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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



IFFI 52, 039: “We are just here to make honest cinema,”—Ganesh Hegde

IFFI 52, 039: “We are just here to make honest cinema,”—Ganesh Hegde

To be or not to be. The very same existential question that vexed Hamlet in Shakespeare’s timeless eponymous play is what troubles 10-year-old boy Sidda, albeit in a somewhat different avatar. Having been forced to bid adieu to the pristine beauty and serenity of his village, the young boy is confronted with the inevitability of having to choose between the chaotic and alienating hustle of the city, to which his family has shifted, and the quiet embrace of the village. Sidda’s conflictual reflections not only reveal to him certain harsh realities of life, they also raise important questions of sustainability and urbanisation.

Kannada film Neeli Hakki (Blue Bird), by debutant director Ganesh Hegde, invited film delegates attending the 52nd edition of the International Film Festival of India to share in Sidda’s internal turmoil and get creatively troubled by these pivotal questions of our shared present and future. The film was screened at IFFI, in the Indian Panorama Feature Film section of the festival.

Addressing a press conference on the sidelines of the festival, the director said: “It is a great pleasure to open this movie Indian audiences at IFFI 52. The film had its world première in the legendary New York Film Festival this year. It was also officially selected for Melbourne Film Festival. An independent movie from remote southern parts of India getting recognised by the viewers give us huge confidence to do better work in future.”

The film was shot with a very small cast and crew, in and around the director’s home-town, “The only effort was to tell an honest story, and to express what we feel. It was tough, and yet a beautiful journey, to make this film within the constraints.”

This film has been backed by noted South Indian actor Vijay Sethupathi. This came about in an interesting way, narrates Hegde, who has also written the screenplay for the film. “During the COVID-19 lockdown, everyone was sitting at home and wanted to watch new movies. Somehow, Vijay Sethupathi Sir came across our movie, without our knowledge. He really appreciated our efforts, he was able to relate the story to his own life. So he himself offered to be a part of the project. We shot in a remote village of coastal Karnataka and Sethupathi is a southern superstar. So, we were really honored when he offered his helping hands. When such superstars and big production houses give a pat on our back, it gives us more power.”

Hegde shared his thoughts on the collaboration between OTT platforms and independent film-makers. “When OTT platforms were launched a few years back in India, we hoped they would curate independent cinema, but instead, they started curating mainstream cinema. We are still looking for a platform to launch our cinema. Being from a regional language ethos and bearing the tag of ‘festival cinema’, we will always be neglected. Independent cinema, or small stories, is not just for festivals, it is for everybody. Hopefully, in future, we will have no mainstream or independent cinema, but just cinema.”

He requested the OTTs to bring such films to the masses in India. “Cinema is an art form. It is hard for small film-makers to recover the finance; we are not looking at multi-crore successes; we are just here to make honest cinema. So all of us who are struggling to tell small town stories, we are just trying to reach people.”

The debutant director explained the relative advantage of OTT platforms, in expanding the access of cinema across time and space. “We understand how the entertainment industry runs, but I am not making cinema for myself. I am expressing my art through my cinema. Hopefully OTTs will give us a way to reach more people. Festivals are for 10 days, but when the film is on OTT, people can watch anytime, that is the biggest advantage. This year, the official Oscar entry being a Tamil independent movie, we are very confident that OTTs will support independent cinemas in future.”

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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