Monday, 21 May 2012

LIFF 2012: 'A rollercoaster ride of great Indian Cinema'

Organizers of the 2012 Cannes Film Festival have resolved – it seems – to confine to the vault of distant, unpleasant memories, the rather injudicious inclusion of Aishwarya Rai in its venerable jury by this year feting a far more apt ambassador for India and its’ rich cinematic history.

The doyen of the subcontinent’s independent cinema, Anurag Kashyap, will premier his latest project, ‘Gangs of Wasseypur’ at the Festival’s prestigious Director’s Fortnight: a showcase for unconventional filmmakers from around the world that runs parallel to Cannes’ main competition.

But for those unable to journey across the Channel to enjoy the festivities at the Little Cross Drive, Kashyap’s epic thriller will also be screened as part of the London Indian Film Festival, which returns to the capital for the 3rd time this June.

‘Gangs’ is a 2-part tour de force, based on the coal industry mafia in the impoverished Indian state of Bihar and is part of an impressive list of cutting edge films that will be shown during the two-week long LIFF.
The film is also the latest high profile, non-mainstream motion picture to open the Festival.

In 2010 - the year of its inception - LIFF opened with Love Sex Aur Dhoka; Dibakar Banerjee's controversial portrayal of the sensationalist Indian media.  And in 2011 the Festival hosted the international premier of Delhi Belly: the occasionally crass, often sublime, excrement-laden, two-fingered salute to Bollywood convention.
The selection of films at the Festival's two previous iterations have been routinely outstanding and is testament to LIFF's growing stature as Europe's premier showcase for independent Indian cinema.
Speaking exclusively to The UKAsian, Festival Director Cary Sawhney says the 2012 roster will be electric:  "We have everything from an acclaimed children's movie to a really sexy film that you wouldn't take your granny to.

There are action-packed gangster films with plenty of violence and gore to a colourful film about transvestites.  It's going to be a rollercoaster ride this year with films never before seen in the UK or Europe."

Festivals showcasing Indian cinema have been held in cities as far afield as Florence and Los Angeles - not to mention in London itself - for a number of years, with varying degrees of success.

Despite its status as a relative newcomer however, the London Indian Film Festival has managed to capture the imagination of cinema fans and filmmakers alike by providing an international platform for movies that not only portray the self-assurance and vibrancy of modern India but its' myriad frailties as well.

"There is a new breed of high quality cinema that is coming out of India at the moment and LIFF strives to reflect that" Sawhney continues.  "There is a new zeitgeist powered by India’s younger generation.  They are not just interested in Bollywood as we know it.  Interestingly enough, it’s not just the multiplexes that are being sold out but the smaller 200 or 300-seat cinemas as well.

These films are a mixture of East and West.  Obviously the younger generation in India have been exposed to MTV and the internet and they are more aware of their surroundings as well as what’s happening in the outside world.  They are more attuned to the Tele-Visual quality of films and they are demanding that Bollywood and the Indian cinema industry embrace that level of quality."

Apart from providing a platform for talented filmmakers from India, events such as LIFF are helping to take uniquely Indian stories beyond the vast and omnipresent Indian Diaspora which has helped provide Bollywood with an apparently 'global' appeal.  "In the British context, there’s very little crossover from Bollywood to the mainstream", Sawhney says.

"However, what is happening is that there is an increasing proliferation of independent Indian cinema that has the capability to crossover to mainstream audiences. 

The trouble is that most critics for instance, think that all Indian cinema is Bollywood, and distributors are nervous to take on these projects.  So we are in a bubble that needs to be broken out of.  We need to show that independent Indian films can be sold out and reach a wider audience.  If we can sell out a cinema at the Southbank or the Cineworld in Ilford, that’s a triumph.

It tells people that independent Indian cinema can work.  25% of our audience are non-Asians and it’s growing every year."

And in the new digital age, when the sub-continent is projected warts and all through an endless stream of news feeds and social media updates, there is a growing appetite for a view of India that is not rose-tinted: "India represents a whole host of different things to different people and that’s what I think, people want to see.

The media – particularly mainstream media – have embraced us and our aim is to get a mainstream audience much like Brazilian cinema or French cinema has in the UK."
Part of the reason for Bollywood's relative lack of crossover appeal has been the industry's often bizarre emulation of Hollywood: whilst recent mainstream films such as Ra:One and Players have been ambitious in terms of technical nous and style, a lack of stories that are authentically Indian have rendered them staggeringly expensive follies devoid of all heart.
It's a problem that an ever increasing number of independent filmmakers and a handful of individuals from the Bollywood mainstream are slowly attempting to rectify.  "I think Bollywood is embracing independent cinema.  Aamir Khan’s championing of films such as Delhi Belly and Peepli Live has allowed other independent filmmakers to come to the fore.

He’s done a great service to the industry I think.  What's more, people are understanding the need to be rooted in authentically Indian stories but perhaps infusing some Hollywood flare into the movie making process.  Not having a dance sequence every five  minutes for one thing!  Delhi Belly was a really good example of that.

There is a western style to it but it’s an authentically Indian story even with some Bollywood elements to it.  That’s why it was so successful; some of it is rude, some of it crass and some absolutely beautiful. That’s the kind of combination that we want to showcase at LIFF."

That ambition has helped the London Indian Film Festival attract a quite formidable list of partners, not least Film London, the British Film Institute and perhaps most notably, the venerable Satyajit Rai Foundation, which sponsors LIFF's £1000 short film competition. 

"This year we have had entries from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh as well as from Europe.  The aim of the competition is to highlight films that reflect the work of arguably India’s greatest filmmaker; not just his skill in creating great cinema but also his love for India and the humanitarian nature of his work."
Apart from the Short Film Competition, the 2012 edition of LIFF will feature an experimental Indian film presented by Tate Modern curated by Shahid Iyer.
For industry professionals, the Festival will host a number of networking events where UK-based producers can explore productions in India and get an understanding on issues such as taxation and co-production.  "These networking events are one of the most important aspects of the Festival because not only do we want to be a showcase for great Indian cinema but we also need to get people exchanging ideas and expertise and making great movies in India about India."
- Viji Alles

The London Indian Film Festival runs from June 20 to July 3 and will stretch city-wide opening at the Cineworld Haymarket  and continuing at BFI Southbank, Watermans, Cineworld Trocadero, Feltham, Wood Green, Wandsworth, the O2 and ICA.
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