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ARTISTIC CRAVING

'Bicycle Thieves' in Yamunanagar

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PICKS: Audiences in B towns browse for world cinema

It's not Goa's IFFI. Locarno and the New York film festival are light years away. And it comes no where near glitzy Cannes. There are no red carpet entrêes, or hordes of photographers flashing their cameras at every pose a star strikes. Yet film festivals of small-town India - Yamunanagar, Nainital, Gorakhpur and Puri - are attracting a great deal of interest and curiosity. They are also being thronged by art-house cinema aficionados from all over the country. From post-war Italian cinema of De Sica's to new-wave auteurist gems of Jean-Luc Godard and Louis Malle, festivals in small-towns are showcasing some of the finest fare in world cinema.

Take Haryana's International Film Festival (HIFF), for instance. For a state that is mostly known for its agrarian culture (and now its wrestlers and boxers), HIFF came as a great surprise. It's been three years that DAV College in Yamunanagar has been organising HIFF for students and others, in association with FTII (Film and Television Institute of India), and it's going great guns.

Sanjay Bhardwaj, lecturer in department of Computer Science at DAV, says: "FTII provided us with the programming and the design, and we took care of the logistics. " HIFF had a bold programming content for an audience that hardly knew anything about world cinema. "At first, the big worry that gnawed at everyone was the turnout rate of the audience. People habituated to commercial potboilers in the Jatland cannot suddenly be asked to appreciate meaningful cinema, " says Bhardwaj about HIFF's first year.

With no Salman Khan gyrating to Munni Badnaam, no 'dishum-dishum' or 'rona-dhona', it was always a big ask in Haryana. But they pulled it off. HIFF's success despite all apprehensions has been remarkable. Not only did people enjoy classics like Bicycle Thieves, City Lights, Seventh Seal, they also pledged to make it an annual affair.

Ajit Rai, director of the film festival, says, "It was so heartening to see grass-root audiences such as shopkeepers, tailors, and constables of Yamunanagar queuing up at the venue. Yakub Khan, a tailor from Yamunanagar was so moved after watching City of Joy, that he donated Rs 50, 000 to the festival. " Optimistic about HIFF's future, he adds, "Not one big name associated with HIFF, such as Om Puri, Girish Katrabali and Adoor Gopalakrishnan, has asked for money. They consider this social work. " Rai feels HIFF has benefited residents of Yamunanagar greatly. "There are no cinema-halls here. But people have access to fancy mobiles and branded clothes. While they watch films on DVDs or travel to cities for their regular fix of Hindi cinema, they hardly have any option when it comes to viewing tasteful films. HIFF has changed all that now. "

For the people of Kolhapur - or Dakshin Kashi, as they say - it was all about encouraging a culture of good cinema. Chandrakant Joshi, president of the eight-year-old Kalamaharshi Baburao Painter Film Society, says: "No one hears about district-level film festivals being organised. But Kolhapur has had a rich tradition of artists, filmmakers and musicians such as V Shantaram, Master Vinayak, Bhalji Pendharkar and Lata Mangeshkar. Plans to organise an internationallevel film festival are underway. We want to introduce the young to regional and European cinema. "

Director of Nagpur Film Festival and secretary of Nirzar film society Sameer Naphade says: "We have had film clubs in Nagpur since 1970;the Cine Montage Society was one. We decided to organise a seven-day international film festival at Nagpur in 2009 for the first time. It showcased 10 world movies, and 10 regional films. The festival opened to a packed house and we were able to show critically-acclaimed films like Bahman Ghobadi's Turtles Can Fly, Satyajit Ray's Jalsaghar, Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita. We also premiered Paresh Mokashi's mutiple award-winning Harishchandrachi Factory. " Nagpur saw names like Amol Palekar, Sonali Kulkarni and Subhash Ghai at the event with 1, 400 registered delegates in attendance.

While some cities have roped in third-party sponsors for festivals, Jan Sanskriti Manch, a people-funded cultural organisation in Uttar Pradesh, believes in hosting small-scale festivals with the help of individual donors. Sanjay Joshi, convener of the group, says: "Cultural groups and individuals have welcomed our idea of no sponsorship with its thrust on people's funding. We want to take documentaries and cinema to the people and have no third-party interference in our festivals. I feel advertisements and banners dilute the seriousness of festivals. We want to be perceived as an independent group of film enthusiasts. "

Jan Sanskriti's Cinema of Resistance is about giving recognition to experimental and pro-people films. "We want to encourage debate through cinema. We showed a film on a dalit sanitary worker in Bhilai. For 20 minutes into the film the worker was seen just picking human feces. The idea was to get people introduced to gritty subject matters. After the screening, audience members wanted to know more about such topics, and they asked us to show them more human-interest documentaries. "

What started as an experimental, pro-people festival in Gorakhpur in 2006 has today spread to cities like Nainital, Patna, Bhilai and Lucknow. "We have received proposals to start new festivals in several small towns of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Punjab, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Orissa and Bengal. By 2011, we will be coordinating with at least 25 such festivals, " says Joshi.

While Jan Sanskriti Manch is ardently promoting non-fiction cinema, BYOFF (Bring-your-ownfilm festival), held annually on the idyllic beaches of Puri in the month of February, is all about letting amateur filmmakers share and appreciate each other's work. An informal and intimate gathering of painters, theatre personalities, artistes, sculptors and other members of the creative fraternity, BYOFF is often called a five-day carnival by the sea. Susant Misra, one of the organiser, says: "We are into our eighth year. We usually charge Rs 1, 000 from every attendee, which includes their dinner and other meals for five days. Our festival offers a perfect setting for those who want to meet like-minded people and also watch films that are low-budget productions. "

So, while big cities with their shiny festivals wonder what happened in India's mofussils to trigger this sudden obsession with international films, those in B towns just say, "It's all about curiosity. Everyone is entitled to it. "

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