Indian Film Festival of Melbourne Reveals Edgy Side of Indian Cinema

Indian Film Festival of Melbourne Reveals Edgy Side of Indian Cinema
Still from "Raja Harishchandra"
(Courtesy IFFM)

If you think that Indian cinema begins and ends with Bollywood, think again. If you need proof then the program for the upcoming Indian Film Festival of Melbourne (IFFM) should suffice. Returning to Melbourne after a successful inaugural festival in 2012, the 2013 festival promises to be even better as Australia joins the 100th anniversary of Indian film celebrations.   

The 2013 festival has been curated by IFFM Director Mitu Bhowmick Lange who is also Director of Mind Blowing Films, a film production / distribution company which specialises in Indian films. Lange is incredibly passionate about Indian cinema and it shows show in the incredible lineup of films and amazing roster of special guests that she has organised.

Visitors to the Festival will be challenged, intrigued, and entertained by the best that the Indian film industry has to offer. From Indian films shot in Australia to edgy Bengali art house flicks that deal with issues of untouchability and women’s rights. And yes, there are the obligatory Bollywood films, but not all conform to the Bollywood cliché. “The IFFM will completely change perceptions of Bollywood cinema,” Lange explains. “There are of course the more traditional song and dance films, but also some cool new-age indie films.”

Special guests include Pamela Chopra, the wife of Festival Patron Yash Chopra who passed away in 2013; choreographer, actress, and filmmaker Farah Khan; actor Jimmy Shergill; and the festival ambassador, Vidya Balan, an actress that Lange describres as “the only actress who can carry a film completely on her shoulders in the male dominated Indian film industry.”

Vidya Balan is a fantastic ambassador not only for the IFFM but also for the rights of Indian women in general. Although the Indian film industry is still very much male dominated, changes are in the wind. According to Lange there are more women-oriented films being produced that feature a more realistic portrayal of Indian cinema, which is great. However, the Bollywood industry is still dominated by male chauvinists, she says. “Beating a woman is fine but kissing is not fine.”

Lange identifies the very first full-length Indian feature film, Dadasaheb Phalke’s 1913 drama “Raja Harishchandra,” as the highlight of the festival. Surprisingly, if there was one film that will change people’s perception of Indian cinema, this could well be it. This silent features men in drag playing the part of women who were not allowed to act in films at the time. “Raja Harishchandra” is the opening night film and the focal point of the Indian cinema 100th anniversary celebrations.

In celebration of the 100th anniversary of Indian cinema the Australian Centre for the Moving Image will host a program of fifteen of the most brilliant Indian films from the last 100 years curated by leading professors in India. Films featured in the program include “Om Shanti Om,” “Mughal-e-azam,” “Mughal-e-azam,” and “3 Idiots.”

Another highlight of the festival will be the world premier Jimmy Sheirgill’s Punjabi film “Rangeelay,” a comedy centred around the shenanigans of three loan recovery agents.  The lead role is played by Sheirgill himself with his two sidekicks played by Rana Ranbir and Binnu Dhillon. There will also be 20 Australian premieres during the festival including “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” a political thriller directed by Mira Nair that was selected to open the Venice Film Festival.

Lange is also particularly excited about the inclusion of two English-language films, especially the small indie film “Delhi in a Day” by Paris-based director Prashant Nair. The gritty exploration of the Indian class system was partly crowd funded using social media as the catalyst. According to the movie website, “’Delhi In A Day’ is a comedic portrayal of upper-class Delhi society, examining class differences in the context of a nouveau-riche, contemporary Delhi family home.”

When asked what makes Indian cinema so special, Lange explains that Indian films are emotional and warm hearted. “We are all human,” Lange says, “and Indian films are very emotional, they reach out to billions of people and are able to touch a cord.” It is perhaps the origins of the Indian film industry that led to the development of such a universally relevant and poignant film industry. Lange explains that films were a form of escapism for Indian people, a source of entertainment and pure joy. In recent years directors and filmmakers have built on that strong foundation to develop more explorative and experimental films that deal with the social changes that are taking place in India. But at the end of the day entertainment is the still the basis of the Indian film industry.

All the IFFM films have English subtitles which means there is no excuse not to venture out and explore everything that the Indian film industry has to offer. You will be glad you did.

For more information check out the IFFM website here