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Interview Argentina

12th Habitat Film Festival: You can learn a lot about India through regional films, says Vidyun M Singh

The 12th edition of the Habitat Film Festival (HFF), a celebration of pan-Indian cinema begins in Delhi today.

Vidyun M Singh, director-programmes, Habitat World

Sukhpreet Kahlon

The 12th edition of the Habitat Film Festival (HFF), a celebration of pan-Indian cinema begins in Delhi today.

After the success of the recently concluded festival of international cinema, cinema lovers in Delhi will now have a chance to watch the best of regional cinema. The festival kicks off with a compelling line-up of films, with Konkana Sensharma’s much talked about directorial debut A Death in the Gunj as the opening film.

We trace the journey of the festival in a conversation with Vidyun M Singh, director-programmes, Habitat World.

It’s been 12 years since the first Habitat Film Festival was organised. What were the reasons behind the inception of Habitat Film Festival?

I take myself as the yardstick for the average cinema goer, so when we started out I did not know about many of the regional film directors. I didn’t know about Priyadarshan, for example, but then I watched his film, Kanchipuram, which I can never forget. It was the most amazing film and I had no clue who this director was and no one around me knew about the director either. But when the film went on to win the National Award, I felt a personal sense of achievement as we had screened his film. There was so much excitement because many of the films screened at HFF went on to win awards in various categories.

So names that are now regulars at festivals — Dr Biju, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Girish Kasaravalli - many of them were encountered by our film club members right here at this festival. Previously, the audience only knew about Hollywood, Bollywood, and maybe a little bit of Tollywood, that’s it. Now, our audience earmarks the regional films and comes to watch them here.

So, who was your target audience when you started out?

Well, we didn’t really have a specific audience in mind, we just thought of cinema lovers. The film club members would attend the screenings and there would be a discovery of films through the festival as they would watch films that were really, region specific. But through the screenings of films from various regions, the festival has also created an entirely new audience.

Another feature of HFF is that over the years it has created a sense of community, a sense of belonging for cinema lovers, where spaces for dialogue and conversation around films has opened up, like a club. And there is a human connect, as well as directors and producers of films engage with the audience and one feels connected with the film.

Who do you see as being your festival audience now, especially in a digital age, when a younger audience is increasingly watching films online?

Well, the millennials are a new species altogether! They are used to viewing films on smaller formats. But the older audience is not used to watching films on laptops and tablets etc. Also, it is an entirely different experience to view these films on the large screen.

But there is an interesting development that has happened in the past few years, the average age of the directors has shrunk. This year we have a 22-year-old director, Karthick Naren, who is here with his film, Dhruvangal Pathinaru. And with younger filmmakers, the nature and content of films has also changed, especially with independent films, and so, the audience has also correspondingly changed. The directors and stars have their own fan following, so they reach out to their younger fans through social media and so we get the younger cinema lovers as well.

What sets the HFF apart from the rest of the film festivals?

This is really a breaking down of the creative space. We have people doing theatre, who go on to do films and they have the space to perform here and screen their films and they are associated with us through their journey. Twelve years ago, Konkana Sensharma was a student and a member of the Habitat Film Club. Today, she is back here with her directorial debut! We’ve had several artists and directors who have worked in various artistic spaces and have remained connected with us over the years so it is a very rich creative space for artists and the audience alike.

Earlier this year, Habitat had organised a very successful festival of international cinema. Was it a conscious decision to separate the two festivals and do you see them merging in the future?

It was a very conscious decision to separate the two because we feel that it will be a while before we can stop hand holding regional cinema and giving it the kind of exposure and audience across India, which it deserves. While ideally the two festivals should be together, we have been devoted to regional cinema and would like to continue to give it that space.

What are the must-watch films in the festival line-up this year, according to you?

The Assamese film Dikchow Banat Palaax is a very different love story, Angamaly Diaries by Lijo Jose Pellissery is a path breaking film in Malayalam cinema as for the first time 86 newcomers have been cast in important roles. Technically also, the last 11 minutes of the film are shot as a single take, so it’s at the forefront of changing trends in Malayalam cinema.

Loktak Lairembee/Lady of the Lake is a lovely Manipuri film that looks at the displacement of fishermen. Aishwarya Rajnikanth’s Cinema Veeram is a tribute to the stuntmen in Tamil cinema… so there are really lots of exciting films and so many debutant directors this year. The festival is a beautiful 10-day experience if you let yourself be immersed in the films. One can learn a lot about India through the festival.

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Habitat Film Festival 2017