Unlike the journalists covering the event, none of the Bollywood celebrities present displayed any sign of mountain sickness. On the contrary, each had a story to regale about their past associations with Ladakh.
From Gulzar, who inaugurated the festival, to Madhur Bhandarkar, who made his presence felt on the second day each evoked a sense of belonging to a place known for its tranquility. Interestingly, Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdullah was supposed to flag the event but a terror threat kept him from doing the needful.
Amid tight security, the opening ceremony was graced by some hearty anecdotes shared by those on the panel. Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra couldn’t help noting that he chose Leh for his honeymoon and has been visiting the hilly region ever since. Hearing which, Gulzar quipped that he wasn’t aware of this part of the world when he got married and now “it’s too late” for a honeymoon, drawing laughter from the audience.
Filmmaker-musician Vishal Bhardwaj, a patron of this film festival that is into its second year, was on the panel. And so was his wife, singer Rekha Bhardwaj. Actress-filmmaker Aparna Sen, the jury chairman, pointed out that she should have slept more a euphemism for acclimatisation but then, she had films to watch and finalise.
Following the opening ceremony, 12 short films curated by directors Imtiaz Ali and Vikramaditya Motwane, were showcased. Later, in the afternoon, Gulzar’s directorial debut Mere Apne was screened. In the post-movie interaction session, the celebrated lyricist and former director said that the reason why he stopped making films after Hu Tu Tu (1999) is because he feels there are younger filmmakers who are well versed with technology than him.
In the foreign film category, there were features from Chile and Germany while documentaries were from Sweden, Nepal and the Netherland. In the evening, Mehra’s Bhaag Milkha Bhaag received a green carpet premiere, adhering to environment-friendly measures. The biopic attracted the maximum number of eyeballs with the auditorium buzzing with locals as well as army men.
While Rituparno Ghosh’s Dahan kickstarted the schedule, Stanzin Dorjai Gya’s Behind the Mirror and Terry McLuhan’s Frontier Gandhi attracted the loudest cheers. The former deals with Ladakhi kids being temporarily adopted by French families and the change they experience in their lifestyle. The latter is an overdue homage to Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan and his non-violent struggle.
Hosting a film festival at such high altitudes has its share of struggles. The power supply is a constant threat. Internet connections are unreliable. Transporting from one auditorium to another can be tiresome too. Nevertheless, all film screening ran on schedule.
One of them was Homi Wadia’s Diamond Queen. The two-and-half hour classic had less to do with Fearless Nadia’s stunts and more to do with the theme of celebrating womanhood. Ketan Mehta’s Mirch Masala was played under the same category.
Another set of short films curated by Imtiaz Ali was screened too. In an interactive session organised for Ladakhi filmmakers, it became apparent how difficult it is to pursue filmmaking in a remote land with no support whatsoever. On the other hand, the local Ladakhis seemed happy to get an all-event pass for just Rs 100.
In the evening, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra presented McLuhan’s documentary and even praised the Canadian filmmaker’s perseverance. Sharing a thought on the genre as well as the subject of her film, the Rang De Basanti director said, “History is rewritten, not just written.”
Aparna Sen amusingly asked Madhur Bhandarkar why he hasn’t cast daughter Konkana in any of his films after Traffic Signal (2007). To which, the National Award-winning director replied, “I will, I will.”
On the flipside
News broke out that Rekha Bhardwaj had fallen ill and had to be hospitalised. Even Gulzarsaab stayed put in the hotel. However, Madhur Bhandarkar was a part of the business conclave where he shared his opinion on how Leh can make the most of tourism, thanks to Bollywood’s interest in the place.