In Kerala, god's own film festival!

Updated: 12 December, 2018 20:39 IST | Mayank Shekhar | Mumbai

Do people moving to mobile phones for entertainment actually make film fests more relevant? Think so

At the Keral Film Festival, there is no hoo-haa at the venues. No huge hoardings. No fancy parties; or a star-parade. It is about films, purely. Pic/Mayank Shekhar
At the Keral Film Festival, there is no hoo-haa at the venues. No huge hoardings. No fancy parties; or a star-parade. It is about films, purely. Pic/Mayank Shekhar

Mayank ShekharIt isn't particularly encouraging to hear from a fellow passenger who lives in the city you've just landed, and the person who's come to pick you up, the same thing when you ask about what's there to do in Trivandrum: "Nothing… Really." Really?

It's a nice little city if you ask me, with fine-looking churches, government institutional buildings, wide sidewalks on either side of roads littered with good intentions, rather than gunk, which is more common in North Indian towns.

What do people do here though? By the looks of it, eat a lot. There's a restaurant/dhaba/food-truck, practically at any corner you're in. Surely Mallus drink a lot. How do they reconcile this with the fact that all of them, uniformly, are morning people, hitting bed by 10, up by 5?

Well the state helps them with it. Bars close by 11, toddy shops are done by 8.30; drunks leave the city deserted like a morgue, much before midnight, which is so true for most Indian cities, that you appreciate whatever is left of Mumbai far more, only when you briefly step out of the buzzing metropolis. Then, why the hell was I in Trivandrum (for a day, that too), since everyone else uses it merely as a rest-stop, before venturing into the glorious back-waters for a long vacay? Quite frankly, I wanted to watch movies in, and with, Trivandrum.

For years, I've been told that if you want to experience a genuine film culture, anywhere in India, collectively aimed at accepting, rejecting the best of regional, foreign, and all kinds of movies, you have to be at the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK).

Come December, an entire city revs up to catch films. Language is not an issue. Culture is no bar. Crowds comprise local simpletons, rather than only highfalutin aesthetes - peeling off the sheen of elitism normally associated with film fests. They brazenly walk out of pictures they disapprove of. They clap to ones they love. They sit around for long talkathons with a film's cast and crew, asking the most interesting, and sometimes bizarre questions. The collegiate young stand outside. For, hundreds of them form the most efficient volunteer corp (back-bone of any film fest) that I've ever known.

IFFK is in its 23rd year. The world of movies, art-house or otherwise, has securely landed in your palms in the interim. Do film festivals make sense anymore, given than even fewer people visit cinemas, to begin with? They're probably more relevant than ever.

Here's what Internet's done: Exposed masses to content that they were earlier denied, because the decision on what you can watch was firmly in the hands of producers/distributors/theatre-owners. Once your palette expands, you begin to demand/accept even better, progressively more novel stuff, still. It's harder to insult, or in some cases entirely ignore, the audience's intelligence. You can sense this revolution with the kind of films that have been sleeper, super-hits in theatres lately.

And yet, while the choice is in your hands, the entire Internet is designed to kill the joy of discovery/serendipity, with OTT apps like Netflix, telling you what you will like, since you watched a particular film/series. The most satisfying aspect of a film festival (at least for me) is walking in to check out something you've never heard of before-a certain amount of filtering has already taken place to ensure it may not be downright torturous-and you leave, if you don't like; and stay, if you do.

And no film fest is complete without the sound of the snore competing with the film's, which most of the times, has no background score, let alone a soundtrack. I try not to disturb the sleeping gents, inevitably sitting next to me, as I hop from one charming, state-owned single-screen theatre to another, negotiating a neat line-one half in white lungis; the younger half in jeans and cargo pants.

They gently request the local, art-house stalwart Adoor Gopalakrishnan for a selfie, as he gets off his self-driven, old, beat-up Honda City. I'm suitably warned against loudly discussing the director Jayaraj, whose latest film played during the day. You never know who's the fan, or the hater, around you-best to avoid contentious debates.

There is no hoo-haa at the venues. No huge hoardings. No fancy parties; or a star-parade. What do you find most different about Kerala film festival, I ask a veteran who, like me, is also visiting Trivandrum for the first time. "It's damn political; even the festival director was mentioning Sabarimala, and other hot-button topics in the inaugural speech," she tells me. Some locals, in fact, find IFFK to be too "mainstream", I realise, as I walk across to a parallel fest, hosted by S Durga director Sanal Kumar Sasidharan. This one has Mallu rock bands cranking up the volume past midnight, interspersed with angst-ridden speeches on environment, and humanism. It's a counter-festival to what is anyway counter-cultural! Can only happen in Kerala-truly God's own country; India's finest county!

Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14 Send your feedback to

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First Published: 12 December, 2018 07:15 IST

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