Indian art films draw good response in Berlin

"Alternative Indian cinema", a euphemism for art films, is drawing good crowds at the Berlin Film Festival under way here.

Gretman Sommer of the Berlin International Forum of New Cinema, a special section of "Berlinale" (as the festival is called), says the "mood at the screening of Indian films has been excellent".

"The number of fans of films coming from India is increasing," she told IANS. "And I mean not just people of Indian origin but also mainstream fans."

The discussion after the screening of each Indian film has been "interesting and intense", she added. The film festival began Feb 5 and will conclude Feb 15.

Indian entries this year include Vishal Bhardwaj's Macbeth adaption "Maqbool" and the Shah Rukh Khan-Preity Zinta starrer "Kal Ho Naa Ho", the latter being described here as a "musical" because of its songs.

Bollywood celluloid products, because of their songs and dances, are described in German as "musicals" or "musical fantasies", though, in the strict sense of the term, they have very little in common with the Western notion of a musical.

"Maqbool" was well received because of its raw treatment of the underworld. The dialogue of the film is tersely cogent, even though it loses some of the impact when one hears the diluted translated version.

Some Germans, familiar with this genre of Indian films, were predicting that Indian filmmakers will make more such films, provided these films are not defeated at the box office.

According to the 34th International Forum of New Cinema festival organisers, this year's Indian entries show that the traditional dichotomy between art and commerce is slowly dying out.

A new generation of Indians is starting to rediscover politically and socially responsible filmmaking, using the tools of popular cinema.

Gabriela Seidl, the Forum's spokesperson, told IANS that in the past India would send mostly Bollywood films as entries. "However, it is heartening to see an increasing number of films from the alternative cinema in India. Many of these films are thought-provoking and promising," she said.

She said she had "heard a great deal" about Rakesh Sharma's "Final Solution".

Sharma's 218-minute documentary is described as the longest at the festival. It deals with the Hindu-Muslim violence that ravaged Gujarat in 2002.

"It is a shockingly precise analysis of the political wheeling and dealing that led the gruesome slaughter of thousands of defenceless people," said one German viewer after seeing the film.

According to the Forum, of particular interest is Partho Sen Gupta's debut film "Hawa Aney Dey ("Let the Wind Blow"), described here as an "apocalyptic film" about the deceptively carefree attitudes of spoilt youngsters set against the backdrop of India's conflict with Pakistan.

Another entry, "Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi ("A thousand Dreams Such as These") by Sudhir Mishra tackles the revolutionary student movement during the Indira Gandhi era.

India has also sent a children's film called "Heda Hoda" ("the blind camel") by Vinod Ganatra. It has been entered in the children's film competition.

Several Indian filmmakers have accepted the invitation to attend the Berlin festival.

Mishra was the first to arrive. Others expected here are Rakesh Sharma and Vishal Bharadwaj.

The Forum has an extensive programme of entries from 23 countries, including from little-known filmmaking countries, and many debuts from around the globe.

Indeed, 30 of the films - or more than half of the entries - are world premieres.

This year's film jury at the forum includes filmmakers Catherine Breillat (France) and Thomas Arslan (Germany) and Imruh Bakari (Tanzania).

But this year's "Berlinale" lacked the presence of the movie cr?me de la cr?me.

Many of the stars expected at the show such as Nicole Kidman, Jude Law and Renee Zellweger cancelled their visits. Nick Nolte also failed to show up, disappointing many fans waiting in the freezing temperatures to get a glimpse of their favourite stars.

However, Jack Nicholson, the Hollywood star, was there, flashing his famous devilish grins to his fans.