Bollywood and beyond

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Movie buffs around Sydney experience the best of Indian cinema well beyond Bollywood, reports RAKA MITRA

The Sydney Indian Film Festival kicked off its third year on June 24 with the glitz and glamour that has become synonymous with all things Bollywood. This year’s festival aptly titled ‘Bollywood and Beyond’ showcases the best of Bollywood and regional blockbusters and art-house films.  Mind Blowing Films has been bringing this magic to us and it just gets better every year, now being dubbed as the largest festival of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.

Having just concluded a successful Melbourne festival, director Mitu Bhowmick Lange was tired but glowing as she embarked upon the Sydney leg of the festival. While she had rounded up top stars Shahid Kapoor and Priyanka Chopra for the Melbourne event, she made up with a high glam quotient for Sydney with the stunning Malaika Arora Khan, and an equally high cerebral element with off-beat film-maker Rituparno Ghosh,

The festival marked its opening ceremony with both special guests. Malaika graced the red carpet in her usual style, braving the bitter winter chill in a dazzling black lehenga, leaving a positively star-struck audience in her wake. An exclusive premiere screening of Rituparno Ghosh’s Chitrangada at Fox Studio’s Cinema Paris was also well attended by movie buffs. (Ghosh’s other film in the festival, Memories in March, where he stars again but this time with Bollywood’s Deepti Naval and Raima Sen, is an unusual but critically acclaimed film on the bond between a gay protagonist and his dead boyfriend’s mother).

Other films in the festival included the mainstream Kahaani, The Dirty Picture, Don 2, Delhi Belly, Bodyguard, Ishaqzaade, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Aarakshan, Paan Singh Tomar and I Am Kalaam. From regional films the line-up included Son of Adam and Urumi (Malayalam), Flying Fish (Tamil/Sinhalese), Bol (Urdu), Beauty and Brains (Nepalese), Meherjaan (Bengali), Chatrak (Bengali/ Tamil), Laptop (Bengali), Sengadal (Tamil), Babu Band Baaja (Marathi) and offbeat Hindi films Michael and Shabri.

Meeting Malaika

A hush falls within the room as a beautiful young woman is seen descending the glass elevator at Woolloomoolloo’s Hotel Blu. With just a few hours of sleep after a long plane journey, how she still manages to look the way she does is beyond me! Malaika Arora Khan steps off the elevator and bedazzles all of us with a smile that comes from within. Welcomes are mumbled as this is her first visit to Sydney, but the real question is, “Will Munni be back for Dabbang 2?”

But we begin with Malaika’s plans for her trip to Sydney: what is she looking forward to seeing and experiencing?

“The Opera House! My son said to me, ‘Mom, make sure you get a picture of the Opera House’, so I have to go there. I hear Bondi Beach is beautiful, but it might be a bit cold at this time of the year. Also, I hear Sydney has good food, so I hope to experience some of that,” says Malaika enthusiastically.

I explain that food is a subject close to my own heart; so what kind of food would Malaika like to taste here? “I’m happy to try anything. I love a good steak…but I won’t try kangaroo! I love spicy food actually; South Indian food is one of my favourites,” she says.

And how does a foodie like you maintain that figure, I have to ask enviously. “I eat everything. I love food but I live a routine, I exercise every day, go to the gym, dance and maintain a healthy lifestyle. A busy lifestyle as well,” admits Malaika.
How does she balance a tough lifestyle and motherhood, is it challenging? “Well, I am not different to any other woman, really. Yes, I have work and commitments, but most moms do. I have help and support at home as well,” says Malaika candidly.

The actress is involved with a lot of dancing talent shows. Being a mother of a young child, what does she think the impact of competition is on children of such tender years?

“This is a question that is close to my heart. I have always voiced my concerns regarding children on shows. I personally feel children should be out playing and enjoying their childhood, but then the other side of the story is that it’s just a platform for children to showcase their talent,” says Malaika.

So did she always want to be a Bollywood star? “Actually I always loved dance, and figured I would teach and open a dance school. But Bollywood happened. I am a qualified child psychologist and was all set to head into that direction. But then some things fell into place and here I am,” she says with an elegant shrug.

And finally, I wait for the answer we’re all hoping to hear. So, will Munni make a comeback in Dabbang 2? “Well, we are shooting for Dabbang 2 at the moment. So you will just have to wait and watch,” says Malaika with a mysterious smile. Well, some answer is better than no answer at all!

Reinventing an epic

Legend has it that Chitrangada was a princess born to the King of Manipura, and this legend formed the basis of Rabindranath Tagore’s famed Bengali dance drama of the same name.  As the only child of the King and heir to the throne, the Princess Chitrangada is trained in martial arts and dresses as a man to presume her responsibilities to guide her kingdom.  One day she meets Arjun on a hunting trip and falls in love. Arjun is impressed by her skill and agility but is confused by her feminine masculinity or rather, masculine femininity. Chitrangada is forlorn as she realises that Arjun can never love her in her current form and goes to find Kamadev, the God of Love. With his help she is born anew as a beautiful woman, but returns to a kingdom in chaos. Their love story is complete when Arjun realises the beautiful woman is none other than the skilled young warrior he met on the hunting expedition.

Rituparno Ghosh’s interpretation of this classic can be described as nothing if not formidable, in his film Chitrangada. He pushes the boundaries of societal stigmas by suggesting that Chitrangada was a man. He resurrects Kamadev as a cosmetic surgeon who performs gender reassignment surgery on Chitrangada. Whilst in the classic tale, Chitrangada was embraced by her Arjun, this tale has a more realistic heartbeat. The movie follows the emotional passage of a man going through such a procedure. It highlights the strains in his relationships with the people in his life, and takes the audience on a journey of acceptation, realisation and liberation.

When quizzed about his expectations of audience reaction specifically in India, a country still cloistered in the closet when it comes to sexuality, Ghosh responds saying, “There are two types of audience in India. One is more educated and understands the importance of showing such cinema to the masses. And the other is one that will always create a fuss! But I am not worried about them.” Ghosh is quietly confident that his movie will make its mark.

Ghosh laughs when questioned about the intricacies of being the lead actor and director in the movie. “Well, it wasn’t easy and I had to have a lot of faith in my assistant directors. It was also interesting to experience what it’s like being on the other side,” he says with a chuckle.

This tasteful and magnificent interpretation of an epic tale is fitting in its release, acknowledging the 150th birth anniversary of the immortal Tagore.

Short film contest

An integral part of the film festival is the Western Union Short Film Competition which encourages film-makers form India, New Zealand as well as Australia to participate and get their work judged by experts. This year’s theme was ‘Connections’.  This year’s winner is Nielesh Verma from the Sydney Film School, who received accolades from the audience for his movie, Letters Home. The film beautifully encapsulates how, in trying to protect our loved ones from harsh realities, we often treat them as strangers by filtering the messages we send to them.

“The judging panel of this year’s competition comprised of renowned film-makers and producers like Raj Kumar Hirani, Mick Molloy, Kabir Khan and Kunal Kohli,” Mitu said in Melbourne as she announced the winner. “It was difficult for them to pick a winner amongst the brilliant work that was seen this year. The theme of ‘Connections’ was wonderfully explored by all the entrants”.

Contestant Shaun Thomas won from NZ, Soumya Guruprasad from Melbourne and Manjari Makijany from India.

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