Most Indian festivals don’t give importance to Indian cinema: Lonavala fest organizer Riju Bajaj

The first Lonavala International Film Festival of India will be held from 1-5 September at the hill station near Mumbai.

Keyur Seta

The Lonavala International Film Festival of India (LIFFI) is set to roll with its first edition from Thursday, 1 September. It will screen 26 Indian and international films over a span of five days at the hill station 80 km from here.

“It’s the first ever film festival organized in Lonavala," actor Riju Bajaj, one of the organizers, told The festival will feature films from all over India, including from Assam, Orissa, and Punjab. "We have films in Hindi, Marathi, English, English-Marathi, etc. This includes unreleased films, which are brand new and waiting to be released,” Bajaj said.

LIFFI's focus is on young, independent filmmakers. “It will help them reach out to possible markets," Bajaj said. "Otherwise most of these independent filmmakers find it difficult to connect for distribution."

According to him, these young filmmakers have been waiting and wanting to reach out to people but aren’t entertained because they don’t have the right contacts. "If they wish to go to MAMI [the Mumbai Academy of the Moving Image, which organizes an annual film festival in Mumbai], they can’t because they don’t know anyone there,” he said.

Bajaj believes MAMI’s main aim is not to promote independent cinema. “If they get such films, they showcase them, but that is not their motto," he said. "Their focus is on world cinema. They don’t give importance to Indian cinema. Most Indian festivals are ending up like this. I am sorry to say this, but that’s a fact. They should show world cinema, but not at the cost of Indian cinema."

But this is where LIFFI can score, he believes. "It’s not to belittle them," Bajaj said. "We must learn what is lacking in them, so we take that on and move forward.” 

Bajaj said he had been informed that MAMI does not accept films that are shown at other festivals. "If that is true, it’s an archaic rule," he said. "How can they stop the growth and reach of a film? This is nothing but selfishness, making your festival exclusive at the cost of letting other films and filmmakers reach out to their audiences. A few filmmakers told me that they are forced to agree to these laws if they want to participate.” 

Bajaj said LIFFI does not rely on government and corporations for funding. “I have nothing against such festivals, but my personal view is that somewhere down the line they lose the purpose and end up just showcasing films, which you can always do on a DVD," he explained. "How is it going to help promote a film, talk to filmmakers and about filmmaking or film culture? A film is also part of infotainment. It educates and makes audiences aware about social issues.”

Asked why the organizers zeroed in on Lonavala to conduct this 'different' festival, Bajaj said it has a "good vantage point". With Mumbai less than two hours' drive away, access is not a problem.

But there is another philosophical reason. "Bombay is exploding," said Bajaj. "There are so many festivals here; it’s done to death." According to him, there is not much space left for creativity in the city anymore. "What is a creative mind doing in this city?" he continued. "It’s a concrete jungle. It’s not a film world for me; it’s a corporate hub. Most films are not written in Bombay. It’s Lonavala, Mussoorie, Ooty or anywhere.

"Lonavala is a growing town. In 5-10 years it will be an important city. It has maximum tourist footfalls. So before anyone else started, I did it. I can’t be more blunt and narcissistic about this," he said, laughing.

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