The changing face of the Kolkata International Film Festival

A famous critic once suggested that most good movies are about the style, tone, and vision of their creators. A director will strike a chord in your imagination and you will be forced to succumb and seek out his other works. The directors quickly become like friends. One filmmaker rejoices in the shamelessness of human nature, while another is burdened by the grim possibilities of religious guilt. Yet another celebrates individuals in a nation that suspects them, while another marvels at the things some do to be happy. Some defend the struggle of the human spirit against the physical facts of the world while others create images that allude to sinful dreams. Sooner or later, any true movie lover comes to the feet of the Japanese master Ozu and understands that ultimately movies are not about moving, but about being moved.

Over the past decade however (under the new government), veterans believe KIFF has drifted away, distracted, it’s essence, corrupted, watered down and gone from classy to massive. Still inviting resident Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan as the main guest and a host of dazzlings, it seems to be celebrating the brilliance and glitz of showbiz rather than focusing on lighting a candle on the altar. of quality cinema that knows no boundaries, is impervious to star glare or box office compulsions and remains determined to capture a moment of discovery and make it immortal.

Proponents of this new movement, however, disagree and insist that it is about moving with the times and changing with needs, being more pluralistic, inclusive and democratic. Eliminate the previous tag us versus them, art and essay versus the business divide. Sections of short films, documentaries and Bengali films have been introduced to broaden the base of the program as well as lucrative awards. All of this, fans of this push suggest, is to blend art with commerce that connects with the common man and to remove the bullying and cultural inferiority factor experienced by lesser mortals earlier. The point is: is this overall gesture good or bad for KIFF’s core vision and mission?

Judhajit Sarkar, former FTII student and filmmaker, fires the first shot, all guns drawn! “Any resemblance to the previous version – 80s and 90s – is a coincidence! The KIFF has been trivialized and transformed into a mela, tamasha with a greedy jerk of – software tv channel idiots chasing after any random tv/movie actor hanging out in Nandan! The earlier focus on cinema with a capital C has been hijacked by the glamor of Bollywood and Tollywood, with most personalities coming to KIFF to be seen, interviewed, and deliver the doctored fake bullshit people want to hear! Find out how many stars or spectators are staying to watch the curtain raiser/opening movie once the hoo-haa of the glitzy grand opening is over.

What a fall there, my compatriots! I mostly stay away, only going for selected movies. Brilliant speaker, debater, filmmaker and dean of SRFTI, Ashok Vishwanathan is next and appears ambivalent. “Well, it’s not the 90s and so you can’t do a Yesterday Once More chorus. Things change. Perspectives and constraints change. I think KIFF has retained its basic spirit – showing quality films, local and global – but, in deference to the times, has affected some structural changes. When you consciously make it massive, there are bound to be consequences for the profile and image of the festival and for the opinions of critics and supporters. Comes with the territory. Cannes, Venice, Berlin, Toronto, etc. have they preserved the previous vision in letter and in spirit? Not possible. Sure, I sometimes miss the earlier intensity of more informed festival-wallahs, but we live in a nanosecond age where instant gratification reigns and digital is king. So given this environment, KIFF is at least a week-long cultural oasis. Vishwanathan, however, wants the choice of film personalities from other parts of the country to be better selected. Instead of glam dolls and cardboard dudes, why not get culturally more evolved guys like Anurag Kashyap, Dibakar Banerjee or Mamooty and Mohanlal from Bollywood? A mix of arthouse and publicity could provide the balance needed to maintain the status quo.

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