A slice of Southern hospitality
As the 9th CIFF drew to a close, a heady mixture of excitement and sadness lingered over the crowds hovering outside the doors of the Woodlands theatre. Entering the closing ceremony was effort enough, as I was forced to push my way through throngs of hangers-on, pressing themselves against the theatre doors, ready to burst in at a moment's notice. Soon after, I happened upon a scene of similar chaos. Committee members and volunteers hurried about, attempting to organise seating and fix the smoke machine, all while receiving early guests with warmth. Actor Balaji Mohan, who contributed lighting, decor and other effects from his wedding planning business to the festival, said that while there had been a fair few challenges in organising, film industry members, accustomed to working in challenging circumstances, simply viewed these as “positive difficulties” that were easily combatable.
This is the second year that public relations coordinator Nikil Murugan has worked for the festival, playing witness to the ups and downs in organising VIP red-carpet events and reception of guests. Murugan says the festival can grow into a more glamorous, exclusive event by borrowing a few ideas from various other film festivals — avoiding inviting people to the red-carpet screenings but encouraging industry members to invite themselves, filling up seats with prominent personalities to put the CIFF on a par with its Goa or Cannes counterpart.
Two weeks ago, hospitality team member and first-time CIFF volunteer Haritha Gopi had little idea what her role would involve. After devoting nine days and eight sleepless nights to the festival, she and her team of student volunteers believe their experience has been a good one — from ferrying international delegates back and forth from red-carpet screenings to providing them with the red-carpet Indian experience, beginning with a full-blown “traditional welcome” at the airport. Volunteer Prithwick adds that the festival has been an unforgettable experience for students such as himself, who receive an opportunity to operate in positions of real responsibility and rub shoulders with industry members from around the world.
The hospitality of the CIFF committee has not gone unnoticed by foreign visitors. Director Jean-Jacques Jauffret says the committee has been extremely welcoming, friendly and unusually informal, compared to other international film festivals while Polish producer Aleksandra Biernacka has been impressed enough by the Tamil film industry to suggest the possibility of a collaborative project somewhere down the line.
A serious business
Many prominent directors, including the likes of Balu Mahendra and Venkat Prabhu, have in the last two weeks expressed their belief in the ability of the Tamil film industry to achieve international recognition. Anirudh Ravichander, composer of the unexpectedly and wildly popular ‘Why This Kolaveri Di', has “received emails from people from all over the world”, perhaps a precursor to the international popularity Tamil film may soon enjoy. Even so, at the closing ceremony of the CIFF, many others attempted to hammer home the idea that Tamil films would need to make a conscious effort to become universally appreciated — a status that, at present, only a few aspects of the Tamil films can claim. Actor and comedian Badava Gopi believes that Tamil comedy is one of these better understood traits, and can be well-received by audience around the world. Likening Jim Carrey to Vadivelu, he explains that a lot of humour is non-verbal, and jokes are often able to transcend cultural and linguistic boundaries. This theory also underpins the work of young comedian and theatre enthusiast Advait, who has lately devoted his time to creating a genre of comedy acceptable to Indians and non-Indians alike. One of his latest projects is based on creating “Indianised” performances inspired by Hugh Laurie, a term that connotes neither a complete and total adaptation of material to a narrow interpretation of Indian life nor a weak mimicry of Russell Peters. Rather, Advait simply experiments with the addition of a few common bar jokes and other things that increase Indian audiences' accessibility to world comedy, and this will hopefully be similarly appreciated in other contexts. While the Tamil film industry may have a long way to go to enrapture foreign audiences, its use of humour may have already set it ahead.