Film Festivals Gobble Up Film Clubs

From film societies or film clubs as they were known, we have moved on to film festivals. A major city and its satellite towns had few film societies where films from other countries, especially non-traditional markets, were screened. Film societies had limited number of members because, the number of discerning film buffs was also limited. If a stranger happened to overhear two such film talk, he would be lost at sea!

The first film society was formed in Calcutta in 1947.  The film buffs in other cities took the cue and film societies sprang up in Delhi (1956), Bombay (1957), Roorkee and Patna (1958) with Agra and Faizabad following (1959).

This growing interest and seeking exposure to films from the world over led to formation of film clubs and, to consolidate them, the umbrella body, the Federation of Film Societies of India (FFSI) was formed in 1959. This facilitated exchange of views, speakers and film prints across societies. This initiative of forming FFSI came from Satyajit Ray and Chidananda Dasgupta.

The film societies organised regular screenings and the members got the privilege of watching films which, otherwise, would not be available on commercial cinema circuit. The theatrical audience got to watch films mainly from Hollywood and some from The United Kingdom. Besides these, India had a pact with the USSR to import a certain number of films a year from them. Their films being mostly propaganda and bland, failed to attract many viewers.

As far as film societies go, Kerala region was most active. It had 118 registered with FFSI as against just 11 in Delhi. Eastern India, mainly, Calcutta, the forbearer of the movement had, 65 as against 43 in Western India. 

These figures are from the FFSI portal which was last updated in March 2014.

Now that tells a story. As the digital era took over, the era of physical print came to end. Not only that, it made any content you desired available on the click of a mouse and later on your smart phone. The worldwide menu of films and documentary became available online. 

Initially, this led to the stagnation of this movement called film societies and, gradually, disintegration. 

Then came film festivals. While the film societies survived purely on membership fees, film festivals of every hue and size managed a sponsor or sponsors. Every major city and satellite town around moved on to holding film festivals attracting more footfalls then the film societies. There was also a scope to charge nominal admission fees. 

No wonder then that the FFSI is dormant since 2014! Though, some such societies still exist, not much happens there. The enthusiasm just does not exist anymore. What as good as put paid to film society movement was this trend of Film Festivals. 

The Government of India launched the International Film Festival of India in 1952 in Delhi, inaugurated by the then PM, Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru was a filmgoer and caught up with film viewing in any of the Connaught Place cinemas with rest of the audience. Those were not the days of security protocol. 

The inaugural Film Festival was held under the auspice of the Films Division, a government enterprise. Earlier, most of the IFFI were held in Delhi though the place had nothing to do with film or the film industry. Later, as was the policy then, that of placating every region, the venue of the festival rotated around the major metros of the India like Delhi, Madras, Calcutta and so on. 

The IFFI was the first such fete in India but that meant little since few other countries produced films as against India which produced film in various languages, even more than the USA or many countries combined.

The Film Festival of India, was never taken seriously. The Government and the bureaucracy knew little about films in India, let alone films from abroad. The rotation of the Festival sort of made it a local film fest rather than the national or international one.

In 2004, the Goa Chief Minister, Manohar Parrikar, lobbied and succeeded in bringing the IFFI to Goa and make it a permanent venue for this annual event. That did the trick. After all, the location added to attraction. 

This year, the IFFI in Goa had registered 7000 delegates at a fee of Rs 1000 per head. That was besides the media, which did not have to pay a fee. I don’t know why, but there is a limit to the number of films the delegates can see and the media can. The media gets a better deal and without paying anything. Of course, no lodging boarding is provided. 

When it comes to lodging boarding, it is provided to all those connected with the festival. The jury members who select the films, the glamour quotient that is invited from Mumbai from day to day basis and so on. They get 5 star stay, to and fro vegrerah vagerah. What is telling is that, the actual film industry from either Mumbai or from South, the ones who make films, show scant interest in IFFI!   

As the count of the film societies showed, the delegates at the IFFI are mostly from South, Kerala leading the pack. They come in hoards. The interest in the IFFI loses out to the charm of Goa. I see more delegates loitering around the areas around Panjim, the Panjim market and the food courts. As for the venues of screenings, while Kala Academy did see real time enthuse, INOX, failed to draw much crowd. 

This year, the IFFI also missed the presence of the Goa CM, Parrikar, and the driving force behind the fest. He lies unwell and the Goans fear that the jamboree will end if something were to happen to him.

While the South thronged the IFFI this year, the foreign representation was as good as non-existent. That is, save for all paid for invitees. 

All said about the IFFI, move on to domestication of film festivals. The film societies have been replaced by film festivals. Just about every city worth its name organises one. 

All over the world, the film festivals have become a racket. In that, some festivals are launched but don’t last and are wrapped in. There are reportedly over 9500 festivals out of which just about 3000 are active. There are as many as 50 small and big film festivals held in India!  Some of our filmmakers participate in an obscure festival and come back to use the leaf motif to promote their film in the media. The media does not care if a film won any award or just participated!

There are some producers who misuse the name of Cannes Film Festival, the most prestigious. They just announce “Such and such film for Cannes”. This in no way means the said film is invited. Festivals have various sections like International Competition, World and host country Panorama, Retrospectives, Marketing and so on. Those using these Festival motifs may not know but this only mars a film’s commercial prospects as a viewer soon slots the film as arty!

This year’s International Film Festival, the 49th edition has just concluded in Goa. Strangely, our mainstream filmmakers don’t seem very interested in participating. Yes, they fly in and out of Goa on invitation from the organisers for the opening and closing ceremonies besides certain events. That is the organisers’ attempt to add glamour.

Also, surprising is the fact that despite hundreds of media persons attending, the media coverage that the IFFI gets is minimal.

@ The Box Office

*Talking of festivals, this seems to be a festival of stale, held up films of Sunny Deol. A week earlier, it was Mohalla Assi which, as expected, failed badly.

The week saw another Sunny Deol release in Bhaiyaji Super Hit. The film managed to collect a mere three crore for its opening weekend and is expected to close its first week with five crore at best.

*Badhaai Ho has proved to be the biggest hit of the season, still running with decent figures. The film will have collected about 133 crore at the end of its sixth week.

*Thursday saw the release of 2.0 (3-D), a science fiction with Rajinikant and Akshay Kumar playing the lead roles. This is said to be the costliest film made in India so far at 350 crore. Remains to be seen how much Akshay Kumar’s presence helps the film in the Hindi belt since Rajinikant’s draw here is very limited.