Report from Day 1 (November 20) – video to follow…
TWO OF INDIA’S biggest film stars – Amitabh Bachchan and Rajinikanth were presented with special awards as the Golden anniversary edition of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) got under way in Goa yesterday.
French icon Isabelle Huppert also picked her lifetime achievement award from IFFI, which is marking 50 years with this edition.
As well as the opening ceremony yesterday (November 20), director Italian-Serbian director Goran Pakalsejevic talked about his film, ‘Despite The Fog’ (see below for review) at a press conference and then later his film opened the festival and drew the curtain back on more than 200 feature films to be screened over the coming remaining seven days (the festival runs until November 28).
Both awardees command huge followings – with Rajinikanth, an icon of South Indian cinema who emerged from being a Marathi-speaking bus conductor playing bit parts to a megastar who is now feted and well-recognised in Japan and some other Asian countries. Rajinikanth was presented with a special award connected to IFFI 50.
Amitabh Bachchan has almost 200 films under his belt and really came to prominence in the 1970s and 1980s playing what many dubbed, ‘The Angry Young Man’. He was presented with the prestigious Dadasahab Phalke Award, named after the father of Indian cinema – and it is a well-established accolade and given only to those with a highly illustrious career.
In front of a few thousand people in an indoor stadium in Goa, and millions watching at home (the opening ceremony is broadcast live on state broadcaster Doordarshan) both accepted their respective rewards with grace and humility and both paid rich tribute to the other – describing each as inspirational and humble. Bachchan even said he considered Rajinikanth as part of his family and that when Rajinikanth consulted him for advice, sometimes he took it and at other times, he just ignored it and did what he wanted anyway.
The opening ceremony lasted about two and half hours and was a spectacular show featuring film trailers, music and further awards.
Among those entertaining was Shankar Mahadevan – one part of the hugely successful Bollywood music trio Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy.
Part of his set was semi-devotional, while he also riffed with Indian jazz artist Louis Banks and had a second set that included vocals in different languages.
Bollywood star director and chat show host Karan Johar was the compere – and was slick as ever and spoke mostly in English.
The one slight discordant note was when Prakash Javadekar, the minister for information and broadcasting, the government department that runs IFFI, was shouted at by a group who wanted to drown out his speech in Hindi – they didn’t succeed and after just a few minutes the minister was clearly audible.
Review of Despite the Fog (Review)
DIRECTOR Goran Paskaljevic is internationally-known and was on the jury six years ago at IFFI and has even made a film here called ‘Dev Bhoomi – Land of the Gods’ with Victor Banerjee with whom he had become friends.
‘Despite the Fog’ is essentially a refugee drama – but it isn’t political in the way that you might think, or in the slightest bit preachy – and very commendable for avoiding familiar tropes.
What Paskaljevic goes for is a deep humanity that a director like the great Satyajit Ray would instantly recognise and applaud.
One cold, dark night Paolo (Giorgio Tirabassi) sees a little boy (Ali Mousa Ali Sahran) waiting at a desolate bus stop. The opening scene just before this is hard to watch and almost heartbreaking as the boy’s older companion abandons him to the early morning roadside fog as they make their way along – supposedly to Sweden – where the boy, called ‘Muhammad’ in the film, believes his parents have escaped to. The harsh truth is that they are no longer around, but Paolo takes in the boy and at first his wife, Valeria (Donatella Finocchiaro) is hesitant and wants Paolo to take him to a police station.
The couple begin to establish a relationship with Muhammad (whose precise origins are never revealed, simply that he came across the Mediterranean on a boat) – and there are tender scenes and we know the truth – while little Muhammad hankers for his real parents and some near mythical journey to Sweden to be reunited with them.
Paskaljevic’s characters are well-drawn and there is a strong psychological back-drop to Valeria’s growing motherly attachment – the fate of a son called ‘Marco’, deceased some time before Muhammad’s arrival is never properly explained – we, the audience, know only that he died and suffered from some form of disability – a wheelchair in his room, taken over by Muhammad remains and once when the little boy takes to it, Valeria overreacts.
The film’s strength is in the way that it draws family relationships and differing reactions to the boy’s arrival in the couple’s life. Paolo’s older brother isn’t overly impressed but is tolerant – yet his son exhibits racism and Islamophobia when Muhammad throws the older boy’s phone into a lake – after the Italian boy teases him about the fate of his parents.
It is obvious where Paskaljevic’s sympathies lies but he never overplays his hand and while the opposition to Muhammad is obvious, in some quarters, the director chooses not to make too much of it. There is a religious element but again Paskaljevic does not allow it to dominate – but the adoptive parents are strong Catholics, while Muhammad still practises his faith.
Finely judged, strong performances and compassion for the fate of such children – believed to be thousands who have just disappeared – especially Italy itself, give this film a strong moral compass.
Where it slightly loses its way is in the ending – limp and slightly inconclusive but perhaps Paskaljevic wanted to end in a way that suggested the problems between the husband and wife were more more emotional than anything strictly to do with Muhammad… whom they have both come to love and cherish during the course of the film.
ACV rating: ***1/2 (out of five)
Despite The Fog screens again during the festival: http://www.iffigoa.org
Top picture: Centre Amitabh Bachchan and Rajinikanth with dignitaries on the main stage of the opening ceremony.. Courtesy of PIB Goa