The past 12 months have seen a silent renaissance of Indian films on the global stage. From Vietnam to Trinidad and Tobago via Russia, Iran and Egypt, Indian films have cornered glory everywhere. Even as media attention is riveted on sundry film awards in Bollywood, Indian films of all languages have been quietly winning acclaim at many festivals abroad.
Refreshingly, the focus is as much on regional language cinema as the one dished out by Hindi film merchants. Says S.M. Khan, director, Directorate of Film Festivals (DFF), “Wherever we screened Indian films we got tremendous response from the audiences. Our films are truly our global cultural ambassadors and did a great service to the nation by showing the diversity of our land.”
In fact, 2009 had all the harbingers of glad tidings. It all started with the famous Oscar saga of Slumdog Millionaire, and the media, projected to grow at 12.5 per cent per annum, lapped it up. Building on the success of Slumdog the DFF organised festivals under the Cultural Exchange Programme in India and abroad to foster mutual understanding through films. On the home front, there was that laudable initiative to take cinema beyond the metropolises with a special focus on the Northeast.
In a throwback to the Raj Kapoor era replete with “Mera jota hai Japani”, there was the Year of India in Russia, as part of which films like Tare Zamin Par, Kanchivaram, Mammo and Billa were screened at the Moscow International Film Festival. Seasoned filmmaker Shyam Benegal served on the jury at the festival.
A little later, films like Chaturanga and Fashion were sent to the St Petersburg Film Festival. Like in IFFI, a poster exhibition on the ‘History of Indian Cinema' by the National Film Archives of India was also organised. Likewise, there was much success to be experienced at the Cairo International Film Festival where India's entry, K.S. Gomtam's Mudhal Mudhal Mudhal Varai bagged a Silver Award in the Digital Film Section. It was a fine show considering the festival had only a package of five films curated by DFF for a special India section.
After the Cairo triumph of Mudhal, Anurag Kashyap's Dev D got many heads turning at the Asia Pacific Film Festival in Taipei. The film won awards for Best Art Direction and Best Editing. Again, like Resul Pookutty's award at the Oscars, an award in technical category was a step forward for the Indian film industry. Says Khan, “Based on the feedback, the India-Taipei Association organised additional festivals of films in other towns.”
Meanwhile, the year also saw greater global attention for a director like Girish Kasaravalli, whose Gulabi Talkies was screened at the Rotterdam International Film Festival, the proceeded to win greater acclaim elsewhere, notably the Fribourg International Film Festival.
Not far away, Naalu Pennnungal (Four Women) cornered glory at the Cinema Nova Film Festival in Belgium. Similar honour awaited Mathilukal at the Jameson Belfast Film Festival. In fact, Europe played a fine host to Indian films with the Imagine India Film Festival in Madrid showing films like Piravi, Swaham, Vaanaprastham and Gulabi Talkies.
The much revered Adoor Gopalakrishnan, blessed with as many fans in India as Europe had a retrospective of his films at the Munich Film Festival. Meanwhile, France, Austria, Croatia, Greece played host to Indian movies.
The icing on the cake came from the most unexpected quarters, with Hindi films Jodha Akbar and A Wednesday finding takers at the Shanghai International Film Festival. It was not quite Hindi-Chini bhai bhai, but it was a beginning. As was Moggina Jade at the festival in Teheran. And the likes of Maqbool and Iqbal at the Indian Film Week in Vietnam.
There was no surprise though at the great response to Satyajit Ray's timeless classic Pather Panchali in Trinidad and Tobago during the Indian Film Week. The region soaked in the colours of India with the Bogota Film Festival screening Benegal's films like Mammo, Sardari Begum and Sooraj ka Satvan Ghoda.
With German, Turkish, Italian and Slovak films finding various film festivals welcoming them in India, it truly was the year when the DFF renaissance attained fruition.