Bollywood stars Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan, Kajol, filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt and musician Kumar Sanu shone bright at the grand opening ceremony of the 23rd Kolkata international film festival on Friday. The event was lent further gravitas by the presence of legendary South Indian multi-hyphenate Kamal Haasan who is increasingly visible these days because of his impending entry into politics.
Sharing the stage with them was British filmmaker Michael Winterbottom (“The Trip to Spain”). As part of the British Council’s ongoing U.K.-India Year of Culture celebrations, the festival is hosting a Winterbottom retrospective, including the India-set “Trishna” and will screen a selection of classic and contemporary films including “The Red Shoes,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Lady Macbeth,” and “Adult Life Skills.”
The topic of Bachchan’s customary keynote address was the evolution of music in Indian cinema. He made a plea for secularity in these riven times noting that through the years Bollywood has seen Hindu devotional songs written, sung and composed by Muslims and enacted by Muslims playing Hindu characters.
Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of the state of Bengal, brought the capacity 10,000 crowd at the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Indoor stadium to their feet when she made an impassioned speech attacking detractors who had questioned the continuing existence of the festival. She vowed that the festival would continue in its current opulent avatar.
The festival is one of the richest in the country with cash prizes totalling some $200,000. In addition to the annual international competition, the festival has introduced a competition for Indian cinema from this year.
The other major retrospective this year is of Thai auteur Pen-Ek Ratanaruang and there is also a focus on contemporary Moroccan cinema. The festival opened Nov. 10 with Iranian filmmaker Mostofa Taghizadeh’s award-winning “Yellow” and will close No. 17 with a screening of the film that wins the international competition.