Bollywood beckons at 38th Toronto International Film Festival

“One of the cultural treasures of our country” is how Deepa Mehta was lauded on stage by a leading State official at a high-profile glamour event celebrating India’s 100 Years of Cinema.

Deepa Mehta
Deepa Mehta

This essentially Indian event raised funds for the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and was a showcase of Canada connecting with India. This is the second Friends of TIFF Gala Event which features a red carpet reception, dinner, live auction, entertainment and after-party.

Anup Singh, Rasika Duggal, Tisca Chopra and Tillotama Shome at the fest
Anup Singh, Rasika Duggal, Tisca Chopra and Tillotama Shome at the fest

The idea behind this year’s TIFF fund-raiser being a joyous occasion around Indian cinema was mooted by Deepa, who is a valued member on TIFF’s Governing Board. Indeed, when you come to Toronto city and its festival, it becomes clear that Deepa is treated by the Canadians as one of their own most respected filmmakers and that they feel privileged that she has chosen to live and work here.

A rainy Saturday did not deter Canadians, natural born and domiciled, to come in their glittery best to the stunning new Four Seasons of The Performing Arts. An impressive crowded gathering, at 2,500 Canadian dollars per head, were clearly in support of the event.

The evening started with Indian children excelling in Bollywood dance numbers on ascending steps to the first floor, among them a maybe four-year-old zesty little girl outshining the others. With that the crowd moved into the elegantly decorated dining area. One side had giant posters of Indian film classics, and the other, a huge nostalgic picture of Nargis and Raj Kapoor. Each table was named after a famous Indian director. I was privileged to be at the one named after Shyam Benegal.

Introducing the stage event, the Canadian speaker said, “There are those who are Indian, those who want to be Indian, and then, those who have no ambition”. With that the sumptuous Indian dinner started, with between courses when the gigantic screen regaled the audience with clips from famous Indian films to live accompaniment with dance and vocals, impeccably choreographed and presented.

The presentation was vivid, energetic and witty, not aligned to a progressive historical perspective but happily jumping back and forwards to what was important at one significant time. The commentary by Deepa was contemporary and connected with North American idiom. For instance, the Nargis- Raj Kapoor pair linked to the Bogey-Bacall. The clip of Raja Harishchandra (1913) with young men enacting womens’ roles, were ‘ dudes in drag’.

The famed Indian chef, known simply as Vij, came from Vancouver to cater the evening’s marvellous cuisine. His restaurant in Vancouver has a serpentine queue every evening. While waiting, they are served masala chai and papad. On stage Vij asked the audience to enjoy “the largest democracy in the world served on your plate”.  

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