IFFK 2023: Cinephiles explain what brings them to the festival every year

As the curtain goes up on the IFFK today, cinephiles talk about what is special about this celebration of cinema

December 07, 2023 04:33 pm | Updated December 08, 2023 01:18 pm IST

Delegates of the IFFK at Tagore Theatre.

Delegates of the IFFK at Tagore Theatre. | Photo Credit: SREEJITH R KUMAR

It is that time of the year when Thiruvananthapuram gets set for its annual tryst with the best of world and Indian cinema. As the 28th edition of the International Film Festival of Kerala begins on December 8 (Friday), MetroPlus catches up with cinephiles who talk about their IFFK experience.

For many residents in the city, age no bar, this is the time of the year to romance the screen. Long queues outside theatres, heated debates over hot tea and eats, headline-making panel discussions and fashionistas turning heads with their signature style are familiar vignettes of the IFFK.

So, for city residents Praveen Mohan and Murali Krishnan, the buzz around the IFFK was not an unfamiliar one. While Praveen has been a regular since 2011, Murali has been a delegate for the last five years.

Praveen Mohan

Praveen Mohan | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Praveen, 35, vividly remembers his first look at IFFK. “It was exciting, especially watching foreign language films in the same theatre where I used to watch mainstream films. Since the theatres are spread across the city it was like entering a different world. A group of us friends, all of us aspiring filmmakers, gathered every year to enjoy and discuss cinema,” says Praveen.

It is true that the IFFK has shaped the viewing culture of several generations of film buffs in Kerala. UK Mrinal, who did his masters in filmmaking from the University of Reading, UK, has been watching films from his school days. “Since, my father, TK Rajeev Kumar (film director), has been closely involved with different editions of the IFFK, it is difficult to say when I began frequenting the screenings,” he says.

Filmmaker UK Mrunal 

Filmmaker UK Mrunal  | Photo Credit: UK Mrunal

In 2017, he helped his father direct the signature film of the fete and also participated as a delegate for the first time. Mrinal has been an avid viewer since then. He says the movies he watched has certainly shaped his decision to become a filmmaker. He recalls with a laugh how he created a furore when he got into a discussion with Shyam Benegal about new stipulations of the Censor Board during a panel discussion held on the sidelines of the festival.

Ahaana Krishna

Ahaana Krishna | Photo Credit: NM PRADEEP

Another city resident who found her way to cinema via IFFK is actor Ahaana Krishna. Although she was a regular at all the editions when she was in the city, once she left for Chennai to pursue her graduation, it became difficult to be a part of IFFK.

Keen cinephiles come from all across Kerala as delegates of IFFK. James Thakara, founder and frontman of the band, Thakara, has been attending the IFFK since 2011. “I was staying in Kochi with students of Cochin Media School and heard about the festival from them. I travelled all the way to Thiruvananthapuram on my bicycle. Later, I used to come on my Activa. This time it’s on my Royal Enfield Himalayan,” says James.

James Thakara

James Thakara | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

What brings them to the festival every year?

Learning experience

James says that each edition has helped him learn and unlearn various aspects of cinema. “The films have shaped my world view as I make it a point to watch as many as possible from all countries. That’s how you learn about their culture, history, politics etc.”

Murali, a photographer, writer and filmmaker, calls the festival a learning experience as one understands filmmaking, subjects to be chosen and the pulse of the audience.

Murali Krishnan

Murali Krishnan | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

For Mrinal, what is special about the IFFK is that it screens the best movies from Asia, Africa and South America in addition to films that make an impression at high-brand festivals such as the ones at Cannes and Toronto. “The spectrum of films that IFFK screens is not seen at any other festival,” he maintains.

Murali points out that the general perception about film festivals is that it includes only slow movies, called in jest as award padam (award-winning movie). “I remember, however, watching the Argentinian movie Back to Maracana at IFFK 2019. What fun it was! You don’t expect to see a light-hearted movie at a film festival.”

For actors Devaki Rajendran and Anumol, the IFFK was their ticket to world cinema. Both of them had their debut films screened at the IFFK.

Devaki Rajendran 

Devaki Rajendran  | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

“As a student in Mumbai, I had heard a great deal about the IFFK. It was in 2018, however, when my movie, Sleeplessly Yours, was screened that I participated in the festival. It was an unforgettable experience. Since then, I have been a regular at all the editions. It is an opportunity to watch world cinema and interact with people who seem to breathe cinema.”

Actor Anumol

Actor Anumol | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Engineer-turned-actor Anumol became an IFFK fan in 2011 when her film Akam was chosen for the fete. “Five of my movies were chosen in succession in the following years. It was an eyeopener for me – the films, the delegates, rubbing shoulders with filmmakers, who were household names, the endless cinema discussions...”

She recalls that her mother, Kala Manoharan, a fan of mainstream cinema, was awestruck when she watched French movie Amour. “She said loudly ‘so films can be made this way too’. It was about an elderly couple’s love for each other as they negotiate ailments and ill health! That is what IFFK does – open your eyes to different kinds of naratives, themes, approaches and filmmaking.”

This year too, her film Ennennum is part of the Malayalam Cinema Today category.

The festivals have been special for Praveen. “Sleeplessly Yours in which I worked as an associate director was screened at the IFFK in 2018. This time, I am an assistant director in Shalini Ushadevi’s Ennennum. I had watched her first film, Akam, at my first IFFK.”

Memorable moments

Each delegate usually has a fond IFFK memory to cherish. Ahaana, for instance, remembers watching Parasite on the big screen during an edition of the IFFK. “It was a mind-blowing experience. If I am a delegate, I watch at least 15 to 20 movies with my friends. The movies provide a great learning curve to understand culture, politics and society.”

While the increase in the number of delegates speaks of the festival’s popularity, both Praveen and Murali feel not all the delegates turn up to watch the films. “Some are there to grab everyone’s attention and there are quite a few who come only to have fun at the cultural programmes in the evening,” says Praveen.

Murali adds, “In 2019 I watched 38 films! There might be others like me who watch that many movies. But some of them skip screenings seeing the crowd not knowing that half the delegates have no plans to watch the movies.” Murali hopes for a better website this time. “It often crashes when the registration opens due to heavy traffic. I hope it has been revamped this time.”

Meanwhile, the magic begins as the curtain goes up on the first screening in the morning at theatres across the city.

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