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3 Film Festivals, in India

Film festival-hopping, in India


Film- makers, as much as films, stole the show, at the three  film festivals I attended  in India, recently.

It’s tough to escape film festivals, in India, as there are so many of them . You name the cities, and they all have  them . Apart from  Goa, N.Delhi,  Mumbai, Kolkata, Trivandrum, they now have film festivals in Bangalore , Pune,  Jaipur, Nasik !

The International Film Festival of India (IIFI), held at Goa, the country’s biggest film festival,  was a whopper this time, with 379 films and 89 international premieres ,pleasing  its Artistic Director Shankar Mohan  no end.  He said, with pride- “ Everything came together ,this year- the sleeping giant awoke!”

And guess which ‘giant’ film-maker stole the show, at IIFI 2012 ?  None other than Korea’s soft-spoken but  much-controversial director, Kim ki Duk! 

This was his first trip to India, and the director took everyone by  surprise , with his  simplicity and modesty

See Interview with Kim ki Duk, below this article.)


Kim ki Duk’s Retrospective of five  marvellous movies, included  ‘Breath, Dream, The Bow,  Time’ , which ran to  packed halls.

Among the many top Indian film- makers the Korean director  interacted with, were Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Shaji Karun, Shyam Benegal, Goutam Ghosh, Muzaffar Ali ,as also film artistes like Om Puri, Aishwarya Dhanush, Paoli Dam.

He also met famous UK director Michael Winterbottom ,and watched his latest film ‘Everyday’ ,which was another popular film at the festival.

Winterbottom  attended the festival yet again,  with lovely partner Melissa  and baby Jack ,who all are hooked by the beach-town of Goa! They attended the festival, last year too, with  heir film ‘Trishna’ based   on Thomas Hardy’s novel  ‘Tess of the Durbervilles’, which was shot in India,and starred Frieda Pinto.

Another world-famous director who attended IFFI, was Krzysztof  Zanussi ,who was  awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award . The Polish film-maker  said that he had visited the festival several times, in his long career. Thanks to his theatre assignments (Zanussi said he needed theatre to be mentally alive,as he could not make as many movies as he wanted, but certainly could do enough plays !), he could stay only one day at the Festival, to receive the title and hefty cash-prize.

Well-known Danish director Suzanne Bier’s Retro was another major draw at the festival.  The films included ‘After the wedding, Brothers, Freud Leaving home, Like it never was before, In a better world ( which won an Oscar for  Best Foreign Film, in 2011).

During a  lively talk-session with her script-writer Thomas Jensen, the duo confessed how they argued a lot, about every film they did together- from the structure to the characters to the ending- but eventually compromised After all, movie-making was finally, a 'collaboration' they stated. Suzanne joked that a certain 'lightness' was needed in this business- " After all, it's a movie, not a heart-surgery!" .

Mira Nair attended IIFI, with her latest movie  ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist ‘, on the highly topical theme of terrorism, which created waves .

Also present at IIFI, this year, was   Dr Malani Fonseca, Srilanka’s best-known actress and now a Member of Parliament, who celebrates 50 years in cinema, this year. She served on the Jury, with talented Rumanian actress Anamaria Jacinta, Polish  artiste Lech Majewski, and veteran London film-critic Derek Malcolm.

Apart from   strong documentary, animation, and ‘Homage’ sections,  the festival had a unique ‘Soul of Asia’ section  which  focused on movies with spiritual themes .

These  included  memorable movies like ‘The Light of Asia, The Burmese Harp,The Buddha’ ,and also Kim ki Duk’s ‘ Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter & Spring’ which the Director confessed, at the Q & A, after the screening, was his  own favourite movie .

   Indeed, Kim ki Duk set alight the spirit of the festival, in more ways than one  (  See Interview, below).  

It was Deepa Mehta who set the screen on fire, at the Kerala International Film Festival (IFFK), with  her  new film ‘ Midnights Children’ based on the Booker Prize -winning novel by controversial writer  Salman Rusdie, who lives in exile in the UK,  thanks to the  fatwa on his head,  which has been on for nearly two decades.

Rushdie wrote  the script of  the movie  made from his   monumental book ,which director Mehta said had fascinated her, ever since she read it as far back as 1982.

" I tried my best not to look at it as an iconic book,or I would have been paralysed with fear!" she confessed. Fortunately for her, writer Salman Rushdie himself offered to write the screenplay. In addition to that, his voice-over throughout the film, made him an integral part of the movie.

But the director  admitted  that it was not an easy film to make,as she had to shoot it in so many different cities- Delhi, Agra, Kashmir, Srilanka ( where she recreated 'Pakistan'),  Mumbai,whose sky-line had changed so much ! 

The magic realism of the novel,was another big challenge.  " To me the magic realism was not about making a 'Harry Potter film  or 'X-Men', but about capturing the glow of  magic realism in the kids' lives" she said.  

The Canadian-Indian director stated,  that, to her,  the book was about an individual trying to find his country and  his identity , which was like her own personal situation,  as she herself was an  expat Indian living overseas, and constantly trying to  find her identity!

 The film has been screened at the Toronto and Sundance festivals, and is now  awaiting release in more than 35 countries around the world.

 With rumours that the film could be banned in India, due to its reference to Indira Gandhi and her controversial  ‘Emergency’ period, the single screening of the film, at the festival,  led to a  stampede for seats , and even the  Culture Minister of the State had to sit on a stool, as no chairs were available!

Mehta, came with her cast,  including Rahul Bose and Rajat Kapoor, and  considering that it  was a film  based on the best-known exiled author in the world today, they were mobbed by every newspaper  and TV channel .

IIFK  maintained its  reputation  for  strong films and huge audiences,  which Festival Director Bina Paul  said was one of their  unique strengths  , inspite of  shrinking budgets and  changing  officialdom.

Thanks to the  new digital technology,  they also managed to  change  the format  in  one of the movie-halls, which was a big development in a festival  where old is still very much gold !. 

 The Opening Film  was still held outdoors,  and the mega  crowds  still came, inspite  of  an unexpected  movie-  Alfred Hitchcock's s  1927 silent movie  ‘The Ring’ ,recently restored by the BFI .

A unique, ‘live’ orchestra   accompanied the silent film- a  vibrant sextet,   with a new score created by Soweto Kinch, a multi award-winning jazz , hip hop  and rap artiste.

Among the  top film-makers present at the festival, was   Australia’s famous  Paul Cox, ,recently recovered from a bout with cancer,  who presented  his best-known  women-oriented  tales- ‘ A Woman’s Tale, My first wife, Man of flowers, Innocence, Salvation.’

Iconic Brazilian actress Helena Ignes  presented seven of her  films,  including  ‘ The Priest and the Girl’, while   Pierre Yameogo  from Burkina Faso  also presented  seven movies , including  ‘Silmende.’

The yearly  Arvind Memorial Lecture was  delivered by  the much-acclaimed Malian director  Souleymane  Cisse ,who spoke with rare honestly about the problems he faced in top festivals, due to his African antecedents.

Apart from Retrospectives on Resnais and Kurosawa, there were two countries in focus- Srilanka and Vietnam-, which were  represented by top directors from the two countries, including  Samanala Sandhwaniya  from Srilanka and   Dang Nhat Ming  from Vietnam.

 There was also  a  unique package of indigenous movies from Australia .

The section  ‘Top Angle’ featured movies by Indian directors,  that had created waves overseas ( like  Umesh Kulkarni’s  ‘ The Temple’  and Girish Kasaravalli’s ‘Kurmavatar. ) ‘Trigger Pitch’  was a unique venture between  the Kerala State Chaalchitra Academy and the Indian Documentary Foundation which  encouraged docu-makers with socially relevant themes, to pitch their projects.

The other forum-discussions ,  at the festival,  dealt with the themes  of  Children’s Films, Digital Technology, the Impact of the Social Media .

After  this multi-active film festival  in Trivandrum, one wondered what  the brand-new Kochi International Film Festival, would have  in store,  especially  as it was  being held in the same state,  and  that too  immediately after the  former festival.

The only reason one could think of, to hold a second film festival in Kerala,  was  the huge appetite for cinema in this super-literate state .  Besides, Kochi ,with its scenic charm and  artistic  ethos,  was being touted as the cultural hub of Kerala  ( the country’s first Biennale art-exhibition was inaugurated in the city,  just before the film festival) .

But  inspite of a good package of movies (many of which came from  the Goa and Trivandrum festivals), enthusiastic audiences, and  impressive support from  the State  Govt  as well as the media , the festival  suffered from huge administrative problems , in particular a totally  inept festival -director.  When one is aware of the huge film-culture and film-talent in Kerala, one wonders  how this could have happened.

But  thanks to the passion for  cinema in Kerala, the festival did happen, thanks to the  initiative of the State machinery  (the District Collector’s office, to be precise), which was singularly impressive.

This is not the country’s 100% literate state, for nothing.

And even this  poorly organised film festival  boasted of the presence of an extraordinary  film-maker , who almost became the raison d'etre of  the festival.  This was  the famous Mohsen  Makmalbaf  from Iran , who came with his entire famed  film-making family- wife  Marziyeh Makmalbaf ( ‘The day I became a woman’ ),  brilliant daughters Samira Makmalbaf ( ‘The Blackboard’ ),  Hana Makmalbaf ( ‘Buddha collapsed out of shame’  ), son Maysam Makmalbaf, with whom he presented his latest film ‘The  Gardener’ ,which was secretly shot in Israel  !

Thanks to falling out with the current Iranian Govt,  the whole family lives in exile at London, and  they could stop talking about their long and hard travails.

Mohsen  Makmalbaf  spoke about  his many years in prison,  which  eventually however, helped him to  become a film-maker.

But he confessed that  he and  his family  had been on the run for a long time. They had first moved to  Afghanistan, then, Tajakisthan, then, to  Paris, and  finally, to London.

The Kochi Festival also brought  Israeli director Dan Wolman , who  greeted   Makmalbaf, in public. This could only happen in a new and little-known film  festival like this !

Also present at the festival, were two young and  talented  film-folk from Thailand- director Chookiat Sakveerakul,  and singer-actor Witwisit  Hiranyawongkul,  who presented their film ‘Home’, which was one of the biggest ‘hits’  in the country, last year.

One hopes for better luck and planning with this festival, next year . After all, it’s not easy to  plan yet another film festival, in yet another city, in a country like India, where Cinema is  almost a way of life.







Korea ’s most acclaimed film-maker Kim Ki-duk was the centre of attention, at the International Film Festival of  India (IIFI ) in Goa.

While his movies are tough and  uncompromising, the film-maker himself  turned out to be gentle, gracious, generous, as he warmly greeted his numerous Indian fans, who surrounded him wherever he went, walked around the streets of the town on his own, performed  quaint ‘magical’ tricks, during a private dinner, feelingly sang his favourite ‘Arirang’ song, at the end of his film-screenings. 

It was also fascinating to see the intense director  typing away the film-script of his next film, with casual ease, on his little word-pad, during  his noisy breakfast sessions.

The Korean Director met many top Indian directors and artistes ,all of whom vied to talk, shake hands, pose for pictures with him.  

“ They all seem to know me and my films-“ he stated with  fetching modesty,  as he proceeded to ask about the  films of each of them, adding naively that he got a lot of  ' 'positive energy' from  them.  If there was one thing, Kim ki duk proved, it was that he was  totally a  'people’s person.'

n.He declared that his films, including ‘Pieta’ , proved ,not his brutal hate, but brutal love, of his fellow-men.


‘Quotes’ from the masterful film-maker-



His training as a film-maker : I had no education or training, and always had an inferiority complex. That's why I left everything and went to Paris, to discover myself.

 His stint in Paris : I worked as a street-artist, to make money. I soon realised that in Paris, you can do what you want , be what you want. That’s when I finally developed faith  in myself.

 His film-career :  Making films was my act of trusting myself.

 His favourite film :: It’s undoubtedly ‘Spring Summer,Winter’ ,as it dealt with different phases in my life, and different phases in any  man’s life.

 His  Cannes-award-winning  film ‘Arirang’:  It was made when I went through my lowest moments, and was just between me and my camera.  I never expected it to go to so many film festivals.

 The song ‘Arirang’ : It’s a song that is sung when one is low and sad (as in my film ‘Arirang’), and also when one is  high and happy ( as I am, now).

 His last film ‘Pieta’ :  It was a very personal film. I worked as a manual labourer for 15 years, and I  know their life .

The hero, of ‘Pieta’ :  Is he good or bad?  That’s for the audience to decide . I like my audience to ask questions, and find the answers.

 The top ‘Golden Lion Award’ in Venice : I’ve  regained my self-faith, again.

The top ‘ Order of Culture Merit' award, in Korea-  I hope my films will finally be screened in my own country.

  Funds, for his films:  It’s  not easy. I prefer to  use my own funds, rather than get from others.

  The digital medium: Everyone talks of the digital form, not me. I still prefer the old form of film-making.

 Inspiration for his  stories: I get my images and ideas from my dreams. I get my stories from the  TV news-bulletins - and my own experiences.

 His next film: I’m writing a script, for a young, talented film-maker. It’s important to encourage new talent.


Indian Films: Their musical films are cheerful, happy. Mine are cruel, sad.

India: I love the colour, and energy of the streets, the warmth and affection of the people. I never expected to meet so many people who know my films. I would like to come to India, again.



 Kim ki Duk,at IIFI,Goa     With IIFI Director,Shankar Mohan                                                       With Om Puri, Shyam Benegal               With Aishwarya Dhanush 



Comments (1)

Pics of Kim ki Duk,at IIFI, Goa

       Kim ki Duk,at IIFI,Goa     


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I'm an Indian film-writer, based in Bangkok, and write for publications in India & Thailand. I also coordinate and curate film programs in the two countries, at cultural centres/clubs, film festivals.



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