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IFFI 2017 review: Will Asia's oldest film festival be reduced to a spectacle?


With the 48th edition of IFFI, which ended in Goa earlier this week, emphasizing the power of relationships within the film industry instead of fostering creativity and artistic expression, a question mark hangs over the festival's future.

Sukhpreet Kahlon

Filmmaker and TV chat-show host Karan Johar, one of the presenters at the closing ceremony of the 48th edition of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) 2017 in Goa, emphasized the power of relationships.

Indeed, the latest edition of India's biggest film festival displayed this aspect of Hindi cinema in all its glory, with some of the most glamorous names from 'Bollywood', as the industry is colloquially known, making their presence felt at an event that had seen unprecedented drama and controversy.

The closing ceremony played out like any of the myriad film awards ceremonies that India sees every year with the spectacle of 'Bollywood' on display. The biggest draw was superstar Salman Khan who, we were told, put in an appearance despite a sore throat. He was accompanied by child actor Matin Rey Tangu from his 2017 flop Tubelight and they recreated the 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai' scene from the film.

Actor Sidharth Malhotra descended dramatically upon the stage from the ether above and trapezed about on a rope, regaling the audience with his dance moves. He paid tribute to yesteryear superstar Amitabh Bachchan, performing on some of his more memorable songs.

Akshay Kumar was invited to present the Indian Personality of the Year Award to Bachchan. Akshay Kumar praised the veteran, calling him the 'father of Indian cinema', effectively ignoring the pantheon of artistes and auteurs who had shaped India cinema in the 56 years before Bachchan made his debut in the Hindi film industry.

Bachchan graciously accepted the award and spoke of the power of cinema to bring people together, saying, “When we sit inside a dark hall we never ask the caste, colour, creed or religion of the person sitting next to us.”

But the reality is that our lives are actually lived outside the darkened halls that seemingly bring us together to ogle at all the glitz, glamour and star power. And there, it was hard to ignore the fact that two young men were fighting for their right to a screening for a film that was pulled out of the festival on the whims of the information and broadcasting (I&B) minister. These two men, the male lead and the filmmaker of S Durga aka Sexy Durga were at the venue, dejected but determined. Accompanying them were a few ardent festival-goers who were eagerly awaiting a favourable verdict for the director and hoping for the film to be screened. Alas, that was not to be so.

In an interaction with Cinestaan.com, Sanal Kumar Sasidharan, whose film was mired in controversy at the festival, said glamour and star power were being used by the organizers to cover up the ruptures at the event.

Several independent filmmakers, whose films were selected for the Indian Panorama section, expressed their gratitude at being part of the festival but also expressed their solidarity with Sanal Kumar’s cause, speaking out against the co-opting by 'Bollywood' of festival spaces meant to foster creativity and artistic expression.

The overall audience feedback regarding the selection of films at this year's edition of the festival was average, with regular cine-goers dismayed at the overlaps in scheduling and uneven quality of films, especially in the World Cinema section.

Faced with a steady drop in footfalls, it is time for Asia's oldest international film festival to think hard where it is going. Will IFFI become another 'Bollywood' spectacle, providing yet another platform to industry insiders who have no dearth of them? Or will it embrace its roots and showcase the best of Indian and international cinema, encouraging young filmmakers and students, fostering dialogues about aesthetics and expression, and embracing the truly unifying power of cinema?

Only time will tell.

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