Indian Flag Hoisting at Indian Stretchable Time
A royal wave from Aishwarya Rai Bachchan was the closest to an apology for running an hour late to the special flag hoisting ceremony at Federation Square in Melbourne on 12 August.
The stunning actress was in town and became the first female actor to hoist the Indian flag at the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne (IFFM) this year.
The star arrived looking splendid in a Manish Malhotra soft blue and white gown with daughter Aaradhya in tow dressed in a white ghagra choli.
The child is often seen attached to her mum as an appendage, which makes one wonder, when does she attend school?
Mommy love was showered in abundance as Ash ruffled Aaradhya’s hair, kissed her cheeks and pointed out at things, including the massive crowd at the event.
Thousands queued up from as early as 10 am to reserve their spots to be able to see one of the most beautiful women in the world.
Much later than expected, they did get a glimpse of utter gorgeousness as the Bollywood royalty swept in amidst tight security.
The formal part of the event started with a special address from Ajay M Gondane, High Commissioner of India to Australia.
As the Tricolour unfurled, Aishwarya closed her eyes, saluted the Indian flag and sang the Indian national anthem along with the crowd.
The tricolour confetti that burst out to shower the crowd made up for the not-so-rousing rendition of the anthem.
We did not, however, envy the person responsible for cleaning it all up after the event.
Gracious, friendly and smiling, Ash made all the right moves including giving a brief speech in Hindi and then translating it into English.
According to Aishwarya, the honour of hoisting the Indian Flag for IFFM would easily be the most memorable moment for her and her daughter Aaradhya.
Unfortunately, not everyone was impressed with the fact that Aishwarya was chosen to do the flag hoisting, and there were some murmurs, particularly on social media, raising a question mark over the choice of the guest. However, we thought that this was being a bit nitpicky, since Aishwarya is a great ambassador for the country, enjoys a clean image and is hugely popular.
Raffed with Parched and Lipstick Under My Burkha
During the special Conversation Hour held at the ABC studios in Southbank, ABC journalist Rafael Epstein could not stop raving about Parched and Lipstick Under My Burkha, so enamoured he was of the two headline films that kickstarted the Festival in 2016 and 2017.
“My 15-year-old daughter is still recovering from watching Lipstick… with me last evening,” he said of the feminist film that was mired in controversy for five months prior to its release.
Alankrita Srivastava, creator of Lipstick…, spoke at length about the heartening response to her out-of-the-box film.
“The film is a personal exploration of the concept of being free, and having dreams and ambitions within the restrictions that are imposed on women in a regressive society,” she said.
Actress Konkona Sen Sharma also talked about her directorial debut and her preference of directing over acting if given a choice.
Among the special guests at the Conversation Hour was Tannishtha Chatterjee, who plays the lead role in Dr Rakhmabai, an Indian woman who fought against child marriage, gender discrimination and right to practise medicine in India.
Rafael also invited Indian film critic and entertainment reporter Rajeev Masand to comment on the current trends in Indian cinema.
“It’s not true that all Indian films are Bollywood films,” said Festival Director Mitu Bhowmick Lange. “And it’s a misconception that all Indian films are over 100 hours long,” she joked, adding that “Through this festival, we keep persisting and showcasing the diversity of Indian films.”
“Indian cinema goes much beyond the song and dance routine that it is often associated with. This year, we have 60 films in 20 languages as well as documentaries and short films, so we are catering to a diverse audience and taste,” said Mitu.
The Conversation Hour that was broadcast and streamed live made for some interesting listening as Raf skilfully drew out responses from the guests. It helped that each one of them was articulate in their expression and passionate about their work.
The Bengali Bhadralok
During the Conversation Hour, Raf went around the guest panel asking everyone which film they grew up watching. With Konkona, Tannishtha and Mitu, there were some common themes as they all come from a Bengali background.
Mitu said with a laugh, “We Bengalis think that the world is divided into two type of people: Bengalis and non-Bengalis.”
The conversation then veered, with good humour, towards Bengali parenting and the culture of elitism that often pervades the Bengali psyche.
The ladies who now rule Bollywood revealed that they were prohibited from watching Bollywood films in their childhood, as they were considered rather common by their Bengali parents.
A little glitz, plenty of glamour and a lot of Kakkar sisters
The IFFM Westpac awards night held at the Melbourne Recital Centre was big on honours, starting with the Best Indie Film award given to Alankrita Srivastava’s Lipstick Under My Burkha.
The Central Board of Film Certification in India had initially banned this movie for its ‘women oriented content.’ After a long battle with the Board and much furore over social media, the movie was given permission to be screened in India, albeit with many cuts.
As the Indian Film Festival Opening Night special, the audience in Melbourne got to watch the uncensored version of this frank film on female desires. Tackling subjects like deep-rooted patriarchy and misogyny that shackles the women depicted in it, Lipstick… definitely left an impression.
The Best Director award was taken by Nitesh Tiwari for Dangal, India’s highest grossing Indian film ever, also listed as the highest grossing Indian film of all time in China.
Rahul Bose collected the Equality in Cinema Award for Poorna, a biographical adventure film based on a 13- year-old who struggled past structural and systemic inequalities to scale Mount Everest.
Director Nitesh Tiwari and Bahubali producer Shobhu Yarlagadda received the Telstra People Choice Award for their respective films. The latter is the highest grossing Indian multilingual film of all time.
Australian filmmaker Garth Davis took the Diversity Award for Lion, his much-acclaimed Australian film on an Indian subject.
Konkona Sen Sharma, who rules the parallel cinema scene in India, won the best actress accolade for her portrayal of Shireen, one of the protagonists in Lipstick Under My Burkha. Sen’s directorial debut movie Death In The Gunj was also screened later at the film festival.
Special mention was made for Rajkumar Rao for his compelling performance in the survival drama film Trapped. Rao lived on a coffee-and-carrot diet for 16 days in preparation for his challenging role as a young man locked in an uninhabited room without food, water or electricity.
The immensely talented Rao said he was thrilled with his first ever international award. So was Sushant Singh Rajput who received the Best Actor award for his portrayal of former Indian cricket captain MS Dhoni, in M.S.Dhoni: The Untold Story.
Sushant was one of the dancers from Shiamak Davar’s dance troupe that performed at the 2006 Commonwealth Games held in Australia. From a background dancer to an award winner in the Indian Film Festival 2017, his has been an incredible journey.
“My mom said life is a story that you tell yourself and I hope my story is worth telling,” said Sushant as he collected his award.
Shoojit Sircar deservedly took the Best Film award for Pink, an Indian courtroom social drama for his story of women who don’t subscribe to societal standards of culture and morality.
Just as we thought we had seen the lot there was more.
The Leadership in Cinema award went to Karan Johar, Indian film director, producer, screenwriter, costume designer, actor and television show host.
Sporting a different look with nerdy glasses, formal jacket and funky shoes, Karan took to stage styled by Nikita Jaisinghani. In his brief acceptance speech, he let the audience know he was in Melbourne as a guest of IFFM and, with trademark wit, added that he was attending it for free.
Simi Garewal, Indian actress and TV show host, was generously effusive with her introductions of both Karan Johar and the beautiful Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. She invited Ash on stage, calling her, among other things, a legend.
Looking stunning in black and gold, Aishwarya thanked Simi for her introduction but gently disagreed. “I do not think I am a legend and have a lot to achieve before I even come close,” she said, as she received the Excellence in Global Cinema Award for her contribution to cinema.
Mark Hellinger’s film Road to Glory won the Western Union Short Film competition for its exploration of the theme of diversity.
As the evening progressed there were occasional dips in energy till the team of children from e.motion 21 took to stage and received a standing ovation.
E.motion 21 is a special school that provides dance and fitness opportunities for children with special needs. The children presented a vibrant Bollywood dance assisted by instructors from Shiamak Davar’s Dance School in Melbourne.
The evening was dominated with songs from Kakkar sisters – Akriti, Prakriti and Sukriti – who have recently made their name in playback singing for Indian films.
The vivacious sisters belted out a variety of songs, in between the awards presentation. However, between the numerous awards and endless songs, it started bordering on ‘too much of a good thing’.
High on style but low on sparkle was the general consensus based on the post event feedback that was collected.
Munni meets Melbourne’s talent
The Telstra Bollywood Competition, once again, saw the ravishing Malaika Arora as the judge of some of Melbourne’s best dancing talent.
Melbourne artist Bessie Kay accompanied her as judge while Karan Johar and Sushant Singh Rajput joined her over the course of the afternoon.
Both Karan and Sushant received much adulation from the crowd as they announced the winners.
The crowd that had come to see Aishwarya did dwindle. However, many people stayed back to enjoy the Bollywood dance competition and find out who won the $1,000 and a trip to India.
Mitu’s mammoth effort
With her beautiful handloom sarees and infectious smile, the lady who has helmed the Festival has been given the epithet of Melbourne’s most beautiful woman, and we agree.
It’s no easy task to align dates and schedules, and attract stars, teams and guests in order to pull off a smooth event, but Mitu Bhowmick Lange seems to have a handle on it all.
Celebrating the best, the diverse, the empowering and the creative from Indian Cinema, the IFFM, under Mitu’s leadership, has over the years carved its niche in the Victorian festival and film scene.
IFFM was the Winner of the Melbourne Award 2016 for Contribution to Multiculturalism by a corporation and is the Guinness Book record holder for largest Bollywood dance event in 2011.
Martin Foley, Minister for Equality, congratulated Mitu and her mind blowing team on another successful, vibrant and happening festival. “In a time when the world sees so much fury and fire being proposed in some aspects of our life, the role that film communities and films can play to reach across borders and to bring out the best in humanity cannot be underestimated,” said the Minister.