Chennai-based decor company DecoAro recently opened its first retail store in Nungambakkam. Usually, this would not be an event of great circumstance, but for a company which once exclusively dealt with exports, this is perhaps something worth mentioning. DecoAro partner Rishi Tulsyan believes that the market for exclusive, global-trend-savvy goods has recently expanded, possibly due to the increasingly global outlook of select tiers of Chennai society. What has this got to do with a film festival?
For one, DecoAro are a CIFF sponsor. Two, the novelty factor that draws consumers to DecoAro could account for the favourability with which the foreign films at the 9th CIFF have been received. Deepti Da Cunha, Indian consultant for the Venice Film Festival, explains that European audiences, which have had a long and expansive exposure to world cinema, are frequently and willingly critical of films screened at festivals, picking apart the procedure, performance and skill of both actors and directors before choosing favourites. In contrast, Indian audiences, which have only recently been granted regular access to a wide range of film genres and concepts, are less prepared to analyse and understand foreign films as more than just sources of light entertainment. The aspect of novelty which appears to be drawing crowds to Indian film festivals may gradually fade over the coming years; however a greater knowledge and appreciation of the nuances of world cinema may well follow.
Indian films disappoint Indomaniacs
The organising committee of the CIFF is slowly succeeding in accustoming Chennai audiences to foreign cinema. However its second objective, to elevate Tamil films onto the world stage, could take more time. There is an unquestionable desire amongst members of the local film community to carry an appreciation of Tamil films across borders. However, not everyone is convinced that Tamil cinema as it stands today will ever gain international recognition. While Chilean director Pablo Perelman adores most aspects of Indian culture, he finds all Indian films collectively “interesting, but difficult”, suggesting that foreign audiences would always be attracted to Indian cinema for its dance and music sequences, but would hesitate to accept it as art. Perelman, whose film The Painting Lesson is featured at the festival, argues that film, like drama, becomes a form of art when it starts “saying through not saying”, relying on a kind of subtle expression that the vast majority of Tamil films lack.
The general secretary of ICAF, E. Thangaraj, however clarifies that the festival's goal is not to simply take Tamil films abroad, but rather shape them to a standard that suits the tastes of international audiences while retaining their cultural authenticity. To do this, Thangaraj explains, Tamil films need to heed basic regulations, such as adhering to a two-hour time limit, and must encompass a broader and deeper range of themes and techniques to be competitive with the range of films produced overseas. This method has already yielded results, most notably in Ameer Sultan's 2007 film Paruthiveeran, which screened at the Berlin and Osian-Cinefan film festivals with condensed dance scenes and a shortened screen time. If more Indian films are similarly adjusted, Perelman hopes that they might gain room to clearly express the vast number of “social phenomena” which criss-cross the country and give international audiences the cultural experience of travelling to a place “every human being should come to...some time in his life”.