Vaiju Naravane

Two-month-long festival of Indian cinema and dance a huge success

Aim was to show films that have never been screened in France before: Martine Armand

Festival ran to full houses; ended with Paresh Mokashi’s Harishchandrachi Factory

PARIS: The sixth edition of ‘Indian Summer,’ the two-month-long festival of Indian film and dance held by the Guimet Museum of Asian Arts here, came to a triumphant end with the screening of Paresh Mokashi’s Oscar-nominated Harishchandrachi Factory. The film received a standing ovation from the jam-packed house.

“We opened the festival with Dadasaheb Phalke’s 1936 epic Sant Tukaram, the first Indian film to be shown in an international festival [Venice in 1937] and, coming full circle, we ended our cycle of Marathi and Malayalam cinema with a biopic on the father of Indian cinema, Paresh Mokashi’s Harishchandrachi Factory,” Martine Armand, who did the programming for the festival, told The Hindu.

Even though the French subtitles left much to be desired, the film, made like a silent movie, had the audience in splits. “I just loved it. It’s fun, it is moving and very inventive. Congratulations to the director,” exclaimed Janine Krause, an avid cine-goer who admits she knows little about Indian cinema with the exception of Satyajit Ray. “We never get to see such films here. This was a treat.”

The festival — which ran to full houses, with many persons having to be turned away because the auditorium could accommodate only 300 persons per showing — concentrated on Marathi and Malayalam cinema d’auteur, 15 films in all, including classics like Jabbar Patel’s Umbartha, V. Shantaram’s 1937 classic Kunku, Adoor Gopalakrishnan’s Kathapurushan, Anantaram and Vidheyan, or John Abraham’s Amma Ariyan. Noted Marathi stage and screen actor Mohan Agashe presented Umesh Kulkarni’s Valu, which deals with a sacred bull gone berserk.

“The films I saw were rich, strong, varied, so very different from the sugary sweet Bollywood cinema that we get to see here. I know India and have been going to Pune and other cities for the past two years, and despite that, this festival was a genuine voyage of discovery. It was a delight,” said Catherine Metais, who first went to Pune as a young exchange student nearly 30 years ago.

Hubert Laot, head of programming at the Musée Guimet, said it was unusual for the museum to hold a festival dominated by film, music and dance. “The museum’s public is a specific one. Many of them are deeply interested in Asian culture and we regularly hold conferences by academics, photographers and archaeologists. This was something quite different and generated huge enthusiasm,” Mr. Laot told The Hindu.

During the two months of the festival, the museum also held music and dance performances. Dipanwita Roy and her daughter Priyadarshani gave an Odissi recital, with the mother wowing audiences with the strength of her abhinaya. Maria Kiron for Bharatanatyam, and the brothers K.N. Shashikiran and P. Ganesh with Carnatic music, also drew record crowds. For Sharmila Sharma’s Kathak recital on November 19, there is not a ticket to be had.

“I am always struck by the strength of the women from Kerala and Maharashtra, and that was one of the aspects of the programming. Kunku, Umbartha and Chitra Palekar’s Maati May have very strong female characters and deal with women’s issues. As far as Malayalam cinema went, the common thread running through the programming was the history of India and of communism in Kerala, as well as what happened during the Emergency. Our aim was to show films that have never been screened or distributed in France before. We chose Harishchandrachi Factory long before it was nominated as India’s official entry for the Oscars and I feel gratified by that. What was attractive about juxtaposing Marathi and Malayalam films was the fact that both States have very strong theatrical traditions and the films balanced each other out, both in terms of their strong content and their extraordinary quality,” Ms. Armand said.

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