Foreign Pix Attract SRO Crowds At India Fest

The 22nd Intl. Film Festival of India, held in Madras Jan. 10 to 20, generally was considered a success by foreign guests, though it came in for some criticism in the Indian press.

The first fest under the stewardship of Deepak Sandhu, event unspooled more than 100 foreign films (including retrospective items) at a number of venues in the South Indian coastal city, opening with the world preem of Karel Kachyna’s Franco-Czech co-production, “The Last Butterfly,” toplining Tom Courtenay.

Local interest in the overseas entries was high, with SRO attendance for items such as Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Sheltering Sky,” Pedro Almodovar’s “Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!” and Paul Cox’ “Golden Braid,” all of which certainly will undergo censorship cuts if they receive a wider release here.

For visitors to India, the attraction was, per usual, the Indian Panorama section, for which 19 features (plus a handful of docus) were selected by local panels from among the 948 features produced in the country during 1990. In addition, filmmakers whose pics were either not ready for Panorama selection or were bypassed by the selection committee, arranged private screenings in screening rooms around the city (and busily lobbied delegates, sometimes late at night or early in the morning).

Festival directors and/or programmers from Cannes, London, Sydney, Montreal, Chicago and Nantes were on hand to ogle the latest product of the subcontinent, with the general impression being that this was not a vintage year.

Among the pics that are likely to unspool at major fests in the coming months are “Ishanou,” made by Aribam Syam Sharma in Manipur, an unusual tale of a young wife who becomes a member of a religious sect; “Mane” (The House), by Girish Kasaravalli, from Bangalore, a Kafkalike tale of a couple’s bizarre relationship with their noisy neighbors; “Disha” (The Uprooted Ones), from Sai Paranjpye, tackles a familiar theme of poor villagers coming to find work in the big city (Bombay); and “Late Afternoon,” a striking debut from M.P. Sukumaran Nair, about a young radical adjusting to freedom after a spell in prison.

Oscar picksub par

It was generally felt that “Anjali,” by Manirathnam, India’s entry in the foreign-film Oscar race, was below the standard of many of the other films seen.

Local scribes complained about the absence of foreign films they’d wanted to see (notably “Goodfellas” and “Wild At Heart), and the lack of celebrities. Few “stars” turned up, though Kiwi actress Kerry Fox was on hand for the screening of Jane Campion’s “An Angel At My Table” and Tom Stoppard flew in briefly to intro “Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead” (which, with its dense, playful dialog seemed to go over the heads of an unappreciative audience).

The event opened under the threat of a boycott from the Producers Assn., protesting a hefty hike in the cost of raw film stock; but the producers were mollified at government promises that the matter would be reconsidered.

The eruption of war in the Persian Gulf midway through the event caused concern to delegates whose flights home were scheduled to pass through that region, and some left early as a result.

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