On 3rd December, 2021 C.D. Deshmukh Auditorium at IIC came to life with an exhilarating conversation between Sidharth Srinivasan and Dr. Aruna Vasudev. Sidharth, an award-winning independent filmmaker whose films have screened in official selection at prestigious festivals such as Venice, Toronto and Rotterdam, had an uphill task on hand as he was attempting to compress Aruna’s most distinguished and prodigiously eventful life into an hour-long discussion. Aruna is a pioneer with many firsts to her name – first Indian Head Girl of The Lawrence School Sanawar, the first to introduce Asian cinema to the world by editing and publishing the quarterly Cinemaya in 1988, the first woman president of FIPRESCI India and the first to start a Festival of Asian and Arab Cinema, Cinefan in 1999.
What made the evening memorable was how successfully Sidharth delved into Aruna’s early years in Paris during the heydays of the student revolution in the 1960’s working alongside legendary French Nouvelle Vague filmmakers like Alain Resnais and Claude Chabrol; her time in New York working as a film editor and then at the UN where Marlon Brando asked her out on a date; her missed opportunity of assisting Satyajit Ray on a film that never got made and her years at INTACH working alongside Chidananda Dasgupta who became a dear friend.
Along the way, Aruna was introduced to Asian cinema at the Hong Kong and Hawaii film festivals and was stunned by the richness and diversity of these undiscovered cultural treasures. The seed for starting a journal on the cinemas of Asia - with contributors from the various countries like Tadao Sato from Japan, Li Cheuk to from Hong Kong, Ashley from Sri Lanka etc - was planted and became a driving passion. The information available in the pages of Cinemaya is invaluable.
The first Conference on Asian cinema held in Delhi led to the formation of NETPAC (Network of Promotion of Asian Cinema) which today is a worldwide organisation. NETPAC members are spread across the world and the organization has jury representation at over 30 international festivals including Berlin, Toronto and Busan.
Filmmakers young and old were all very close to Aruna and owe her a great debt for her tireless efforts at shining a light on their work – G. Aravindan, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Aparna Sen, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Mani Kaul, Kumar Shahani, Anurag Kashyap – just to name a few of the Indian filmmakers.
During the Q&A session following the discussion, audience members urged Aruna to write her memoirs, and expressed a desire to see more Asian films; Mark Tully reminisced about Aruna’s supportive parents and her stint at the BBC; Raman Chawla recalled his first meeting with Aruna at the French Cultural Centre which led to his working with her for Cinefan; and I touched upon the exciting new world Aruna introduced me to when I started working with her on Cinemaya. I observed that even today while attending film festivals, in India and abroad, I come across people from all spheres of the film industry who fondly remember how Aruna has touched and changed their lives. It is so gratifying when a young person from the film industry - a filmmaker, actor, cinematographer, script writer - comes up and says I am making movies because of reading Cinemaya and seeing the films at Cinefan!
-- by Indu Shrikent