By: Vivek Mohan
I was writing a piece on Ganapati Bappa Morya in the evening when the mobile rang… it was the Directorate of Film Festivals from the I&B ministry… asking me to be part of the coveted 5-member national jury to select non-features (docus, short features and animation) films for the prestigious Indian Panorama at the 41st IFFI in Goa from 22nd November to 2nd December? I might have said polite ‘NO’ to girls, but this had to be ‘YES, YES, YES – ‘Kabool Hai’ all the way!
From that evening to our arrival every moment was a countdown every hour! There were 5 of us… Siddartha Kak as chairman (of ‘SURUBHI’ fame and I’ve worked with him on his STAR1 serial “Mano ya na mano”), Jabeen Merchant (an ace woman editor from Mumbai), Gargi Sen and veteran Meera Deewan from Delhi. After formal intros, we got down to brasstacks… chalking out our strategy how to go about the whole process even though the DFF had laid down a reference plan to ease the clutter. We also had a cute, young co-coordinator from journalism background doing her apprenticeship with the DFF, Molly Gambhir. We all were a beautifully-knit team agreeing also to disagree during our brainstorming after every screening much to the delight of the officials later! We had to select 19 films out of about 100, the 20th is the top National Award winner for that year.
India does not fail to amaze me! A troubled hill state like Manipur had 9 entries (Govt., NGO’s, private producers) out of which 2 were selected. One of them was a sheer poetry in cinema – the story of an old man and his granddaughter whose parents are killed in the riots! How she anxiously awaits his return from a sudden riot-affected town to ferry him back to their abode next to the river. The state even has a film development council.
The only consolation as far as our dear state Himachal is concerned was a beautifully-woven story of Indian Ocean band – a two-hour-long saga watched with rapt attention by all – where a scene had shots of St. Bede’s college and Shimla-Kalka highway… I couldn’t hold my excitement after the show…others already knew I’m mad as I always came with my one-liners to ease the growing tensions during deliberations! On the 1st day itself we saw about 15 films and none came up to be anywhere near a final nod… as Molly was instructing the projectionist behind to show the “ugly” film to which I told her to change it to ‘next’ so that we may get some beautiful fare, to everyone’s amusement!
Another very interesting short fiction film “Courtroom Nautanki” (the narrative had that style) was from a film school in the South. A small-time thief enters a house whose occupants are in the process of shifting and suddenly on the radio our National Anthem plays! The thief stands in attention and consequently gets caught! The judge gives him benefit of doubt and reduces his sentence… coincidentally the same day the papers had Priyadarshni Mattoo rape and murder judgment as headlines apart from Commonwealth Games news! We all talked about it in the context of the film too! Even evil has a touch of good as every good also has a touch of evil! How one life touches many on either side. Human touch.
Once we finished very early and few of us decided to go shopping and took Molly along as our friend, philosopher and Delhi guide… Delhi Haat, Janpath and FabIndia…rounding up with a lovely dinner at Molly’s suggested Italian joint. I also had friends, colleagues, relatives to catch up with an also – Delhi distances! I also used to give swimming lessons to Jabeen in the mornings after my laps… this is the first thing I had learnt in Mumbai as a pahadi!
Now we all assemble in Goa from 22nd to 27th … PC’s, off. functions, interactions with all the selected filmmakers! The only visual representation will be my black Kinnauri cap with the Monal pankh (now banned) and not maroon or green, as my dress code for this trip is Black!
I hope and wish we grow out of our cheap CD ‘culture ‘ political or otherwise as a Tamil poet said, “It’s easy to wake up a sleeping person than the one pretending to sleep!”
(Vivek Mohan is a national award-winning filmmaker from Sanjauli, Shimla and is based in Goregaon, Mumbai)