PIFF and powStill a toddler
The 2nd annual Pune International Film Festival has been in progress since last Friday and has a couple of days left. Having been unable to participate in the inaugural year, I could right that imbalance this year. PIFF still has a few teething troubles, but has managed to present a few sparkles too. More than a modest collection of cinema has meant enough attractions each day, but these have been offset with a few logistical goofs which were caused primarily because of the increase in numbers from last year; the organisers seem not to have expected such an increase.
PIFF is still a very minor speck on the Indian Film Fest scene, let alone the world stage. It is still in search for its own USP to differentiate it from Mumbai's MAMI or IFFI among others, the latter in its Goa avatar should pose a new set of challenges to the other cities. Pune is the home of the memories of Prabhat theatre and is both a cradle and resting-place for the Indian filmscape in the shape of FTII & NFAI. Each year's PIFF should therefore be seen as another small step in a difficult environment, and instead of railing at the organizers for the problems, people would do well to provide constructive criticisms. This however doesn't let PIFF off the hook - some of the decisions need a good hard look. Still, the organisers of PIFF and Dr. Jabbar Patel, acclaimed film maker and Festival Director need a few pats on the back for all the things they got right.
I didn't get to see anything on Friday because of the inevitable clash between work and play. No Man's Land was the opening film and it annoyed me that they had two shows, both at 5.30 pm at the same venue, thereby ensuring there wasn't much chance of me catching a film that many Indians want to catch because of the Lagaan connection. Luckily, poring through the catalogue showed that another show on Saturday at 7.00 pm was there for the taking.
I must say I was a bit fortunate in that two of the venues, E-Square & the NFAI were pretty close by, with only City Pride being the venue on the edge of the world. Most of the films I wanted to catch were in the first two venues, and I had decided not to venture to CP unless I had no other option. The scheduling came in for some flak - there were many changes along the way even of the popular films, and there were quite a few conflicts that provided one with tough decisions to make. I had to sit with the festival catalogue & schedule to chart out all my options, spreadsheet style. PIFF had issued two brochures for each delegate (who had purchased a pass worth Rs. 400/- covering the entire 7 days) - one the catalogue and one accompanying the "Westerns" section of the festival. The catalogue though comprehensive was also not without a collection of bloopers. Evidently the editor was busy with something more pressing, for the synopsis for On the Waterfront had an underlined word with "367k" in brackets clearly suggesting a hyperlink, thus evidence of a Ctrl-C::Ctrl-V. The first film listed actually had a negative review! The grouping of movies was a little unstructured and difficult to navigate, so if you wanted to find one name, it tended to become linear searching.
On a positive note, the different sections of the PIFF were made apparent: there were a heavy representations from Europe and Mexico. The "Westerns" section had some classic names under it. Tributes to Ray, Kazan, Tun-Tun, Johnny Walker, Dev Anand and Lata Mangeshkar were also in order with a selection of one or more of their films. The "Western" brochure was much more professional, with Deepa Gahlot in the editorial chair. It had a polished air about it with a discussion on the different variants of the genre: the classic, spaghetti, curry and Japanese versions and reviews of the classics to be screened.
This was the day I launched my campaign, so to speak. A long walk in the morning, with prospect of India's splendid cricket performances, had cheered me up for the rest of the day. Pather Panchali had been on my mental list for a while, and I finally cleared that hole in my viewing CV. The Ray debut was all that it was made out to be : simplistic and well-made. The performances from the actors, young and old alike make all the difference. The screening was also the first indication that the PIFF guys hadn't got the right arrangements for over 2000 delegates. The 180/190 seater at E-Square was full in no time with people sitting/standing on the aisles, with many rumblings from the people inside - an inevitable result of the FCFS arrangment being misused by all the idiots who reserved seats in bulk for their companions. The worst offenders were the many students from the FTII, media courses in the city etc. who would plonk themselves in the middle of a row and annex all seats in sight. Matters would come to a head later in the week.
Feeling the effects of that inordinately long walk in the early morning chill and the parliament-like competition for seats in the morning, I was a little exhausted on my way to City Pride to take in No Man's Land. The long trip couldn't be helped for there were no more screenings of that Oscar winner. The problem with the journey is not that it is for about 30 mins each way from my house, but the route : through some of the most busiest (and hassle-prone) roads in Pune. At the theatre, there was the now routine scrum at the doors, which turned out to be unnecessary as it could take in considerably many more. It is really sad to see grown-up, educated people behaving the way they do in these circumstances - common sense and courtesy aren't in the curriculum, you see. The film itself made up for all these irritants - a more detailed discussion later (which in the blogworld's sorting order means it must be above this post somewhere). At the end, I found myself to be double-parked to a disadvantage, followed by much cursing, powerlifting, gymnastics, moto-cross riding and a slalom-inspired obstacle course before I got home.
Sunday had two major attractions: Manish Jha's Mathrubhoomi (which had garnered a lot of press of late) and the stylish gore-fest homage Kill Bill Vol. I by Quentin Tarantino. It was also the first day where I had to make a tough choice. Seeing that I had some work on the day, was feeling a little feverish after the exertions of the earlier day and had woken up to the news that Langer was out for a duck, I made a decision to go for Kill Bill. I had already seen the Tarantino flick, but wanted to catch it on the big screen where it ought to be seen. I knew that I needed a good afternoon's sleep to shrug off the malaise that had come over me. So Mathrubhoomi would have to be sadly missed.
Kill Bill had two simultaneous screenings at 8:30 pm and so I reached E^2 at 7:00 pm expecting a large rush, being a Sunday. I couldn't have underestimated it more. The place was teeming, with people walking in and curiously there were many onlookers from the street, with a large posse of policemen about. I wasn't sure what was afoot, but I plunged in anyway. Heard cheers to my right and caught an outstretched hand waving about, unmistakably the gesture of Dev Anand saab. I knew Lata Mangeshkar and he were being saluted by the PIFF for their lifetime achievements, but the obvious implication hadn't knocked on the my mind's door quite yet. Thinking this would be a good time to stake my claim for a seat while everyone gaped at the star, I rushed ahead to the appropriate theatre. A few people were moving in, so did I. And was promptly rewarded with my next mini-surprise. The place was full and a screening was in progress. My reflexes were probably on vacation, so I struggled to make sense of what I was seeing. The earlier film should have been completed by now, as per my calculations. Wait a minute - wasn't that film supposed to be in Chinese? And what was Preity Zinta doing on the screen? Perhaps someone glimpsed the light-bulbs going on behind my head as I sheepishly asked the attendant where the Festival screenings were. Directed to the largest audi in the place, I walked in time to see the dignitaries filing in. Apparently, there had been a massive change in plans with the awards being given out "right here, right now". Which meant that some other "normal" shows had been cancelled or moved. Which explained why one elder gent was trying to sell me a ticket to Out of Control as I was coming in, he had probably surveyed the incoming crowd for the innocent bumpkin and apparently zeroed in on me. The cunningness of the plan is derived from the fact that the Out of Control show had been cancelled. Being one of those who were not planning to watch Vashu Bhagnani productions even if he turned Cashu Bucknani and was offering financial incentives to attend the screenings, I had to politely decline. Determined to make a game of it, the powers-that-rule the world sent another guy who wanted to know if I could take another person on my pass, and when I said that couldn't happen, wanted me to sneak him in anyway. "Let's try", he says. Must be my face.
Back to the ceremony, the security contingent was explained by the presence of Sharad Pawar, Kalmadi and, I suspect, also because of Sanjay Dutt. Kiran Shantaram, son of the illustrious V.S was there too. Kalmadi showed why he is such a bad orator but still managed to unveil plans of including a competitive section at PIFF from next year. Dev saab and Lata Mangeshkar received their awards to standing ovations and spoke rather well too. The venerable Anand mused on his days in Pune as a fledgling actor and on his future projects which seem to be not too different from all his ventures since Hare Rama Hare Krishna with the well-proven unsuccessful formula. I wonder where he gets his funding from! Lata on the other hand took a dig at Punekars after recounting that Pune was where she won her first singing competition in 1941 and also lost her father here (she has commemorated Pt. Deenanath Mangeshkar with a hospital in this city) which led to her having to enter (grudgingly) the film business, thereby hinting at some of the bad experiences she's had here. She then wondered (half-tongue-in-cheek) why Pune had taken so long to felicitate her. Sharad Pawar then showed some of the skills that make him a successful politician by matching her in wit and panache. In response, he said she must be familiar with the ways of suspicious Punekars, who do not easily believe even in the purity of gold unless they have tested it in umpteen ways. Perhaps it was when she won the Bharat Ratna that they were finally convinced! Pawar also took a small dig at Dev saab who had said he was making a film called Beauty Queen and would personally search for the actress! Pawar said he had thought life after 60 was for being quiet and sedate, Dev Anand had given him lots of inspiration for a little bit of frolicking.
Having done the star-gazing on offer, I was expecting the shows for Kill Bill to get underway soon. Next surprise: all the shows that night had been cancelled summarily. Worse, the only other show was at City Pride, for which I needed the services of a teleport. No shows for the day therefore, and had missed Mathrubhoomi as well. I heard later on that it was quite "hardhitting" and "excellent".
This was the day for the direct conflict. NFAI had High Noon while E^2, after a routine reshuffle, was showing a film I was awaiting with great anticipation: Maqbool. There was also the chance to see it in the company of some of the Maqbool team. High Noon had to take the dive. More on Maqbool in a separate post. Later in the day was a Mel Brooks' spoof called Blazing Saddles. Utterly timepass, this spoof Western is as politically incorrect as it gets and takes a swipe at everyone from Cecil B. De Mille to the Oscars. I found the scene where the cast has to emerge from filming to get into a scrap with a rival production (of a musical) and then goes back to the main story especially funny. Though I'm quite surprised how it got the few Oscar nominations that came its way.
Maqbool was preceded by some awful scraps. Despite getting there 1 hr 15 mins earlier, found many people outside the closed doors. As soon as they opened, there was a rough push as usual. Inside, we found that about 25-30 seats had been reserved, ostensibly for the cast (of which there were only 3 later one) and as it later turned out, for members of the E^2 top brass, which lead to a great deal of consternation. There were a lot of verbal exchanges too - one idiotic lady had strewn her dupatta across no less than 5 seats, whereas those moronic students had captured atleast one seat each, which led to the strange situation of about half the place being empty but people coming in couldn't get a seat. FCFS doesn't mean that a person coming in can also reserve seats for people coming in later. Some of the E^2 crew intervened to stop all this nonsense, but since they themselves were keeping seats for their bosses, their position was rather weak. It was pretty disgraceful all around.
Clearly the day where I would be spoiled for choices. Seven as it turned out. I watched three (Stagecoach, On the Waterfront and surprise, surprise, Kill Bill Vol. I). Which meant I missed out on The Killing Fields, Devi Ahilya, Wagon Master and most of all Rajat Kapoor's Raghu Romeo. Raghu Romeo was again one of those "meet-the-cast" dos, but it meant I would miss Brando in a role I had wanted to view for a while. Raghu Romeo would probably present further opportunities in the months ahead, so I don't feel too bad missing it now. I would also avoid the rucks-and-mauls that had accompanied the entry to Maqbool.
Stagecoach was the classic Western, with the noble outlaw (my first full glimpse of John Wayne) and an assortment of characters complete with Apaches and righteous law-enforcers - a typical John Ford offering. On the Waterfront is dominated by the deeply brooding Brando in his Oscar winning role as Terry Malloy. The ultimate one-man-reformed-by-the-love-of-a-girl-versus-the-mob story.
Kill Bill Vol. I was one instance where the reshuffle of the programme worked in my favour. Apparently done because of all the demand, there were now two simultaneous shows at 8:30 pm which I caught. Not without generating another post, so it'll be there somewhere above. Can however mention that I helped start a queue outside the doors in light of all that had happened before on earlier days. Also heard that things had taken a turn for the worse earlier that day when a girl was caught in a mini-stampede (must've been the Raghu Romeo screening) and sustained minor injuries. The E^2 people should be blamed for allowing things to get this way and by displaying a curious lack of common sense. The queues were allowed to get menacingly large before the doors were opened, instead of doing so earlier and having a smaller queue to manage with a steady flow. Crowd management is getting to be a serious issue at all these kinds of places and I wonder if that's something which people are concerned about. I couldn't help thinking that how devastating a fire would be in such a circumstance - these aspects must be soundly criticised. No one here seems to have learnt much after the events at Delhi's international film fest a few months ago, for the parking arrangements were such that there was near-total darkness in the allotted areas. Such incidents are rare in Pune, alright, but it takes one occurrence to shake that confidence. Add to it the recent upsurge in small robberies and chain-snatching, even murders of the elderly in the city and it can be quite a worrying factor in the organization of such events.
The Kill Bill Vol. I entry was more amicably resolved, but that didn't mean a cessation of hostilities in the Reservations struggle. Couple of nuts had reserved a seat for a guy who never looked like turning up. There was another empty seat next to this one. One elderly chap strode in like a Patton tank, flung the sweater kept to save the seat away, and sat down, getting his wife a place too. The nuts who had kept the seat got into an argument, in which they were out-shouted by Patton, who despite his wife's obvious embarrassment, didn't mind using a few coarser synonyms for the micturation process (coarser than he would've done in public) when those morons offered it as an excuse to explain no bum on the seat. "Jiski seat hai, woh uspe baiTha hota hai" was another volley from the infantry. I felt like leaning over and saying three cheers for The General, and couldn't help feeling it was setting the stage nicely for the Fourth offering by Quentin Tarantino.
Another interesting anecdote (of which there have been so many already): Jabbar Patel came down before the Kill Bill Vol. I screening to announce that Dev Anand saab had won the Dadasaheb Phalke award. Apparently, in a press conference on Monday, the octogenarian had been asked if he regretted not getting the same, to which he said he was happy that atleast Pune remembered him (he's a smart man, in his speech on Sunday, he tugged at the Pune strings again by saying he would film a movie in Pune if he got "a dynamic script" to direct). Interestingly, at the NFAI on Monday, I had seen the gallery of portraits of previous Phalke award winners - there were exactly 32 spots and all were taken. I was wondering then when the next Phalke winner would be announced and what they would do then in terms of space for the portrait. I think I'll be able to find out sooner than I thought. It all nicely ties up. (Update: Just read George's post on the topic and realised Yash Chopra's shot is missing too. No government funds I suppose. Dev saab won't be too lucky - a portrait in a place on Prabhat Road would've been somewhat appropriate. I agree with GT on his opinions on the choices made in the past, present and future.)
A day of rest, as I had already seen the biggie on offer: Seven Samurai. Also looking back at the last few days. One of the aims of a film fest is to provide a platform for lesser known directors and countries without the publicity machines to show their talents. Sadly, I haven't been able to participate in encouraging them, having opted to go for the big names instead. Principally, this was because I hadn't seen some of the classics and was getting a chance to look at them. Also, the schedule was such that some of these smaller films whose synopses I had liked clashed with others I wanted to see - films by Jacques Tati and Jiri Menzel were in this category - though this is a less acceptable excuse. Considering this is my first time at a film festival, I wouldn't feel too upset about this - perhaps next time. The main attractions for me for the last day of the event, i.e. Thursday, are Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne and Warriors of the Heaven and Earth. I have seen the Ray children's classic suitably as a child (during a series on DD that had landmark films by Raj Kapoor, Ray, S.S.Vasan & Guru Dutt) and would love to renew my acquaintance with it, having forgotten much of it. The Chinese film, on the other hand, is mainly because of the ARR connection.