Bigger and better, with the highest prize money ever, the 41st International Film Festival of India got off to a rousing start here with a stirring inaugural address by Union Minister for Railways Mamata Banerjee. Shortly before lighting the ceremonial lamp to inaugurate the festival, which will see more than 300 films from 61 countries, Ms. Banerjee said: “From Tollywood to Bollywood to the world. That is how our cinema has moved and we need to praise our skilled actors and directors for making it possible. For me it has been a unique journey from the grassroots to the glamour world.”

Bringing the house down with her unique brand of earthy humour, Ms. Banerjee happily admitted her limitations with the English language. “My English is not very good,” she said, adding on a more serious note, “IFFI since its inception has provided a forum for converging cinema from all parts of the world on one platform. The IFFI platform showcased the new trends in world cinema while at the same time presented the masterpieces of the Indian filmmakers to the global audiences.”

She felt that not enough had been done to appreciate the efforts of our artistes. “I find actors look so beautiful. But often, wonder how much effort they have to put in to look beautiful all the time! They cannot even eat proper food. They have to stay on diet,” she said in jest, adding, “Films are serious business. Everybody, from politicians to corrupt people to even the judiciary is afraid of the power of the medium.”

She said the 10-day film festival provided “an opportunity to the Indian film industry to compete with the best in the world.”

Earlier festival director S.M. Khan said the latest edition of IFFI was bigger and better than before. “During the festival we will be screening some 300 films from 61 countries. We have an increased prize money of $200,000. For the first time we will have films from all the continents. The festival besides its usual Indian Panorama and competition section will celebrate the platinum jubilee of Odiya cinema.”

The Indian Panorama section will feature 26 films, including Rajkumar Hirani's popular film, ‘3 Idiots.'

The festival will host centenary tributes to the doyens of the industry — Ashok Kumar, Motilal, Nadia and Raja Paranjpe. Special segments will be devoted to two Dadasaheb Phalke Award winners, V.K. Murthy and D. Ramanaidu. The inaugural ceremony was addressed, among others, by Goa Chief Minister Digambar Kamat, National Award winning actor Ajay Devgan and filmmaker Yash Chopra.