes was Boman Irani, who along with author Kishwar Desai gave a new dimension to discourse at the fest. Talking on ‘Evolution of Comedy in Hindi Cinema', Irani explained various aspects of comic acting and gave acting tips, even as he had the audience in splits with his sense of humour.

Unlike 3idiot's Dr Viru, here he was a much loved ‘professor' who answered all the questions raised by the audiences. A modest Irani had earlier said, “I feel embarrassed to call it a master class… I would like to call it a workshop where I can share what I know about acting….I did not want to be an actor. I actually wanted to be a photographer and I was one for almost 14 years…Cinema is a director's medium and I consider myself only an actor, how good or bad I do not know.”

Even as the master dropped anchor, the festival sailed on to the last day, when it all ended in a befitting manner: The story of Lallan Fakir that tells us that He created us all and unto Him shall we all return was the runaway winner. And Goutam Ghose, the man who stayed an extra day to know the result, was a happy man. Who said, IFFI creates no ripples? “Isn't the film beautiful?” asked Khan, then added, “it was very well received.” As indeed was the festival.