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Industry: Television Feature

Going beyond Bollywood?
16th October, 2006

by Jaspreet Pandohar
Writer and Film Critic, BBC Movies Online

Film festivals aren't everyone's cup of tea. Why go out of your way to watch an arty-farty film at an expensive theatre when your local multiplex is screening the latest Hollywood and Bollywood blockbusters at half the price?

Well for one you get to sample a wide variety of exciting international movies you might not otherwise get to see thanks to business-minded studio bosses and distributors who prefer to play it safe by showcasing big budget, special effects laden Hollywood action adventures and marathon Bollywood musicals.

Secondly you get the chance to brag to your friends about viewing top films way before their worldwide release.

Running from October 18th to November 2nd, the 50th London Film Festival launches at cinemas around London tomorrow, playing host to films, filmmakers and filmgoers from around the world.

This year's jubilee programme includes nine films from India and Bangladesh as part of the world cinema category, a record number.

Top of the list is director Mira Nair who will be showing off The Namesake, an Indo-US project based on the best selling novel by Jhumpa Lahiri.

Starring acclaimed Indian actors Tabu and Irfan Khan and the young American-Indian star, Kal Penn (Superman, Harold and Kumar Get The Munchies) in an immigrant saga, it spans three decades in the life of the Ganguli family as they leave Calcutta for a new life in New York.

Following suit is young documentary filmmaker Kabir Khan who will be premiering his debut feature film, Kabul Express (pictured), a quirky story about two Indian TV journalists (John Abraham and Arshad Warsi) who meet a Pakstani, Afghani and American whilst on a mission to secure an interview with the Taliban in post 9/11 Afghanistan.

Produced by Yash Raj Films, it marks Bollywood's leading production house's first ever entry aimed at the international festival circuit.

Other Indian films in the world cinema category include; Dombivli Fast (Dir: Nishikant Kamat), Gafla (Dir: Sameer Hanchate), A Grave-Keeper's Tale (Dir: Chitra Palekar), Journey (Dir: Goutam Ghose) and shorts Printed Rainbow (Dir: Gitanjali Rao) and The Grinding Machine (Dir: Umesh Kulkarni).

While nine entries from India and Bangladesh may seem significant, in comparison to the larger volume of European and Far Eastern films the number is actually small considering India's status at the world's second, if not largest, film producing nations after America.

So why the under-representation? Is it a matter of South Asian filmmakers not submitting a sufficient number of entries or their films simply not being deemed good enough? The LFF is keen to point out the element of competition - of the 2,000-plus features submitted this year fewer than 10 per cent have made the cut.

Anil Sinanan, Film Critic for Time Out, makes a similar point. "I think it is because the LFF showcases 'quality' films and sadly, Indian films generally prefer quantity to quality."

He adds, "That said, different non-formulaic films are now being made to cater to the rapidly growing multiplex urban crowd, and Indian regional cinema, especially the Bengali and Tamil film industry, do produce experimental films, so maybe the representation could have been higher."

While there is a single Bangladeshi feature: Doll House (Dir: Morshedul Islam), amongst this year's South Asian contingency, sadly there are no entries from Sri Lanka and Pakistan unlike previous years.

According to Dr Rachel Dwyer, Reader in Indian Studies and Cinema at London's School of Oriental and African Studies, "The LFF doesn't show much 'mainstream' cinema, so it's probably representative of other types of cinema."

She also believes the lack of Bollywood films at international film festivals like London isn't so much snobbery by festival selectors but lack of interest on the filmmakers' side.

"The LFF requires the first UK screening and mainstream Indian producers/distributors aren't willing to do this or can't commit the date so far ahead. I know the LFF has tried before to get mainstream films ahead of their release but not had much luck as that doesn't go with the marketing strategies," says Dwyer.

Yash Raj Films, on the other hand, seem to have realised that they need to cater for a different audience too. "I suppose earlier it was not so much a lack of interest in festivals rather than 'what is the need?'" says Avtar Panesar, head of UK operations.

But things have changed, he adds. "We must now start looking at more avenues and increase our markets everywhere not just in exposure but also in terms of revenues. The one way to do this is to take different films like Kabul Express to international festivals and also showcase Indian cinema, with all its six songs and dances, melodrama and 180 minutes narratives, along side anything that the west has to offer."


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