Bangkok hosts the ‘Indian Centenary Film Festival’ that also marks a rekindling of interest in Hindi and regional cinemas.

The Centenary year of Indian cinema seems to mark the right time for its resurrection in Thailand. The two major cinema complexes of the country seemed to be vying with each for Indian film releases, which at one time was popular in Thailand, until the Hollywood blockbusters pushed them out of the market.

Rajesh Khanna and Hema Malini are still remembered with nostalgia, as also ‘the loving mother ’ Achala Sachdev. An all-time ‘hit’ in a country where elephants are revered, was the film ‘Haathi Mere Saathi’, which was why Rajesh Khanna’s death was splashed in the front pages of the newspapers here.

Apart from a few valiant Indian companies such as ‘Bollywood Thai-Company’, which kept alive Indian cinema in Bangkok by regularly screening the latest Mumbai film releases on weekends to mostly Indian audiences, there has been no market for such fare in this country for a long time. That’s why the recent deluge of Indian movies in the Thai capital, was welcome news for movie-lovers.

The first ever showcase of Indian cinema, ‘Indian Centenary Film Festival,’ was held recently in the city to celebrate its 100 anniversary. A list of 10 movies was selected by the Directorate of Film Festivals. It was an impressive list, especially as it featured regional movies, in a country not familiar with them.

To quote the dynamic Indian Ambassador to Thailand, H.E. Anil Wadhwa, who has been tirelessly working for the active propagation of Indian culture in Thailand, “The festival offers a glimpse of the huge diversity of Indian cinema.”

The event opened with the historical ‘silent’ film, ‘Raja Harischandra’, followed by Vishal Bhardwaj’s ‘Maqbool’, to showthe grand sweep of one of the world’s biggest film industry.

Other films included were the rarely seen ‘Dr Kotnis ki Amar Kahani ’, Bollywood favourites such as Rajesh Khanna’s ‘Anand’ and Dev Anand’s ‘Guide,’ director Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’ and Madhur Bhandarkar’s ‘Corporate.’ Satyajit Ray’s magnificent ‘Jalsaghar’ was screened as was the two regional movies that had toured extensively on the international film festival circuit, Mani Ratnam’s ‘Kannathil Muthamittal’ and Girish Kasaravalli’s ‘Gulabi Talkies.’

One would have liked to see Anurag Kashyap in this representative Indian package, and possibly also a film such as ‘Harishchandra Factory’ as an adjunct to ‘Raja Harishchandra.’ But it was a timely film festival for Bangkok, and a successful one, which recorded an 80 per cent attendance everyday.

Story telling techniques

Among the Thai directors who were excited about the event were the noted Nonzee Nimibutr, whose films have been screened at many festival in India, and young indie director Choyanop Boonprakob, both of whom said they were impressed by the story-telling techniques of Indian films.

Prachew Pinkaew, the maker of ‘hit’ action films such as ‘Ong Bak,’ said he regularly watched Bollywood fare on DVDs, and now, was seriously planning an Indo-Thai production. In fact, he had singled out Katrina Kaif to play the lead and was working at meeting her soon.

Suvannee Chinchiewchan, Vice President of the SF Cinema group that provided the venue for the event, was happy about the rekindling of interests in Indian films in Thailand and hoped that the ‘trend’ would continue.

As if on cue, the other top cinema group in Thailand, the Major Cinema group, announced that they had decided to distribute Indian films on a regular basis in Bangkok, complete with Thai sub-titles.

Helping them in this venture, was Jakarta-based Indian businessman Raam Punjabi, who has been seeking markets for Indian films in the region, including in Vietnam and Cambodia.

To announce his collaboration with the Major cinema group, Raam invited Bollywood actor Sridevi to present her ‘comeback’ film, ‘English Vinglish’ to the Bangkok audience and which they all loved.

Tall and slender in a flowing black floral outfit, Sridevi expressed her delight to be in her favourite shopping city, Bangkok. Accompanied by her daughter Jahnvi, and husband Boney Kapoor, Sridevi stated that she had thoroughly enjoyed doing a role that was tailor-made for her, and didn’t feel as if she had left the industry at all. She admitted that her own English had improved along the way, “…and I am less shy and more confident than I was before.”

One person who was excited by the return of Indian movies to Bangkok, was Thai-Indian starlet Savika Chaiyadej, who has acted in the Tamil film, ‘Markandeyan,’ and is hoping for a break in Bollywood.

Raam announced a big list for Bangkok, from ‘Student of the Year’ to ‘Son of Sardar.’ Meanwhile, Prakash Jha’s ‘Chakravyuha,’ and his Amitabh Bachchan-starrer ‘Aarakshan,’ has been screened at the ongoing World Film Festival of Bangkok (November 16- 25 ). This was the festival that awarded the Career Excellence ‘Lotus Award’ to Shyam Benegal in 2008. One hopes this will lead to the resurrection of Indian cinema in the Land of Smiles.