Sunday, 12 April 2015

Vidya Balan & Mitu Bhowmick Lange @ 2015 IFFM curtain raiser, 10 April 2015

In Vidya Balan's multiple award-winning 'The Dirty Picture', a caricature of an aging Indian cinema hero named Surya -- who sees nothing wrong with an actress playing his lover in one film and his mother in the next -- makes the following declaration:
A heroine's life is like an elected government: The party lasts for 5 years. After that it's there for support.
'The Dirty Picture' may have been set in the '80s but until recently it would have been easy to say nothing's changed. Bollywood's leading men continue to woo women half their age, while the heroines they pursued at the start of their careers play mothers or get trundled out of the industry entirely. It's a man's game in front of the camera, behind the lens and in Mumbai's skyscrapers of power.

But there are signs Indian cinema is being dragged into the 21st century, and two of those pulling the hardest were together again in a Melbourne skyscraper on Friday morning to 'raise the curtain' on the 2015 Indian Film Festival of Melbourne.

Luckily, so was I.

For the third year in a row Festival Director Mitu Bhowmick Lange stood before gathered press, dignitaries and invited guests and introduced Balan as IFFM's ambassador. As usual they proclaimed their shared vision and dedication to the diversity of Indian cinema, but this year I got a visceral sense of the profundity of their partnership. What other film star takes such a personal stake in a film festival nearly 10,000 kms from her home? What organiser has the moxie to build a successful Indian-based film festival in a city where Indian films barely make a dent? Their name recognition may differ but their courage and conviction do not, and I'd venture to say they inspire each other to force the change that needs to happen if Indian cinema is to remain relevant and vibrant to its worldwide audience.

A greaseball like Surya would find his ass whipped six ways to Sunday if he crossed either of their paths. As a joined force Vidya and Mitu could defeat an army of Suryas. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a show I'd pay good money to see.

Melbourne sparkled in every direction on a perfect autumn morning. 

Mitu welcomed Vidya at the elevators. By the time they walked through the doors of a meet and greet session they looked and sounded like reunited sisters.

Prior to the press conference, Vidya exchanged gifts with a Liberal minister named Martin Foley. When asked about continued funding for the IFFM, the new minister assured support from the Australian government would be forthcoming. He and his government will be held to those words.

The fourth IFFM will be the first to feature a theme: equality. Vidya praised Mitu for 'adding a social nerve core' to the festival, 'not something that comes instinctively' in an industry mostly concerned with commercial success. Vidya expressed satisfaction with the increased scope of the 2015 IFFM and hoped it would lead to a growing 'footfall of non-Indian Australians' at the festival. She went on to implore festival-goers to 'bring their families, friends, colleagues ... their DOGS' along with them. I bet the big cheese of cinema chain Hoyts, who was in attendance, got a kick out of that remark.

During a Q&A that was blessedly free of personal questions, an audience member noted the symbolism of Vidya and Mitu being the driving forces behind the IFFM in a patriarchal industry and culture. A wonderful point, and -- perhaps -- a symbol of the overdue respect Vidya's earned as a conscientious woman in the film industry. I've been to all three of Vidya's IFFM press conferences and this was the first to be free of cringeworthy commentary or asinine prying. Another sign of progress. Vidya jokingly referred to herself as the 'biggest ambassador for Melbourne' and said she was 'trying to convince everyone I know to shoot a film in Melbourne.' Asked for her top memories of IFFM, Mitu described Vidya's historic visit to the MCG in 2012 and how she 'floored' TV-personality Eddie McGuire during a live interview.

She also described Amitabh Bachchan taking a selfie (left) from the stage of last year's inaugural IFFM Awards Night and how it made her feel truly at home in Melbourne for the first time. As someone lucky enough to be seated two rows behind the screen legend, and who witnessed the sometimes terrifying degree devotees will go to express their love for a man they've never met but carry in their hearts like a living embodiment of their homeland, I can't begin to imagine what was going through Mitu's mind as the crowd shouted his name and Mr Bachchan -- Amitabh freakin' Bachchan -- playfully snapped a photo of himself on the stage of Melbourne's Princess Theatre. Besides feeling at home, I'd hope she'd also be thinking something along the lines of ... 'I did this.'

Vidya is every inch the movie star yet comes across as both whipsmart and personable. Mitu repeatedly thanked her for raising the 'credibility and visibility' of the IFFM to where it's now in the 'top two or three' Indian film festivals in the world. That's a remarkable accomplishment in such a small market. Mitu said the equality theme would encompass 'gender, race, sexuality and disability' and the August festival would feature a fashion show and recognition of Indian Independence Day on 15 August. She also said a festival program would be out in June. After thanking IFFM's loyal sponsors, Mitu praised her staff at Mind Blowing Films, who work tirelessly to make her vision real.

I'd also like to thank Mitu and everyone at Mind Blowing Films for the kindness they've shown me over the years. A more earnest and committed group you will never find.

No comments: