Light, sound, colour, action defined the 28th Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF). Serpentine queues outside cinema halls, talk shows, press conferences, exhibitions, master classes - a city come alive with eager, thronging crowds everywhere, with enormous KIFF posters, and, not the least, with Christmas exuberance, Kolkata displayed a delightful year-end extravaganza.
A star-studded opening ceremony on 15 December 2022 evening brought together high-level politicians, government officials, artists and festival guests: the Governor of West Bengal, Dr C V Ananda Bose, Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee, and Bollywood big-wigs Amitabh and Jaya Bahchchan, Rani Mukherjee, Shatrughan Sinha and Shah Rukh Khan – all were in their element, exuding friendship and goodwill – and reflection too, on the current climate. In his speech as Chief Guest, Amitabh Bachchan said questions were being raised on civil liberties and freedom of expression. “Let us demolish the differences that divide us…let us build a monolith in our diversity.” Shah Rukh Khan spoke of cinema as a narrative that brings to the fore humanity’s capacity for compassion and brotherhood. Well-known filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt also mentioned the importance of inclusivity – to the large audience’s enthusiastic applause.
The opening ceremony was followed by the screening of a 1973 Amitabh-Jaya film, Abhiman, directed by Hrishikesh Mukherjee.
A total of 183 films from 42 countries were screened at ten halls spread across the city. These included 130 features and 52 shorts and documentaries. The national and international competitions had 14 films each, while 8 were in the NETPAC competition, 20 in the short film and 10 in the documentary competitions.
Two major exhibitions held at two venues drew capacity crowds: “Amitabh Bachchan: A Living Legend” (with a retrospective of his films) and “Jean-Luc Godard: The ‘Immortal’ Object of Art” (Godard was a pioneer of the French New Wave). Both were superbly curated with an excellent choice of image and text, explaining why and how these two cinema champions defined their times and the cinemas of their countries.
And there was more to savour: centenary tributes paid to directors Alain Resnais (France), Pier Paolo Pasolini (Italy), Michael Cacoyannis (Greek-Cypriot) and Hrishikesh Mukherjee, K Asif, and Asit Sen (India); actress Bharati Devi, sarod maestro Ali Akbar Khan and actor Dilip Kumar. Not to forget the special tributes to director Tarun Majumdar, actors Angela Lansbury and Pradeep Mukherjee, and to the famous santoor player Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma. And the crowning glory (one can call it that, given that FIFA matches were being held then) – to celebrate the spirit of sportsmanship – KIFF plans to introduce a “Game On” section next year, dedicated to youth and sports.
Shaji N Karun’s Masterclass on “Visual Metaphors and Moving Images” and Sudeep Chatterjee’s “How an Idea is transformed into an Image in Filmmaking” were thoughtful meditations on issues that don’t always take centre-stage, yet can define the texture of a film.
Sudhir Mishra minced no words in his Satyajit Ray Memorial Lecture on “Understanding Cinema in Changing Times”. His emphasis was on conversation and the audience. “New-age cinema is not just the responsibility of the filmmaker. The audience needs to be loyal as well,” he stated. Referring to Satyajit Ray, he highlighted not just the director’s brilliant way of telling a story, but also the devoted viewers of Kolkata who were devoid of prejudice. “It might be interesting,” he said, to ponder on “what Ray’s condition might have been if he were to pitch Pather Panchali to an OTT production house today. On the one hand, he might have been asked for his biodata and a box-office analysis, on the other hand he might have acquired funds much faster. It is only if the audience’s debilitating addiction to fast-action, high-adrenaline thrillers can be controlled, that that cinema which expands sensibilities can be brought to the forefront.”
Two out-of-competition films – Jafar Panahi’s No Bears (Iran) and Saim Sadiq’s Joyland (Pakistan) – brought in bustling crowds. The former film is shot in a village near the Turkish border where Panahi is directing a film via skype; the latter tells of patriarchy in Pakistan and moves towards a transgender theme.
There was plenty for everyone at KIFF. Take your pick. And Cine Addas where you could attend talks with popular stars were an added attraction. What with the swirling crowds and the immense, artistically conceived hoardings and posters (particularly the one with Charlie Chaplin sitting alongside Satyajit Ray’s young Apu chewing on sugarcane), KIFF certainly blended a twinge of nostalgia with an awareness of pressing matters in today’s cinema.
International Competition :
Innovation in Moving Images (IMI) -
Upon Entry by Alejandro Rojas and Juan Sebastian Vasquez (Spain) and
The Golden Wings of Watercocks (Kura Pokkhir Shunye Ura) by Muhammad Quayum (Bangladesh)
Ernesto Ardito and Virna Molina for Hitler’s Witch (La Bruja de Hitler) (Argentina)
Special Jury Mention-
Silent Glory (Shokouhe Khamoush), by Nahid Hassanzadeh (Iran)
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Indian Competition :
Muthayya (Muthaya), by Bhaskar Maurya
Deepankar Prakash for Naanera
Special Jury Mention-
Chhaad (The Terrace) by Indrani and Sikaisal (If Only the Trees Could Talk) by Bobby Sarma Baruah
Asian Select NETPAC Award-
Dov (Fortune) by Muhiddin Muzaffar (Tajikistan)
Indian Documentary Films
Nybreum (The Unsettled Shade) by Neha ‘Bhavibi’ Sharma
Indian Short Films
Mein, Mehmood (I Am Mehmood) by Prataya Saha
Special Jury Mention
Xunyota (Void) by Nabapan Deka and The Divine Touch (Haater Sporsho) by Prosenjit Choudhury
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Written by Dr. Latika Padgaonkar (India), Chairperson, NETPAC Jury
Other Jury Members:
Italo Spinelli (Italy)
Supriya Suri (India)