Om Shanti Om ka 'sing-along'
India produces the highest number of films annually in the world: 1,986 feature films in 2017. Plus, there are at least 60 film festivals in India, from Gorakhpur, Dehradun and Aligarh, to Thrissur and Madurai
Pune's heat in May-June slaps you hard. But its 'gulmohars' make up by showering you with glorious orange-red blossoms, and it's roadside 'raswanti gruhas' ply you with fresh sugarcane juice.
I was back in Pune at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII). I'd done a diploma in Film Appreciation (FA) at FTII over 25 years ago, and it changed my life. So, when FTII Director Bhupendra Kainthola and Course Director Amit Tyagi invited me to lecture at the 44th Summer FA course, I felt my life coming a full circle.
India produces the highest number of films annually in the world: 1,986 feature films in 2017. Plus, there are at least 60 film festivals in India, from Gorakhpur, Dehradun and Aligarh, to Thrissur and Madurai. Obviously, there's large-scale film curating and programming, but with few regular Indian courses on film curating, it's mostly trial and error, learning on the job.
So my lec-dem, 'Curating Indian and South Asian Cinema Worldwide,' was intended to provide practical insights. The FA course had 79 participants from 16 states and Bangladesh. I was delighted to know they came from Imphal, Guntur, Begusarai, Salem, Pilibhit, Solapur, Barmer, Dhaka and elsewhere. I discussed films that I'd curated or programmed over the last two decades or were at festivals worldwide, with clips/trailers of superb films from nine languages all over India and the Indian subcontinent. These included films in Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, Malayalam, Assamese, Nepali, Sinhala and Bengali (from India and Bangladesh). I explained how to curate film packages for diverse global audiences, drawing from my experience; it also sent me down memory lane. When I was Guest Curator for the year-long 'India on Film' programme of the British Film Institute (BFI, London, 2017), for instance, and included Farah Khan's Om Shanti Om, they asked, "Can we get a 'sing-along print' of the film?" No, boss, Indians don't have 'sing-along prints' because we don't do karaoke in the cinema while watching films; our whole life is one long antakshari, more or less. And curating can be nightmarish, as many Indian films don't have English sub-titles (EST). I had curated 'Indian Expressionism', exploring the influence of German Expressionism on Indian cinema, for the Toronto International Film Festival TIFF Bell Lightbox (Toronto, 2012). I checked various sources for a particular Marathi film in 35mm. Sadly, one archive had a print, but without EST. When I asked for the 'dialogue list' of the film, the librarian coolly told me, "We cannot lend it out, nor do we have a Xerox machine. So, you must shoot each page with your own camera (600 pages) and pay a fee per camera click." I struggled to collect my jaw from the floor. When I'd curated a V Shantaram retrospective for the Busan International Film Festival (Korea, 2006), the Indian rightsholder of some of his Marathi films confirmed in writing to the festival that all the prints had EST, but the festival was unable to let me check each 35mm print in a theatre in advance, despite my request. Later, the poor festival team, led by (the late) Deputy Director Kim Ji-Seok, and I discovered that none of the films had EST, and they went crazy doing Marathi-to-Korean subtitling for all the films overnight. I died of shame.
Apart from the lively feedback I got to the lec-dem, the eager questions afterwards indicated a hunger to learn more about film curating. I may be able to do something about it. Stay tuned.
Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to the Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at email@example.com
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