Meenakshi Shedde: IFFI is Kafka territory

Updated: Nov 26, 2017, 06:25 IST | Meenakshi Shedde

I've been at Film Bazaar (FB) and the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa this week. IFFI has been "taken over" by the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC), and, as this happened at rather short notice

I've been at Film Bazaar (FB) and the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) in Goa this week. IFFI has been "taken over" by the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC), and, as this happened at rather short notice, there was even more gochification than usual. Prakash Magdum, director of the National Film Archive of India, asked me why I didn't come to the IFFI opening ceremony, as a seat was reserved with my name on it, next to his. I was surprised, as I didn't receive the invitation. Should I be surprised? Film Bazaar, announced to open on November 20, had no 'opening' at all. Everywhere were whispers of instructions and interference from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, but official lips were zipped.

I was invited to join a jury lunch at the wondrous Mum's Kitchen, by Maxine Williamson, member of the festival's International Competition Jury, former Artistic Director, Asia Pacific Screen Awards, and currently Director of the Brisbane International Film Festival. It was a pleasure to meet Muzaffar Ali, who is jury chairman. Otherwise, of course, he is the 'Raja' of Kotwara, filmmaker (Umrao Jaan, Gaman) and connoisseur. I ask him what he is busy with these days. "I am concerned about my horse," he says.

Illustration/Ravi Jadhav
Illustration/Ravi Jadhav

"He has trouble with his hoof." Mere mortals at IFFI are busy with petty concerns like films, snagging sales agents and networking, but equine concerns furrow the brows of royalty. The man is very civilised, terribly distinguished, sexy with that casual, all-grey mane, and unpretentious. His pets include a horse and a dog named Barack and Awful (I forget which is which). As soon as Goan lunch arrives — wondrous sanna (ground Goan red rice steamed with toddy and coconut to idli-ish texture), xacuti, bhindi ("okra") bhaji, prawn curry, sprouted moong salad, poi, that superb Goan bread, and more — all gloves are off with Muzaffar Ali: he eats with his hands, tucking in with relish, while the firangis struggle to eat rice with a fork. My respect for the man zooms: here is a man with a lust for life.

A burly, complete stranger piles onto the jury lunch. He does not introduce himself and nobody knows him; the jury is very uncomfortable. It turns out he is an MIB-wallah: could it be Big Brother listening in for discussions about films or comments on the festival? Nobody knows. There was more: the prime minister had his own Mann ki Baat stall at IFFI, where he told his countrymen how he is making the country wonderful, and ordinary people could make suggestions how to make it even more wonderful. As a foreign delegate observed, this is pure Kafka territory.

While IFFI's programme had a decent selection of films, predictably, Bollywood stars took centrestage. Film Bazaar screens a large number of films, has labs for filmmakers and invites filmmakers, producers, buyers, sales agents, etc to network: whether you are at lunch, attending a lecture or having a conversation, filmmakers interrupt you rudely to say, "Madam, I've made a film, can you see it right now?" I was told poor Michael Werner of Fortissimo Films was in the men's toilet, when he was accosted by an Indian filmmaker, 'Sir, I've made a film..." Here's to being able to pee in peace next year.

Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to the Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at meenakshishedde@gmail.com.

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