My ouch! Irrfan moment
Bishakha Datta, who heads Point of View, a non-profit that amplifies women's voices and had organised the event, was Festival Director
I just remembered my absolutely ouch! Irrfan moment, that makes me cringe each time I recall it. One of the relatively early big film programmes I curated was Made by Women, an international women's film festival, way back in 2004. We screened great films, mostly 35mm prints, directed by women filmmakers from all over the world. They ranged from Marziyeh Meshkiny's The Day I Became a Woman (Iran), Anne Fontaine's How I Killed My Father (France) to Ligy Pullappally's Sancharram (India) and Joan Gratz's Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase (animation, USA). We opened with Aparna Sen's beloved classic 36 Chowringhee Lane at the YB Chavan Centre (remember it?). Bishakha Datta, who heads Point of View, a non-profit that amplifies women's voices and had organised the event, was Festival Director.
Sen had flown in for the inauguration from Kolkata, ever elegant. Irfan Khan (the second 'r' hadn't rolled in yet) had very kindly agreed to be special guest at the inaugural. A huge crowd had turned up, and we let them in. My colleagues escorted Sen in, while I remained outside waiting for Irfan, who unfortunately had been held up in traffic, and arrived later than planned. When I escorted him in, the hall was pitch dark. I realised to my horror, that Sen had inaugurated the festival alone and, as the crowd had got restless, the screening had begun. Eeks! I apologised profusely to Irfan, and escorted him to the reserved VIP row, only to find that the enthu crowd had ripped the 'reserved' seat signs and occupied every seat in the house; many were even sitting in the aisles.
Crouching and whispering, I cravenly begged a series of people in the audience to give up their seat for Irfan, but they were engrossed in the film. Seeing I was in big trouble, Irfan graciously whispered, "Don't worry, Meenakshi, I'll sit on the carpet." "No, NO! Please give me a moment," I yelped. Finally, I managed to persuade someone to give up his seat for Irfan in the front row. Double eeks! From there, Irfan watched 36 Chowringhee Lane, at a 60 degree angle. Life-long, I could never live down the humiliation of being unable to treat Irfan as the star he truly was. But, Irfan was so incredibly decent about it—which made me feel even worse. He quietly vanished as the film ended, and when I phoned him to apologise, he gently brushed aside my apology and discussed what a marvellous film it was.
The episode taught me two things: if you show a great Indian film for the inaugural of an international film festival, the public will come, even if it is a 20-year-old film. Second, a great film can turn even a star into a fan. Yet, I can think of no other star who would behave with such extraordinary humility and grace, as Irfan did that evening. The festival was a great success in Mumbai, and did an all-India tour of eight cities in 2004. In fact, I curated another edition of Made by Women in 2005, with an all-India tour as well.
Meenakshi Shedde is India and South Asia Delegate to the Berlin International Film Festival, National Award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at email@example.com
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