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If it is December, it should be Goa

The warmth of the locals and the impeccable projection facilities have already endeared scribes to Panjim where the International Film Festival opened on Wednesday, writes GOWRI RAMNARAYAN.

ST. FRANCIS CLAIMS attention as his embalmed body, a sacred relic, is laid out for the once in many years `darshan.' The Immaculate Conception Feast announces novenas, salves, matins and vespers blessed by the spirit of the holy Eucharist in the pre-Christmas tide. For delegates at the International Film Festival of India 2004, Goa's charm is enhanced by the unique ambience of its lingering colonial past so different in its Portuguese flavours from those of the familiar British Raj.

Waves, Lights and Orchids. They make striking leitmotifs for the International Film Festival of India (IFFI 2004). The Goa airport overflows with orchids and chrysanthemums, buildings and arches stream flowers. Waves from river and sea border the venues — the Charles Correa designed Kala Academy, and the brand new Inox theatre complex behind the old world Goa Medical College. Their tree-columned Campal street is closed to traffic. But delegates find themselves ushered into vans and polite auto rickshaws, arranged to transport them back and forth between the theatres. Ferries ply between the festival Taj Hotel and the theatres, infrequently, but a welcome change from the dust-n-traffic metropolitan maze. Nights see the highway winding beside the Miramar beach and the Mandovi river, festooned with lights. Every lamppost trails strands of tiny bulbs lit up to rival the stars. The silver sands are a-buzz with locals and holiday makers, crowding the bright stalls. The giant open-air beach screen shows mainstream treats from ``Mission Impossible" to ``The Gladiator."

The press may report the ire of activists and environmentalists over the choice of Goa as a permanent film festival venue, but the citizens seem happy to get national prominence and international notice, while taxi drivers are delirious with joy over the prospect pf more rip offs from more tourists during this boom season. Not all are rapacious. Cabbie Roland Fernandes will not charge extra at night. He takes you out of the way to show roads new-laid and repaired. ``Look, such beautiful lanterns everywhere."

All new! Put up for the festival. You must write that Goa is the best place in India. So will IFFI make its permanent home in Goa? Union Minister Jaipal Reddy would give no assurance on the matter despite repeated press probes.

The Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar with actor Aamir Khan at the 35th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Panjim on Nov 29.

The State Government has put up little stages on the streets for daylong shows by local bands resurrecting forgotten favourites from ``Stupid Cupid" to ``Love me do." Other stages have mime, juggling and magic performances.

Comic strip characters on stilts wave to saunters as they stroll past. A parade of 12 colourful floats depicting aspects of Goan culture — dashavtari drama, Gawda women and Portuguese dancing, farming on the Goan fields, welcomed IFFI to Panaji. Beach concerts, children's competitions and a festival of plays are part of IFFI celebrations. The Chief Minister was to declare at the inaugural that with so many fringe events he was afraid that the theatres might be empty! A casual encounter with Goa-resident Anna Maria Roderigues out to enjoy the street shows tells you more about local interest in the national event. ``Our Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar bulldozed his way through every block and red tape to get Panaji ready for IFFI. He is determined to make this an unforgettable event. Goa will be known all over the world," she says.

However, Anna Maria is not interested in what is happening within the theatres. ``I don't like all these art films, everything is slow and dark and boring. I like Aamir Khan. He is going to be here this evening," she exults.

The inaugural ceremony had its share of snags. Traffic delays had guests arriving late, many Indian and foreign delegates found themselves locked out without invitations, the overcrowded auditorium saw organizers giving up their seats to stars like Shabana Azmi or Saira Banu. From thespian Dilip Kumar stumbling over words and ideas to the rambling vote of thanks, the ceremony dragged on far too long for the opening film, Meera Nair's ``Vanity Fair" to retain more than sparse viewership, especially as the entertainment that preceded the film also took its own time.

South African director Darrell James Roodt makes his point about AIDS during a press briefing at the Kala Academy, while actor Revathi listens .— Pic. by Rajtilak Naik

But it was a smashing success. A. R. Rehman walked in amidst thunderous ovation to conduct music from Subhash Ghai's ``Kisna." Sunitha Sarthi's English song impressed with its modulated finish, more than the Hindi one rendered by Udit Narayan and Madhushree. But the evening belonged to Isha Sharvani, the dancer trained by mother Daksha Seth, (remember her controversial sarpagati?) Isha performed amazing numbers choreographed for Kisna in which she makes her debut. Her superbly trained body could do everything from cartwheel to a padmasana perched atop a rope that she had climbed with breathstopping movements, blending dance with gymnastics. This inclusion of mainstream cinema struck a welcome note of glamour at the inaugural.

What of the actual festival itself? Hardened scribes may miss meaningful retrospectives or crib about the absence of award winners, but those softened by the winsome venue declare that ``This year the quality of films will take second place." The warmth of the locals, the unfailing courtesy and friendliness of the ushers scattering ``Welcome!" and ``Did you enjoy the film?" the impeccable projection at the Inox theatres make them agree that ``Come December, and Goa is the place to be."

Sitting on the green lawns of the Kala Academy, gazing at ferries with cascading lights sailing on the lapping waters, you forget the questions in your interview. Interviewee Farrukh Dhondy too gets into a reverie and has to shake himself out of the spell to talk about his script for Mani Ratnam or Baz Taylor, or the much-awaited film, ``The Rising" which focuses on Mangal Pande in the Sepoy Mutiny. (Aamir Khan who attended the inauguration with flowing locks and curling whiskers had been more Pande than Khan).

Indian filmmakers Mira Nair (centre), Shyam Benegal (left) and Vidhu Vinod Chopra (right) share a light moment at the festival.

A key early event at the festival marked World Aids Day (Dec. 1) with the screening of three films on the subject — ``A Closer Walk" ( Dir: Robert Bilheimer,USA), ``Phir Milenge" (Dir: Revathy, India) and ``Yesterday" (Dir: Darrell James Roodt, South Africa). At the Open Forum Roodt and Revathy talked about their aim to create awareness without trumpeting slogans.

``I made a commercial film in Hindi in order to reach out to the largest number of people in India and Indian communities abroad," said Revathy, while Roodt declared that his ``Yesterday" was easier to distribute in the art film circuits outside his country as the very first film made in the Zulu language. Within South Africa the film had been screened in rural as well as urban centres, and had stimulated open discussions of the widespread but hidden disease.

Both film makers agreed that too much research would have minimised the emotional appeal of their films, and turned them into dry documentaries.

They also believed that following too many expert consultants might have made them lose track of their own vision.

``Yesterday" turned out to be a slow and quiet film, completely different from the passions of the film maker's earlier works like ``Cry, the Beloved Country" and the ebullient musical ``Sarafina" that was loved by audiences across the world.

The film tracks its characters in long treks across the landscape. The protagonist Yesterday, so named by her father who thought Yesterday was better than Today and Tomorrow, is a young married woman raising her child Beauty in the village.

Her husband works in the Johannesburg mines. Her beat her up in disbelief when she tells him that she has contracted AIDs from him, but soon returns home where he is nursed by the afflicted wife in a little hut she builds for him outside the village.

Ostracised and shunned by all except the school teacher, Yesterday carries on without complaints, and wills herself to live until her child joins school.

Dilip Kumar inaugurating the IFFI at Panaji. Along with him are (from left) the Union Information Minister S. Jaipal Reddy and the Goa Governor S. C. Jamir

Two visuals stand out — her desperate sobs with her back to the camera, and her equally desperate hammer strokes demolishing the shed after the husband's death. ``He was a good man, he did his best," is the staunch conviction of her simple soul.

The film has little dialogue and tells its story with strokes clear and straight.

Amitabh Bachchan's presence at the screening of ``Yesterday" made it a special event, with a smiling director Roodt jostling among the cameramen to take his pictures of the star! At the press meet which followed Bachchan was declared an ambassador for the Nelson Mandela Foundation in its global AIDS campaign by the Foundation's representative John Samuels.

Write, shoot and screen in 24 hours

TWENTY-FOUR is a significant number for Dev Benegal, curator of 24x7, Making Movies, a unique enterprise where youngsters under 24 years ``write, shoot and show a film'' that is ``between 24 seconds and 24 minutes long'' in 24 hours.

``Twenty-four is the heartbeat of a film. It is the speed at which a film runs. It is the pulse of cinema,'' Dev explains.

The director of path-breaking films like "English, August" and "Split Wide Open" says ``24x7 was born out of my personal experiences as a filmmaker. It was born out of a crazy `what if' scenario. My partner and co-curator Anuradha Parekh thought what would happen if we were to give the best equipment to youngsters and ask them to make a film.''

``In 2003 we had 24x7 in Mumbai where we had about 25 entries. This year Neelam Kapur, director of the Directorate of Film Festivals, asked us to curate it at the International Film Festival of India (IFFI.) And so here we are.''

The theme of 24x7 is Nature and Violence and Dev does not want to talk about it as he does not want to influence the competitors.

``There are no correct answers. We have selected 40 filmmakers from 100 applications and they get to shoot with top of the line cameras (Panasonic), and editing software (Final Cut from Apple - Anthony Minghella's `Cold Mountain' was edited on it) and get to show their films to an international audience at IFFI,'' he says.

``24x7 is all about breaking free from the constraints and constrictions of filmmaking. A competition of this kind reveals the fault lines of filmmaking. Demographics reveal that a sizeable chunk of film viewers are young people but the decision makers are old. They are still making films with outdated ideas. 24x7 is about allowing the young to speak. It is time we listened to their voice.'' And the youngsters are very enthusiastic about having their voice heard.

Swathi has finished shooting her 10-minute film and is editing it.

She says her film is ``about a man who goes to the jungle to confront his inner demons and goes mad in the process.''

Suryash Vadhavkar and Jimmy Mistry are brainstorming about two ideas they have. One is symbolic while the other is a bit of a logistic nightmare.

``I only wish it was 48x7 instead 24!'' Suryash says wistfully.

For Suryash, an assistant director on "Cha Cha Cha" and Jimmy, assistant cinematographer with Pramod Pradhan, 24x7 is a great way to make a film without the usual ego massaging and pampering.

``Precisely,'' says Dev. ``I know the humiliation I had to endure looking for funds to make `English, August.' This is a chance for youngsters to make it without the `right' connections.''

From December 3, the 24x7 films would be screened at INOX screen 4 and the best three films selected by an international jury would get delicious prizes like a chance to make a film for Zee TV.

As Dev puts it, ``It took Shyam Benegal 14 years to make `Ankur.' Here is a chance to make your own dream in 24 hours!''


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