Raja Bundela: Taking cinema to the grassroots

The actor, who is the founder and chairperson of the Khajuraho International Film Festival, talks about the vision behind the event

December 26, 2019 06:09 pm | Updated 06:34 pm IST

Making a point: Raja Bundela 
R.V. Moorthy

Making a point: Raja Bundela R.V. Moorthy

The 5th edition of the Khajuraho International Film Festival (KIFF) concluded in Khajuraho earlier this week. The festival’s theme this year was comedy.

Actor Raja Bundela, founder and chairperson of KIFF, talks about the vision behind the festival, the concept of setting up tapra talkies in remote places, and his plans for the next edition of the festival.

Excerpts:

What’s the vision behind the Khajuraho International Film Festival?

I have always had a strong desire to do something for the people of Bundelkhand. It’s the place of my birth and I think I owe it the people of the region. Back in the year 1995, I got associated with the movement demanding creation of a separate Bundelkhand state. Later on, I realised that there are other ways of promoting welfare in the region. I have gained a lot through my long association with film, theatre and cinema. So, I thought of leveraging upon it for the benefit of the people in the region. Now, Khajuraho had been in my mind for quite some time and so one day I got the idea of starting a film festival in Khajuraho as the place is already known worldwide for its cultural heritage. My wife Sushmita Mukherjee who is also from NSD backed the idea fully. While, there was a lot of pressure from the authorities to host it in Bhopal or Indore instead, I was totally convinced that it had to be done in Khajuraho only.

What prompted you to set up tapra (tent) talkies in Khajuraho and surrounding areas as part of KIFF?

During the first year we began by having film screenings in halls and lounges of some of the leading hotels in Khajuraho. Now, the cultural evenings we had were really successful. But we didn’t get any audiences for the movie screenings. It was a big disappointment. So we did a survey in the villages. We learned that they were getting intimidated by these big hotels. There is always this fear that the watchmen might drive them away. It was a huge challenge to overcome the problem before the second edition. It seemed impossible to set up theatres in such a short time. Then I was reminded of the touring talkies that would come during our childhood days. They would set up tents and screen movies to the village people. So that’s how I decided to set up tapra talkies.

To what extent have you succeeded in realising your vision?

Our very first show was a sold out even though we were screening an American film as the US was our partner that year. The idea really took off. By the third year we had four tapra talkies up and running. In the fourth we had as many as eight. It was really unbelievable but we did make it happen. You see cinema is a powerful medium of reaching out to the people. So it's important to make people literate towards cinema. When noted film personalities visit Khajuraho it brings the entire region in the limelight. Also, it inspires the local people and creates opportunities for them. This year as per our rough estimates as many as 10,000 people have visited the festival. We have succeeded in providing a platform to local filmmakers to screen their films. Also, our mobile filmmaking workshop has been a huge success with the youngsters. We have got a wonderful atmosphere for film shooting and the facilities have also improved in the recent times. However, there is still a long way to go but I think we are on the right track.

Why did you choose comedy as the theme this year?

We have reached a point that we mostly get to read and watch about things that tend to disturb us. Also, comedy is disappearing from cinema at an alarming rate. Earlier, there was hardly any film without a comedian. Scenes and situations were specifically introduced in movies to provide comic relief at regular intervals. But all that is disappearing from our movies now. There is too much of grimness in our films these days in the name of realism. So by choosing comedy as a theme this year we endeavoured to remind everyone about the rich tradition of comedy that our cinema has always enjoyed.

What are your plans for the next year?

For the next year, we are planning to have a Bachchan week. We are already in touch with Amitabh Bachchan. We will also feature literary works of Harivansh Rai Bachchan along with the films of the entire Bachchan family. So, other than cinema, we also intend to include literature in our scheme of things in a big way going forth.

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