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IFFI’s Feisty at Fifty

Manu Shrivastava | Panjim

Panjim, the capital city of India's smallest state Goa, adorned a new avatar for the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) that lasted from 20 November to 28 November 2019. The festival shone amidst the city's Portuguese heritage, Fontainhas aka Latin Quarters, quiet cobbled lanes and magnificent casino boats docked in the calm Mandovi river.

The year celebrated the 50th edition of IFFI that started in 1952 under the patronage of India's first Prime Minister Pt Jawaharlal Nehru. However, it was only since 2004 that Goa became the permanent venue of the festival, thanks to efforts by the former Chief Minister of Goa, late Manohar Parrikar. Organised by the Union Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B Ministry) and Goa government’s Entertainment Society of Goa (ESG), IFFI is one of the biggest film festivals of Asia.

Venues for the Film Screenings during IFFI 2019

To mark its 50th edition, the festival introduced several exciting features. "I never thought I would get to see such wonderful films at our home-grown film festival, it was just amazing!", exclaims Antoinette Almeida, a film-making student from Mumbai who landed in Goa two days before the start of IFFI to ensure she doesn't miss the pre-festival buzz as well. Her excitement resonates with thousands of amateurs and students of media, art and film-making who made a beeline to the festival every day.

“I was so nervous only to think that I will get to see Big B live, in flesh and blood," says a jittery Neeta Malvankar, a bank employee in Panjim and a die-hard Amitabh Bachchan fan. "I had given an application for leave well in advance to make sure I don't miss his performance at the inaugural ceremony."

“I shot my first film Saat Hindustani in Goa and it’s always a nostalgic feeling to be back in Goa,” reminisced Mr Bachchan at the opening ceremony. His films Piku, Sholay, Badla, Deewar, Paa and Black were screened as part of the Retrospective of DSPA section. The festival audience witnessed some memorable moments in history in the presence of cinema stalwarts Rajinikanth, Amitabh Bachchan, Ilayaraja, Priyadarshan, Anil Kapoor and members of international film fraternity during the nine days of the festival.

This year, the special focus was on women-centric films and to commemorate the fifty years of the festival, over 50 films from world cinema made by 50 strong women film-makers were showcased, a feat unmatched by any film festival around the world. IFFI 2019 was special for women in many ways.

The opening films of the Indian Panorama 2019, a flagship section of IFFI that showcased the best of contemporary Indian Feature and Non-Feature Films, included Hellaro (feature) and Nooreh (non-feature) as part of the festival. Both films received standing ovations and overwhelming compliments from critics and members of the public alike.

A still from the film Hellaro

A turbaned groom barges in a modest hut to a young beautiful bride. The girl, not knowing what to expect on the first night of marital life, keeps her face covered with the traditional odhni and blushes under the veil. The husband, in a compulsive demeaning tone tells his bride, "They say educated girls, like you, grow wings and horns. You better clip your wings and horns by yourself. It'll hurt a lot more if I have to.” He threatens her before proceeding to have sex with her.

Hellaro Actor Niilam Paanchal and Director Abhishek Shah at IFFI 2019

Hellaro, a story set in a remote Kutch village called Samarpura in 1975, narrates the lives of women shackled by traditions of a patriarchal society. Emergency as suffered in 1975 is a daily affair with women, feels director Abhishek Shah.

"Woh moochwale fauji uncle kaha gaye?" (Where is the soldier with the moustache?), asks the protagonist of the film ‘Nooreh’, a young Kashmiri girl living in a small village on the Indo-Pak border in Kashmir. She asks in vain for her 'friend' who seems to have lost his life in the border crossfire. She believes that she can stop the regular crossfire that disrupts the lives of her people by keeping her eyes open at night. So, she stays awake night after night and catches up on sleep during the day, at school.

Nooreh captures the ‘hope’ in a young Kashmiri girl where ‘untrained’ actors, all village locals portrayed their characters brilliantly throughout the movie. National Award Winning film Hellaro narrated the journey of women “From suppression to expression” and…through Garba, Gujarat’s most famed, traditional dance form. “We would practice garba for long hours to get the steps right. It was an ordeal in itself to dance for long hours in the blistering desert heat,” recounts Niilam Paanchal who plays Leela in Hellaro.

A still from the film Nooreh

Portrait of a Lady on Fire directed by French screenwriter and film director Celine Sciamma showcases the life of Marianne, a talented painter while 37 Seconds by Japanese film director Hikari (Mitsuyo Miyazaki) narrates the life of a young Japanese woman and her struggle to balance her dreams and duties towards her family. IFFI also showcased a Marathi film on the first female doctor of India, Anandi Gopal who studied at the Woman’s Medical College, Pennsylvania in the late 19th century.

Woman power was at full display as several women artists and film-makers pitched in with ideas and concepts at conferences and panels across IFFI 2019. An all-women panel comprising Meghna Gulzar, Pooja Ladha Surti, Juhi Chaturvedi, Modhura Patil, Sumedha Verma Ojha discussed the ‘Nuances and Processes of Film-Making’ while an In Conversation session had Nandini Shrikent and Shruti Mahajan speaking on ‘Casting Directors of Bollywood’. “There comes a time when the director is right, because sometimes a film is written keeping a particular actor in mind, at that time you have to lower your guard,” says Nandini who has been the casting director for hit films such as Lakshya, Luck By Chance, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Talaash.

Under the Golden Peacock Retrospective section was screened At Five in the Afternoon on a young Afghan girl who goes to the school against her father’s wishes as she dreams to become the country’s next President. And selected for a Special Film Category at IFFI 2019 was a Suchita Narvekar production, Questao De Confusao - the first Konkani film to get selected for a special film category marking a huge leap in empowering regional women film-makers.

Venues for the Film Screenings during IFFI 2019

More pertinent to times was Bollywood actress Taapsee Pannu who appeared in the ‘Women In Lead’ session who spoke on the biggest scourge of women and offered her take on trolls. “Indifference is the biggest form of revenge…that’s how I deal with trolls.”

Addressing the Elephant in the Room, Taapsee spoke at length about pay parity in the Hindi film industry. On the payment received by leading actresses in comparison to men, she said, “…not even half…and it is way less than one-fourth at times…to be honest even less.” She revealed shocking anomalies in the fiscal breakup, saying, “Half of the salary of the leading hero is the entire budget of a female-driven film of an A-list actress.”

And, the 50 powerful women who created breathtaking works spoke at length across the festival. The world sat back and heard them at sessions that are unparalleled across the world. Swapna Dutta Deka who produced Bohubritta on her own works says, “A poem is not a story, it is not a narrative and needs visualisation,” while Feelings to Tell director Wen Li said, “I wanted to put all my feelings into the story and make a film with people from my imagination. It is a story of an artist who wants to escape from the real world into a virtual world.”

Wen Li (second from left) at a press conference during IFFI 2019

As part of the IFFI 2019 celebrations, every night 100 sky lanterns were released in Panjim as a prayer of hope and fortune for the Indian and international film industry and the capital of India’s smallest state glittered all over, its bridges, its roads, its trees and its pavements celebrating IFFI’s feisty fifty!

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