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Interview Hindi

LIFFT India received entries from 37 countries: Festival director Riju Bajaj

In the run-up to LIFFT India Awards & Filmotsav, Cinestaan.com brings you an exclusive interview with founder and festival director Riju Bajaj. The Lonavala film festival will be held from 1-5 September at Fariyas Resort in Lonavala.

Image courtesy of Lifft India

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Set up with the aim of nourishing the art of cinema and other allied art forms, LIFFT stands for Literature, Information, Film, Frame, TV & Theatre. The first edition of the LIFFT India Filmotsav 2017 is dedicated to the late actor Om Puri for his contribution to Indian cinema. 

The festival offers a wide array of events for cinema enthusiasts ranging from screenings of short films, documentaries and feature films to a book launch, book-reading sessions, a play and masterclass sessions everyday. These sessions will be conducted by eminent personalities such as Rajit Kapoor, Mita Vasishth, and Danish Hussain, to name a few. 

The festival will also showcase a small painting exhibition of upcoming young and dynamic painters Shibani Sehgal and Rahul Chaudhury along with an exhibition of photographs by Fawzan Hussain.

LIFFT India 2017: Must-watch films at the Lonavala festival

What was the inspiration behind initiating a festival in Lonavala?

Lonavala is a happening tourist spot located conveniently between Mumbai and Pune and people from both these cities make a quick getaway and travel here. I first came to Lonavala in 1998 while working on Gulzar Saab’s Hu Tu Tu (1999) and fell in love with the place. I made the place my home in 2011 and as I had worked on festivals earlier, so, after being here for a while, I thought why not have a festival in Lonavala. 

We conducted the festival last year as an experiment and didn’t publicize it much as we wanted it to grow organically and make a name for itself. Our endeavour is to bring a certain kind of cinema to the local audience. In time, we hope that the audience will become more receptive to independent cinema through the festival screenings. In another 5-10 years, there will be several more people who will shift to Lonavala and the typical festival audience will also come in as a result of that. So, we want to create something now, so that we can grow along with Lonavala. 

In terms of starting a festival, as a family we have been in the arts and especially cinema. My grandfather Khemchand Prakash was a music composer and my father Ram Gopal Bajaj has been associated with theatre festivals for a long time. He started the Bharat Rang Mahotsav and 500 groups from around the world participated in it. The theatre festival is now in its 20th year. I worked with MAMI [Mumbai Academy of the Moving Image] in its initial stages and we were part of the team that built things at the grassroots level. So, with this background, we thought of integrating all art forms and creating an integrated festival. 

The audience in Lonavala seems to be a mix of the traditional and the modern. Whom do you see as being the audience for your festival?

Lonavala is a village that became a township and is on its way to becoming a city. It is mainly made up of migrants, so there are people from across India and a few Maharashtrians. The maximum business, then, revolves around tourism to cater to people coming from Mumbai and Pune. So it is really a mixed crowd when one looks at the local population, as well as the tourists coming for the festival.

Tell us a little about your choice of the green film festival theme and how it is an integral part of the festival.

The film festival is basically infotainment, not entertainment. It serves as a platform for films related to the climate to be showcased and promoted. Lonavala symbolizes the green festival theme as well. It is a semi hill station with several dams and lakes. We have to think about what will happen to the place when it expands and becomes a city. What will become of the forests, lakes, and the greenery? So we need to educate the masses and green films are the need of the hour. Through the medium of art and culture, we can make people aware of larger concerns.

There is a paucity of funding for independent filmmakers and they are finding it difficult to raise funds for their films. What is the role played by film festivals in general and LIFFT India in particular in showcasing independent filmmakers and their work?

Independent filmmakers usually take up topics which make people aware of various issues. Unfortunately, people are not very receptive to these films. Film festivals give them a platform and with LIFFT India, we are also trying to support the financing of such films. Instead of an annual event, we eventually hope to do frequent events, maybe every three months, and show films that distributors won’t pick up for the screen. 

I’ve always felt that the rivalry between film festivals is childish and petty. The very purpose of a film festival is defeated by this mindset. Our aim is to allow independent filmmakers to showcase their films, but that purpose gets defeated when everyone is vying for certain film premieres, etc, so for our festival, we have allowed a window of two years. The films should have been released in the past two years, so even well-travelled films have a chance of coming here. Otherwise, these films would have never reached Lonavala.

This year we are showcasing 55 debut directors at the festival! We are here for the new independent filmmakers as established filmmakers have several other platforms at their disposal.

Do you think easy accessibility to films online has dented the popularity of film festivals?

Film festivals have a small, limited audience in any case and festivals are about watching films on the big screen, interactions with filmmakers, exchanging ideas and thoughts — so it’s a very different experience. While the world is increasingly moving online and there is a lot of stuff available online, not everything is available. 

So, what are your top picks at LIFFT India, the absolute must-watch films?

It’s very tough to pick and it’s such a big achievement that we have entries from 37 countries for a toddler festival like ours and that too without much publicity! There is a very interesting selection of films at the festival as we wanted to showcase diverse films. 

Amongst the international films, there is Sawubona, a film from South Africa set in the post-apartheid period when society is finding it difficult to adjust to the change. This is beautifully reflected through the eyes of children. Even though it’s a short film of just 11 minutes, it’s very powerful.

The Iranian film The Guy Came On Horseback, Aberrante from Italy, the Russian film Pechorin, and Black Cat from USA are must-watch films. Black Cat has been beautifully edited and people should watch it. She, The Sergeant Matacho from Colombia is simply outstanding as well. It is a biopic. A Whole World For A Little World and Of Men And Mice are two beautiful short films.

Amongst the Indian films, Feast Of Varanasi, Maya Mridanga, and Lathe Joshi are the ones to watch out for. People have already watched and liked Parched, which is the opening film, and Mango Dreams is very interesting as well.

Finally, what, in your opinion, is the reason for the increasing popularity of short films? Most festivals wouldn’t showcase them earlier, but they are being increasingly adopted into the mainstay of festivals.

There are several reasons — in the case of censorship, artistes find different mediums to express themselves so short films become a popular medium of choice. The digital medium also allows for different format choices. Stories need to be tested as well. Not everything can be explored in a feature length film.

The patience of the audience has also gone down, so a short film is ideal as they don’t need to sit through lengthy films. So, short films are needed as they have wider reach and a digital audience, they can be accessed on a phone or iPad so there’s easy accessibility and it doesn’t take too much time to watch and the filmmakers are able to convey their thoughts. The budget is very important as well so short films are viable from that point of view also.

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