EFIFD Comes To A Resounding Close!
First Edinburgh Indian Film Festival Toasts India’s Regional & New Wave Cinemas
Om Puri OBE charms all with his wit and insights into the working of the Indian Art House
The first Edinburgh Festival of Indian Films & Documentaries (EFIFD) came to a resounding close this week with the largest ever showcase of regional Indian language films and documentaries in Scotland. Offering multiple modes to engage with Indian arts and culture, EFIFD had provided a stimulating platform for debates and discussions triggered by provocative, socially-relevant new and classic feature films and well-researched documentaries on diverse themes ranging from assimilation experiences of global Indian migrants, to the forgotten sacrifices of over 70,000 Indian soldiers in the First World War, along with insightful biographies on leading Indian New Wave Cinema directors like Mrinal Sen and Shyam Benegal.
Leading Scottish poet of Indian origin and director of the Scottish Centre of Tagore Studies, Bashabi Fraser, said, “It was a very exciting week to have India sweep over us like a wave of new awakening in a veritable feast of feature and documentary films that the EFIFD Festival director Piyush Roy brought to our very doorstep in Edinburgh. The multiplicity of art forms and themes explored was riveting, with films featuring dhrupad, dance and folk music, and taking us on diasporic journeys with Indian communities in Africa and Ireland. It was a chance to meet directors and actors and hear the iconic Om Puri share his incisive comments with a captivated audience who were won over by his warmth and endearing humility. There were old favourites in the screenings too like Ardh Satya, which seems relevant now more than ever. The festival, co-sponsored by the Indian Consulate, has been both entertaining and thought provoking, and has once again shown how India remains part of the British consciousness today.”
The festival’s guest of honour, legendary actor and perhaps the most loved and recognised Indian face in British Cinema, Om Puri, made new fans while charming his crowded fanzine as an entertaining raconteur of many an inspiring tale from his own life of struggles, along with interesting anecdotes on legendary filmmakers from the Indian New Wave Cinema. Three of Puri’s art house cinema classics, Ardh Satya, Susman and Aastha, were showcased to acclaim at the festival. They also became the trigger for some intense debates and discussions. When asked to pick ‘the one film’ from his career that he considered his best, Puri said, “It has to be Ardh Satya for its aesthetic achievement as a cinematic comment of flawless merit. It remains as relevant today, as it was at the time of its making three decades ago, and is even today shown to new police recruits across India as a valuable introduction to the system. Often when actors look back at their earlier films, it is a common reaction to say, ‘Oh, I could have performed better in that scene or portrayed an event in a different way’! But not a single moment or scene in Ardh Satya makes me think so, or feel it is dated or needs to be changed”.
Similar was the reaction to each of the four Scottish Premiere screenings at EFIFD 2016, featuring three films and one documentary from Indian’s regional language cinemas. Nila Madhab Panda, whose critically acclaimed documentary, God’s Own People, opened the film festival said, “It does not happen often that a feature film festival opens with a documentary. EFIFD’s decision to open the festival with a documentary is a commendable move towards generating awareness and audience appreciation for less popular genres of filmmaking. It is a moment of great pride for me, Indian documentaries and the Odia film industry to present God’s Own People as the festival’s opening film.” Panda, one of the youngest Indian directors to get a Padmashri for his consistent repertoire of ‘responsible, message-oriented’ films like, I Am Kalam and Jalpari, in God’s Own People offers an intimate document of human faith exploring the bonds between devotees and the divine through millennium old rituals at the largest pilgrim gathering of 21st century, as it happened through the Nabakalebara Rath Yatra in the Eastern Coastal Indian town of Puri in July 2015.
However, it was critic-turned-filmmaker Pratim D. Gupta’s bold and provocative second film Shaheb Bibi Golam, that garnered maximum talking point and foot falls among the festival’s multiple premieres. Excited about his film’s UK premiere, Gupta, said, “It is a moment of great pride and joy that our film Shaheb Bibi Golaam is playing at the first ever edition of Edinburgh Festival of Indian Films and Documentaries. Under the wrapping of a riveting thriller, Shaheb Bibi Golaam talks about the sexual violence against women that has become rampant in recent years in India. Hopefully the audience will not only have a good time at the screening but also engage in a discussion about the independence and safety of India’s daughters in the days to come.”
Celebrating Indian cinema’s signature storytelling attribute – song-and-dance – EFIFD 2016, signed off with a closing night ‘Double Bill of Musicals’, featuring current international film festival favourite, Konkani film Nachom-ia-Kumpasar (Let’s dance to the Rhythm) on the 1960s music scene in Goa, followed by the critically acclaimed Marathi biopic on India’s first dancing star, Bhagwan Dada, aptly called Ekk Albela. Reacting to speculations on Nachom-ia-Kumpasar being inspired by the life and times of two of Goa’s biggest music icons, Chris Perry and Lorna, its producer Angelo Braganza, who attended the festival with the film’s second lead Shirley Coutinho from Goa, said that the film should be seen as a tribute to the music of two of Goa’s greatest singing icons rather than as any account of their personal life. Nachom-ia-Kumpasar had earlier picked up the Best Production Design Award at the 62nd Indian National Film Awards, for its ‘convincing recreating of spaces from a different era with minute attention to detail’. Ecstatic over the film’s reception, Braganza said “EFIFD was amazing. The young team was full of energy led by the affable Piyush Roy. For a first time festival it had all the elements of creative genius, efficiency and effective delivery. This bunch of young talents are going to make this event a festival to reckon in the near future. I have visited quite a number of international film festivals in the past one year and EFIFD is up there for its sheer energy… which is the essence of its organising team.”
Braganza pleasantly surprised the attending audience and upped the closing night’s energy levels by singing and inviting the audience for an impromptu jig on some of the film’s foot-tapping numbers at the other festival highlight, Bombay Beats, a live orchestra celebrating eight decades of Indian film music. A rare extravaganza offering memorable music vignettes from the era of K.L. Saigal to Shah Rukh Khan, Bombay Beats was conceived and presented by Edinburgh’s oldest Bollywood Band, Swaryatra. As regards those in the audience still shy and pondering, EFIFD’s closing film, Ekk Albela, celebrating the masti, magic and madness of India’s Golden Era of Moviemaking, endeared all with multiple opportunities to sing-along to some of the most popular songs from Bhagwan Dada’s career like Shola jo bhadake and Bholi surat dil ke khote. According to the film’s writer-director, Shekhar Sartandel, “In spite of being the world’s largest film factory, Indian cinema was still in want of a biopic that adorned its illustrious masters. Ekk Albela is the first of its kind picture that portrays the movie maverick by tracing his constant struggle, bringing forth his multiple contributions to our industry. It is our great honour that the film has been selected as closing film in EFIFD 2016.”
Summing up the festival, its curator and director Piyush Roy, sallied, “It was a conscious decision at EFIFD to highlight the best in Indian cinema beyond Bollywood and introduce Western audiences to the good and quality work happening in India’s regional and independent cinema spaces. These are no less than their Hindi language counterparts in ambition or artistic achievement. The universality of their appeal comes from the intensely local nature of their stories and the authenticity of representation in their telling.”
In a city, Edinburgh, and a nation, UK, where Bollywood is both a welcome passion, and one of the most recognised introductions to India today, the first Edinburgh Festival of Indian Films and Documentaries indeed introduced many a local and NRI audiences to a world of Indian films beyond Bollywood. As Scotland soaks in the many memories and myriad experiencing of the varied cinematic flavours of India, festival director, Piyush Roy promised of bigger innings next year with more films and a week-long festival introducing cinephiles to another representative set of the best from the diverse and delightful universe of Indian cinema.
Over to EFIFD 2017!