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Cairo film festival - Reviving old ties

December 3, 2009 7:02:39 PM IST
Shoma A. Chatterji, TWF, Bollywood Trade News Network
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India was the focus country in the recent 33rd Cairo International Film Festival to make with the theme "Spotlight India - Indian Cinema".

Don't be surprised to be greeted with chants of "Bachchan," 'Bachchan" if you are in Egypt. This is inevitably the experience of Indians visiting the country where Amitabh Bachchan has a huge fan following. For the average Egyptian, memory of the star is caught in a time-warp that goes back two decades, when Indian films were commercially released in Egypt and locals flocked to watch mainstream Hindi films. Then, the distribution and exhibition of Indian films stopped. After a long hiatus, growing interest in Indian films and the new crop of directors is again getting momentum. Perhaps it is another reason for choosing India as a focus country for the recently concluded Cairo International Film Festival.

The Cairo festival is one of the oldest in the international festival circuits. This year it screened around 150 films from 67 countries.

The India link was more than evident during the festival. Internationally renowned filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan was chairperson of the Jury for International Competition, Vikas Swarup, Indian Consul-General to Osaka, Japan, and author of Q & A on which The SLUMDOG MILLIONNAIRE is based, was a member of the Digital Feature Films Jury and film journalist Namrata Joshi was a member of the FIPRESCI (international film critics' organization) jury. Madhur Bhandarkar was honoured with a retrospective of his films. Boney Kapoor, Sridevi, short filmmaker Sandeep Marwah of Marwah Studios and Irrfan Khan were also honoured.

The Indian films screened here showcased the wide range of Indian contemporary films, which must have had been an eye-opener to cinephiles and common people alike. Integral India featured 23 films including Bhandarkar's films. This section screened Adoor's FOUR WOMEN, Girish Kasaravalli's GULABI TALKIES, Vishal Bharadwaj's KAMINEY, Kabir Khan's NEW YORK, Neeraj Pandey's A WEDNESDAY and Bhawna Talwar's DHARM.

Other interesting films screened were Satish Manwar's GABHRICHA PAUS on farmer suicides in Vidharba, Maharashtra, Priya Darshan's Kanchivaram, set against the backdrop of Kanchi's silk weaving industry, Sameer Hanchate's GAFLA (Hindi) on the impact of the stock market scam on an ordinary man, Laxmikant Shetgaonkar's THE MAN BEYOND THE BRIDGE, Seema Kapoor's HAAT - THE WEEKLY BAZAAR based on natha-pratha, Suhail Tatari's SUMMER - 2007, Rupa Iyer's MUKHAPUTA, Nikhil Nagesh Bhatt's SALUUN, with Mira Nair's Amelia forming the closing film.

Rupa Iyer's MUKHAPUTA deals with an adoptive mother who discovers after some years that the child is HIV at birth. Bhatt's Saluun is based on a true incident in a small town in Maharashtra where local people decide to teach a lesson to the corrupt government officials. Arun Vaidyanathan's ACHCHAMUNDU ACHCHAMUNDU is about a young South Indian family in the US whose settled life is threatened with the entry of one Theodore Robertson into their lives. Raman, by Dr. Biju, is an angered reaction against former US President George Bush.

Two Indian films, NEW YORK, directed by Kabir Khan elicited lots of interest as it looks at victim hood on suspicion of terrorism in post 9/11 America without over-emphasing the religious angle.

MADHOLAL KEEP WALKING, directed by Jai Tank, were screened in the International Competition. Subrat Dutta, who plays Madholal in the latter film, jointly won the Best Actor Award along with actor Fathy Abdel Wahab who won it for his performance in the Egyptian film NILE BIRDS. The joint citation stated that the awards were "for their sustained and convincing performances portraying a man up against life's travails with the pain and humour inherent in the situation."

MADHOLAL KEEP WALKING is about a happy security guard, Madholal, who lives in a low middle-class neighbourhood in Mumbai with his wife and two growing children. He loses an arm in the train bomb blast on July 11 and his world collapses around him. His family comprises an understanding wife and two growing children, who keep egging him on to cope with the reality of a lost limb and the trauma of the accident and get on with the business of living.

MUDHAL MUDHAL MUDHAL VARAI (First Time) by Krishna Seshadri Gomatam bagged the Silver Award (jointly) in the Digital Feature Films section. The citation stated that the award was for its "engaging look at man's eternal struggle to understand the meaning of life and death. The jury found the director's use of a lighthearted narrative to explore a serious theme both innovative and endearing." The other Silver Award went to Exile in Paris (France) directed by Ahmet Zirek.

The French film THE HEDGEHOG (France), directed by Mona Achache won the International Critics Prize (FIPRESCI). It is about an unexpected discovery by an 11-year-old girl who is as gifted as she is suicidal. It also won the Special Jury Prize for the young director. LETTERS TO FATHER JACOB (Finland) brought the Best Screenwriter award to Klaus Haro for "structuring a story that is constantly engaging and offering surprises as it goes onto celebrate the essence of humanity." It also won the Prize for the Best Film.

The Golden Award in Digital Competition section went to THE RAPTURE OF "Fe" (Phillipines) directed by Alvin B. Yapan for its sensitive portrayal of a woman caught between an abusive husband and an impotent lover, in the process illuminating our understanding of human relationships. Karolina Piechota won the Best Actress Award for her performance in SPLINTERS (Poland) for the warmth, humour and credibility she brought to her role.

The Syrian film THAT LONG NIGHT directed by Hatem Ali, bagged one of the two awards given away by the Ministry of Culture, Egypt, for the Best Film in the Arabic Feature Films Section for its bold portrayal of a relevant issue, and a heart-breaking phenomenon gripping a community. The other top award went to the Palestinian film AMREEKA directed by Cherien Dabis. The film brings together the finest aspects of scriptwriting, storytelling, and performance to create an artistic work that is simultaneously entertaining, gripping, and attractive to mainstream and art house audiences alike. Dabis also won the award for the Best Screenplay from the Ministry of Culture.

The biggest attraction of the festival was the screening of the Egyptian classic AL MUMMIA (The Night of Counting the Years) on the "Sound and Light" stage in the background of the Pyramids with a chilly wind blowing, and the Sphinx lit in blue, hovering in the background. Directed by Shadi Abdel Salam (1969) the film, shot in soft yellows and browns with stark images captured in close-up, the camera playing around with shadows, is set in 1881, on the eve of British Colonial rule. It is adapted from a true story. In a well-attended symposium on Indian Cinema, two leading distributors and exhibitors of Egypt highlighted the revival of the distribution and exhibition of Indian films in Egypt. One hopes this festival's focus on Indian cinema paves the way for the opening of another new market for Indian films in the world.

"I love Hindi films for one reason. In three hours you watch how a person is wronged and how he avenges the wrong done to him. It is complete wish fulfillment complete with songs, thrills and fights," said a die-hard fan of Bollywood movies in Egypt.

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