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Interview Australian

Australian films are not well represented in India: Film curator Mitu Bhowmick Lange at KIFF

On the sidelines of the Kolkata film festival, Mitu Bhowmick Lange discusses the selection of Australian films for the festival and ways in which the two countries can strengthen cultural bonds.

Phillip Noyce, Garth Davis, Benjamin Gilmour, Mitu Bhowmick Lange, Simon Baker, Geoffrey Wright and Sue Maslin

Sukhpreet Kahlon

The Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF) had a real treat for cine lovers: in the biggest showcase of Australian films in India, Australia Fest presented a curated selection of the best of Australian cinema at the festival.

With Australia as the country in focus at the festival, Australian films were presented in three categories — 100 Years of Australian Cinema, Contemporary Section and a Retrospective of the works of acclaimed filmmaker Phillip Noyce.

The films showcased were curated by Mitu Bhowmick Lange, producer of the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne. In a conversation with Cinestaan.com, Bhowmick Lange discussed her thoughts on putting the package together and the incredible reception the films received at KIFF. Excerpts:

It’s very exciting to see such a range of films from Australia at the festival. How did this collaboration come about between you and KIFF?

Like all of us, I love films. Luckily for me, I run a film company in Melbourne where we distribute Indian films in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. In fact, we were among the first ones to open up the market.

When I first went to Australia, after getting married to a New Zealander, I was quite miserable to see that there were no Indian films playing anywhere and that’s our biggest connect to home.

I remember there was Lagaan (2001), in China Town, and the film wouldn’t start till the cinema hall was full, and then the film stopped because one reel was coming from another centre. So, it was very chaotic, but one felt so happy seeing one’s own film.

That got me thinking that surely there must be a better way of seeing Indian films here.

Then Mr Yash Chopra, who knew me from the time I was working in television in India, suggested I start a distribution company because Australia was very untapped. So, with his support, I started a distribution company.

It was very hard at the start because India was not as fashionable and cool as it is now. Most people didn’t really want to engage with Indian cinema. But we kept at it and streamlined the processes and managed to integrate it with mainstream exhibitors and cinemas. So today, I am quite proud to say that if you go anywhere in Australia, you will find at least 2-3 Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Punjabi films playing at the mainstream cinemas.

The other part of the business is that we do the [annual] Indian Film Festival of Melbourne where we showcase the best of Indian cinema in Australia. That has really helped us in being a wonderful bridge between India and Australia.

I have been working closely with the Australian high commission and I thought it was a great idea to do an Australia film focus [at KIFF] because I had been engaging with a lot of directors. Our [Melbourne] festival jury is made up of Australian film directors and I have seen what a wonderful reaction they have had to Indian films. It was, of course, about getting the right films, the right people here, so it has been a very rewarding experience.

I was seeing the exhibition of posters as part of the celebration of 100 years of Australian cinema and it’s a treat to especially see the posters of early films.

The poster of Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975) was a limited edition one and was the first artwork that Peter Weir and his daughter Ingrid Weir gifted to the festival, so that’s a big treat!

Tell me about the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne that you started.

We do the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne where we showcase the best of Indian cinema and look at films from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, etc. The unique thing is that the jury is all Australian. So that’s how I started engaging with Jill Bilcock, Sue Maslin and Geoffrey Wright, and it was so good to see their appreciation of our cinema.

So, when this opportunity came up, it was a no-brainer for me to ask them. We all worked closely to design this Australia focus where right from the first film in 1906, Story Of The Kelly Gang, we have contemporary cinema where you get to see the different voices that are coming up and, of course, the retrospective of Phillip Noyce, who was a huge sensation at the festival.

Bollywood had a big impression on me: Australian film editor Jill Bilcock on her brush with Hindi films 

What was it that guided your selection?

That was the hard part but, of course, films like Picnic At Hanging Rock were no-brainers, those are the films that we grew up watching, but also the indigenous focus — like we had Ten Canoes (2006), which is a very powerful film, Muriel’s Wedding (1994), The Adventures Of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert (1994), are all iconic Australian films and it’s such a great opportunity to watch them on the big screen. We were trying to include one or two films per decade, some iconic films, and keeping it as diverse as possible, bringing in as many different voices. 

Given this festival and your work in this field, what is your hope for Indian films in Australia and vice versa?

I feel that Australian films are not well represented in India, a country where people are cinema-mad. Like Masterchef Australia is one of the most popular shows here. So, it would be great to have more Australian films released here.

The second thing would be engagements like this, which lead to very organic co-productions or joint ventures about films. Now with Netflix and Amazon Prime, there is a real need for multi-cultural stories that speak to a global audience. So, there is no reason why we cannot all come together and look at those stories.

I hope we can create beautiful stories together and cinema becomes a real cultural bridge between our countries.

Related topics

Kolkata International Film Festival