“Australians, unlike Americans, are very modest people. They don’t blow their own trumpet,” says Anupam Sharma, founding director, An Australian Film Initiative (AAFI). What appears to be a perfectly normal virtue is something of a drawback when it comes to propagation of one’s film culture.
Trying to bridge the modesty gap is the Australian Film Festival of India. After debuting last year in the presence of Hugh Jackman, the Australian actor who played Wolverine, the film festival, under the aegis of AAFI, will stage its comeback in December this year.
The centrepiece of the festival this year is a retrospective of the films of iconic Australian director Baz Luhrmann. Luhrmann, who is now finishing The Great Gatsby, which features Amitabh Bachcan, said “I think it is well known that I have had a profound and natural connection to India: to the country, to Indian culture, and, most importantly, to the Indian people. This is not just in cinema and art, but also in terms of spirit. As a result, nothing excites me more than the prospect of our films playing in a special celebration of Australian cinema…”
The retrospective comprises his films Moulin Rouge , Romeo and Juliet and Australia . Also showing at the festival are films that are specific to India such as Yes Madam Sir by Megan Doneman, about Kiran Bedi. “She (the director) spent 3 years with her and what came out was hours and hours of insight into a mother, into someone who is fighting the male hierarchy, fighting corruption,” Anupam says.
Furthermore, Lost in the Land of Gods about a couple that lose their son in Hardwar and Bollywood Star , a reality show which finds Australia’s first Bollywood star, will also be shown. The attempt is to trace and continue the relations between Bollywood and India, he says. In popular memory, the relations probably stretch only as far back as Heyy Baby or, more distantly, Dil Chahta Hai . But transactions have been going on since as early as 1935, when Fearless Nadia, originally Mary Evans from Perth, acted in Noor-e-Yaman . Afterwards, in 1970, Pattabhi Rama Reddy adapted U.R. Ananthamurthy’s Samskara , which was shot by Tom Cohen. In 1996, Kamal Hassan made Hindustani .
As someone who has spent equal amounts of time in India and Australia, Anupam observes a similar love of films and music running through both the countries. But while the tendency there is to plan meticulously, “here things happen…organically,” he says.
AAFI is committed to showing Australian films in all their similarities and distinctiveness. “Our sole mission is to promote, market and distribute Australian films in emerging and non-traditional markets like India, South America and North Europe.” Within India, the AAFI is not confining itself to the metros itself. Explaining the decision to branch out, Anupam says, “I come from Dehradun, and the universities in Australia know that majority of high school graduates from there go overseas. It’s always been considered an elite town. What better place to start off?”
(The Australian Film Festival of India takes place in Delhi from December 14-16)