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Trisha Gupta
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Trisha Gupta is a Delhi-based writer and critic. Read more of her work on her blog Chhotahazri (trishagupta.blogspot.in)

Our pictures & their public at the Osian’s Cinefan Film Festival

mong the 'unmissable' sights at the recently-concluded 12th Osian's Cinefan festival was that of Anurag Kashyap sitting on the stairs behind Siri Fort III, smiling a little sheepishly as excited fans took turns to be photographed sitting next to him. Dibakar Banerjee, walking down a corridor with a small swarm of young men attached to him, swivelling his head around at intermittent intervals to say " This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ", came a close second.

Banerjee and Kashyap, posterboys for a new off-centre Bombay cinema, were both present at the 11th Osian's, too. That was 2009, when Festival Director Mani Kaul first introduced a section called NewStream, involving in-depth conversations with directors who were working within the Hindi film industry, pushing for (and getting) commercial releases, but also producing a slow trickle of work that challenged at least some of the tenets of mainstream Bollywood.

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Media students made their presence felt, asking technical-sounding questions that might have been annoying if they weren’t so sincere.

In the two years that Osian's has been in cold storage, that slow trickle has become a steady flow – the first half of 2012 has already seen films as diversely adventurous as Kahaani, Paan Singh Tomar and Vicky Donor become box office hits. Vicky Donor, Paan Singh Tomar and Banerjee's Shanghai were screened to packed houses at Siri Fort. Many NewStream sessions were also well attended, with their directors and crew members in tow. The second part of Kashyap's epic Gangs of Wasseypur, now in theatres, had its Indian premiere at the festival, with the tickets drying up almost as soon as they were made available.

Festival purists might look askance at the queues for GoW 2, which were longer and more committed than for any of the 15 World premieres, 13 Asian premieres and 103 other Indian premieres at the festival this year – none of which were due for commercial release in four days. But the queues did bring in a large number of people who might otherwise never attend a film festival, and some who seemed to have never before entered Siri Fort Auditorium.

One couple arrived to buy tickets with their six-year-old and 10-year-old, and seemed surprised and distressed to find that there were actually film theatres in India that wouldn't let their little darlings in. Little did they know how distressed they might have been if they had stumbled, kiddies in tow, into one of the sexually explicit screenings in the Freedom of Creative Expression section– say Pasolini's unwatchably disturbing Salo or The 120 Days of Sodom – or the much-talked-about but tragically underwatched package of contemporary pink (erotic) films from Japan.

I heard at least one 50-something lady giving unsolicited advice to a younger man who simply couldn't contain his disbelief that GoW 2 tickets were already over: "That you can watch in theatres. Why don't you watch some other films?" The man was unimpressed – he may not have watched any Chinese cinema, but he recognised patronising behaviour when he saw it.

here were the usual festival encounters, too: a documentary filmmaker complaining that PVR Director's Rare was actually sabotaging indies by releasing them in expensive theatres that were too far from her house; young men insisting that the Bangladeshi film, Meherjaan, could not be watched because it had Jaya Bachchan in it and "how can you bear her?"; people sharing shock, awe, rants and raves.

Barring a small core of film festival junkies, though, the crowds at Osian's seemed new and largely young. Many seemed to be media students and aspiring filmmakers, who made their presence felt at screenings, asking technical-sounding questions about kinds of cameras and natural light that might have been annoying if they weren't so utterly sincere.

They may not have been mobbed like Kashyap or Banerjee, but there were appreciative audiences and admiring fans for many other Indian filmmakers. The superb Marathi film Masala, directed by debut director Sandesh Kulkarni (but produced and written by Umesh Vinayak Kulkarni and Girish Kulkarni of Deool fame) had its share, as did cinematographer Ajay Bahl's directorial debut BA Pass, based on Mohan Sikka's story The Railway Aunty, Dhiraj Meshram's Baromas: a Marathi novel about Vidarbha farmers turned into a Hindi film, and Prashant Bhargava's high on atmosphere, low on plot, Patang.

There has been some sniffing about BA Pass winning Best Indian Film, perhaps because its noirish air of deliberate excess is being (mis)read as melodrama. The best Indian films at the festival were either not in competition (Masala) or had been placed in the wider First Features category: Bikramjit Gupta's Achal (The Stagnant), a profoundly atmospheric meditation on contemporary Kolkata, and the more crowd-pleasing Hansa, which won Manav Kaul an Audience Award and a Jury award.

The range of Indian films somehow emerging in the shadow of Bollywood and every-other-wood certainly deserves celebration. But then one looks at a Baromas and wishes it didn't have that lavani item song thrust in. One watches the marvelously unpredictable Modest Reception from Iran or the superbly understated Beyond the Hills and wonders when we'll make films like these. Perhaps, when we stop taking photos of Kashyap and Co and start sitting around in the Siri Fort lawns actually talking cinema.

 
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