The crowd at the 9th Chennai International Film Festival is somewhat diverse and seeks a unique entertainment experience

In a country of more than a few bustling home-grown entertainment industries, foreign films — with the exception of mainstream Hollywood blockbusters — have been forced to climb a steep and rocky road to ascend the ladder of popularity. The climb has been particularly difficult in Chennai, a city not exactly known to be adventurous in most aspects.

Recently, however, organisations such as the Indo-Cine Appreciation Foundation (ICAF), have raised the profile of international films in the city, garnering quite a following.

Just a few days into this year's Chennai International Film Festival (CIFF), theatres across the city are bursting at the seams with people elbowing each other to get the best seat.

International film festivals are known for their celebration of diversity, both in terms of the productions that they screen and the crowds that they attract. However, walking into the Woodlands Theatre on a weekday afternoon, I'm surprised to find that the vast majority of the attendees are male. Men crowd all levels of the theatre; something that various passers-by explain as “it is too noisy here for women” or “women don't enjoy such films”. Despite this, it is undeniable that the festival does seem to attract a diverse range of people from different age groups, occupations and socio-economic backgrounds, united by a cultivated interest or a simple curiosity in foreign films. These people include first-time attendees Selvanayaki and her husband, Kuppuswamy, a writer, who have just been introduced to foreign films, as well as geologist Christopher, a long time “film buff” and one time member of ICAF. Script writer and television consultant K. Gopalakrishnan explains the lure of the festival by emphasising its role in bringing unusual and otherwise unavailable films to Chennai.

Different views

Tamil and Indian films are also available; but they don't attract the same crowds as the international selection, something that perhaps reflects on the changing tastes of an increasingly cosmopolitan audience. South Indian films were lauded on the inaugural night of the CIFF by director Shekhar Kapur for being realistic and relatable, but not all attendees seem to share this belief. Gopalakrishnan points out that South Indian films and television programmes tend to follow a rigid formula, drawing on plots, themes and characters that are familiar yet overtired. Foreign films, on the other hand, still retain an amount of intrigue — both small, independent arthouse films and more conventional blockbusters portray different cultures, people and situations, and have become a sort of novelty for Chennai residents. This sentiment is echoed by another attendee, an NRI who finds typical “masala” storylines tiresome and is instead interested in “good stories and good directors”.

However this is not to say that Indian films are declining in popularity — while they may be slightly overlooked at the festival, many young attendees, including visual communication graduate Prathyusha, claim to enjoy Tamil films, but for the duration of the festival, are interested in something unique that broadens their acquaintance with the film genre.

Young and old, the 9th Chennai International Film Festival seems to have struck a chord with many of the city's residents; luring experimental young students and seasoned film-lovers alike. It will be on till December 22 at various theatres around the city; for location and registration details visit www.chennaifilmfest.com.

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