The film's final story involved a man's unhinged attempt to get Amitabh Bachchan to take a bite of a murabba for the sake of his dying father. Fitting, and ironic, as Mr Bachchan was originally scheduled to close this year's IFFM with a screening of his 1975 hit 'Deewaar'. In a brief speech before the film, festival director Mitu Bhowmick Lange apologised for Mr Bachchan's absence and shared an assurance from Big B's people that the Bollywood legend would attend next year's IFFM.
|Opening night starpower.|
-- Director Kabir Khan, who quietly presided over a Bollywood dance contest in Fed Square the following night before giving a masterclass the next day about his move from documentary filmmaker to director of the second highest-grossing Bollywood film of all time, 'Ek Tha Tiger'
-- Dancer/actor/director Prabhudeva, also a judge at the dance contest, and who was urged to 'DANCE DANCE DANCE' by the Fed Square crowd each time his thin frame got on stage
|Simi Garewal and Vidya Balan|
-- Former actor and current director/TV talk show host Simi Garewal (standing here with Vidya Balan), who gave a thought-provoking presentation at Maelbourne University on the evolution -- or not -- of women in Indian cinema
-- Actor and 2-time IFFM ambassador Vidya Balan, who was her usual delightful self
-- Choreographer/director/actress Farah Khan, who was the lead judge of the dance contest and whose natural humour would be the envy of any standup comedian
-- Indian cinema royalty Pamela Chopra, widow of Yash Chopra, who was gently coerced into singing a snippet of a tune from 'Veer-Zaara', one of her husband's many mega-hits and a film whose soundtrack was released at the same time Aradhna and I met in 2004. In other words, it's a sentimental favourite.
-- Previously mentioned and very pregnant festival director
Mitu Bhowmick Lange. (Vidya's bodyguard is standing behind Mitu -- my wife Aradhna recognised him from last year's film festival. She was pleased to see him again. Let's leave it at that.)
Despite the presence of Bollywood dignitaries the cinema on opening night was only half-full. The folks at IFFM, who are affiliated with a Melbourne-based distribution & production company called Mind Blowing Films, put together a phenomenal festival every year but have yet to truly connect with Melbourne's growing Indian community. I don't claim to possess the secret to marketing to a notoriously penny-pinching audience but an event this good deserves a broader audience ... an audience of film lovers, not just Indian cinema lovers.
|Kabir Khan and Prabhudeva|
[Sidenote: Mitu's resemblance to Vidya in 2012's 'Kahaani' -- a film Simi Garewal called a 'game-changer in Indian cinema' for its casting of a heavily pregnant Vidya as lead protagonist -- never failed to make me smile. Not just for the physical resemblance, but for the strength and patience she had in abundance at the many events she oversaw. Awe inspiring is how I'd describe it.]
If Vidya was the heart of the festival, Farah Khan was the wit. Possessing none of the physical attributes of a typical female Bollywood star, Farah is a tightly compressed force of nature who seems always on the verge of laughter or a volley of words.
|Vidya Balan and Farah Khan|
Aradhna and I recently watched a movie she starred in last year with an actor named Boman Irani called 'Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi'. It was shocking to see a product of Indian cinema focus on a romance of two over-40s, but Farah's personality shone through and energised the film, making its sometimes silly conceits believable. Seeing her in-person at this year's IFF made her many successes in a male-dominated industry, which includes writing and directing the sublime box office smash 'Om Shanti Om' in 2007, easy to understand: Who the hell could hope to stop this multi-talented mother of triplets?
|Performers at the Bollywood dance competition in Fed Square.|
|Flinders Street Station glows behind the Fed Square stage.|
|Wouldn't be Bollywood without melodrama.|
|Kabir Khan (far left) resists the demand of crowd and colleagues to break out some moves.|
|Tiny Mitu addresses the large crowd.|
|Farah Khan dances with the night's winners.|
|Kabir Khan masterclass|
|Simi Garewal showing a clip of her own work.|
Simi also showed clips of herself after describing the circumstances of her arrival in Bombay at the age of 15 in the early '60s. How unprepared she was -- 'Learn Hindi!' was her advice for anyone following in her youthful footsteps -- after being raised and educated in London. How she was stunned to see Indian society as it was portrayed in Bollywood films, and how she avoided taking roles that would perpetuate entrenched, negative stereotypes. Simi described how lucky she felt to be mentored by legendary Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray and confessed to loving the negative role she played in Subhash Ghai's 'Karz'. I felt unworthy to shake the hand of the beautiful 'Lady in White' afterward, but she locked eyes and thanked me in a way that turned my legs to jelly as I walked to the Melbourne Uni tram stop. What a legend.
[An entity called Australia Network News posted a report that uses several clips of Simi's presentation, as well as commentary from Mitu, Vidya, Farah and Kabir. Watch it here.]
|He may be taller but believe me, young Girish is dwarfed by these women.|
On a sidenote: Penny's masterclass was held the night before Simi Garewal's presentation. I was grateful that whatever stain Jennifer Lynch left on my psyche was blessedly washed away by Simi's wisdom, strength and inner-beauty.
I found a better Hollywood-meets-Bollywood lesson at the Australian premiere of a film called 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist'. Director Mira Nair has made several such cross-genre films, and I thought 'Fundamentalist' succeeded as an engrossing, post-9/11, East-meets-West drama. Mitu addressed the packed house beforehand and introduced a former Aussie cricketer whose name I forget because I'm not Australian or Indian and therefore have zero interest and/or knowledge of the game's history. The man was clearly comfortable in front of a crowd and acknowledged the time he spent in Pakistan as an international sportsman ('Fundamentalist' takes place in Pakistan and the US). A line of people waiting to take 'selfies' with him stretched to the aisle when the film was over, confirming his international fame.
[Update: I've since been informed by fellow Indian-cinema-loving friend Enid, whom I met at this hear's IFFM and who joined me at the 'Reluctant Fundamentalist' screening, that the cricketer's name was Greg Chappell. Thanks, Ms Prasad.]
Understand, this recap barely scrapes the surface of the staggering number of films shown at this year's IFFM. I just flipped through the brochure again and was reminded of the multi-generational, multi-genre scope of the array of movies shown at five locations: Hoyts in Melbourne Central and Chadstone, ACMI, the outdoor screen in Fed Square and newly Pamela Chopra-christened Yash Chopra Cinema at La Trobe University. I've attended other film festivals, mostly in the US, and would rank this one as one of the best I've ever attended. Its presence in Melbourne is something that must be celebrated and broadcast to the rest of the world. As noted before, I believe it's time Indian cinema was promoted outside its natural ex-pat audience. I'm a bloody Bollywood tragic and I grew up in the shadow of New York City. My wife's devotion to Indian cinema was a rite of childhood and her sharing it with me has been a life-changing gift.
It's time that gift was shared with non-Indian Australians and, most especially, ALL lovers of exceptional cinema.