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Lonavala film fest takes off, director Govind Nihalani honoured

The opening day of the week-long international film festival at Lonavala saw many veteran artistes from Govind Nihalani and Shyam Benegal to Naseeruddin Shah and Deepa Sahi make an appearance.

(Photo: Shutterbugs Images)

Shriram Iyengar

The first Lonavala International Film Festival of India 2016 (LIFFI)  kicked off in style on Thursday, 1 September, by honouring filmmaker Govind Nihalani with the Lifetime Achievement award. The event saw good attendance by directors and actors, including Shyam Benegal, Naseeruddin Shah, Deepa Sahi, Ratna Pathak Shah, Vivek Agnihotri, Ketan Mehta, and Pallavi Joshi.

Instituted by Riju Bajaj, Madhav Todi and Dr Anamika Sharma, the event is showcasing films by debutant directors alongside some classics. The festival is being held at the lavish Triose Plaza in Lonavala till Monday, 5 September. 

The inaugural ceremony began with the lighting of the lamp by the guests. Host Dolly Thakore spoke eloquently about the need for and importance of such festivals.

The inaugural speech by Benegal was received with much applause. The director pointed out how many international festivals began at tourist destinations to attract audiences. He said, "Festivals like Cannes or Venice began in those places not because they were major cities but because they were tourist destinations. Even our own national festival in Delhi was moved to Goa."

Benegal expressed the hope that the Lonavala festival would revive the trend of having festivals in tourist destinations. "I hope this particular festival will have a long innings, as it is a great place to be here. Particularly, Lonavala is great during the monsoons." 

The opening ceremony also saw the institution of the Khemchand Prakash award for music. The trophy was unveiled by actors Naseeruddin Shah and Deepa Sahi.

Speaking of Khemchand Prakash, the famed composer of Mahal (1949), critic Pavan K Jha said, "The sad fact is that our film history documentation begins from the era of Raj Kapoor-Dev Anand-Dilip Kumar. Largely, the era of 1931-1950 is ignored. It was during this era that Khemchand Prakash shone. He was no less a composer than Naushad, Shankar-Jaikishen or SD Burman. He is a legend, unfortunately, a forgotten one."

Jha spoke at some length about the composer's work and technical skill. "It is a great gesture by this festival to institute this award and honour the luminaries of our past," he said.

A key event of the ceremony was the honouring of director Govind Nihalani with the first LIFFI Lifetime Achievement Award. The director was honoured by his close friend and mentor Benegal.

Director Govind Nihalani being honoured by director Shyam Benegal 
Photos: Shutterbugs Images

The Aakrosh (1980) director spoke about the difficulties involved in his initial ventures, and the experience of learning from cinematographer VK Murthy, Benegal and playwright Satyadev Dubey. He emphasised that it was the interaction with these three individuals that shaped his awareness as an individual and a filmmaker.

Nihalani said, "When there were discussions of Shyambabu's scripts, I used to be around. Not contributing, but I liked hearing what was being said. That discussion, with people like Girish Karnad, Vijay Tendulkar was a memorable phase in my growth as a cameraman, and later on it contributed to my growth as a filmmaker. This makes it a great pleasure to receive the award from Shyambabu himself."

The director added, "Festivals have become a platform for so much hope, a thing to aspire in India. Somewhere, they have generated and contributed immensely to the possibility of making films. Today, young people are thinking seriously about the medium. It is not just cinema, it is a new language of images."

The director later joined Atul Tiwari, dialogue writer of films like Mission Kashmir (2000) and Drohkaal (1994), in a tete-a-tete revealing much about his career and experiences as a filmmaker. Having spent almost 50 years in the industry, Nihalani is in no mood to quit either. He revealed that he has just completed filming his first Marathi venture, Ti Ani Itar (She And Others), which will be announced formally soon. 

The opening day also saw the screening of several films like Nihalani's Tamas (1987), Guru Dutt's Pyaasa (1957) and Vivek Agnihotri's Buddha In A Traffic Jam (2016). Though competently managed, the event did have some teething troubles. A couple of screenings were interrupted by technical problems, but that did not hinder film lovers from attending the event. The screening of Buddha In A Traffic Jam saw the director hold an informal Q&A with the audience.

In all, the inaugural day was quite a success with free flow of ideas between film lovers and invitees. The icing was a group photograph, in the time-honoured Hindi film style, of all the guests. As organizer Riju Bajaj remarked, it felt more like a college reunion than a formal photocall.