by Dave Chua
Maybe it's a sign that the film industry of your nation has matured. The premier diva of the film industry, former Miss World Aishwarya Rai, is invited to serve as a member of the Cannes Film Festival jury, and gets to be the next disposable James Bond starlet, just as Michelle Yeoh did the year before.
Indian cinema hasn't had the equivalent of a big crossover hit like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but its impact is gradually being felt. Bollywood, which produces 800 movies a year, has influenced movies such as Moulin Rouge (2000), and Devdas (2002), was selected by Time Magazine as the best film of the 2002.
However, besides the lavish Indian musicals that one tends to associate with the country's film industry, India also boasts a thriving independent film that Indigo, the Indian Film Week which runs from July 10 to 16th and co-organised by the Singapore Film Society, aims to showcase.
The festival's selection is fairly eclectic. It opens with English, August (1994), the story about an educated civil servant who reads Marcus Aurelius and listens to Dylan and Miles Davis, who struggles with the bureaucracy in an Indian village. Theres Monsoon Wedding (2001), Mira Nair's bouncy, festive Venice Golden Lion winner and the antiwar documentary War and Peace (2002), which The New York Times praised as having "a riveting intelligence all its own." It depicts the nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan and how the assassination of Gandhi set the stage for India's plunge into violence. Also in the selection is Dweepa/Island (2002), which explores the repercussions on a community by the construction of a dam.
Another highlight is a film recently shown at the recent Singapore International Film Festival; A Tale of a Naughty Girl (2002), the story of a prostitute's daughter who wants to escape her life she seems destined for. The festival closes with The Last Dance (1999), set in 1930s Kerala, that chronicles a love affair amongst a Kathakali troupe.
It is a diverse selection showcasing the depth and breadth of Indian cinematic offerings, with films spanning five different languages. Since it is the first festival, it's been able to plunge further into the archives of independent Indian film and come up with a fair number of distinguished films as well as lesser-known ones.
Sangeetha Madhavan, co-organiser of the festival, sees an emerging trend of the focus in Indian films turning from the rural elements that older Indian directors used to focus on, to the modern, urbane, educated Indian featured in films such as English, August. This shift has expanded the range of elements that Indian filmmakers deal with, and have attracted a wider audience worldwide.
She feels that the success of recent Indian films such as Lagaan and Monsoon Wedding have bought in people who usually don't watch Indian film and helped the current surge of interest. Moreover, the audience enjoy these "semi-Bollywood" type of films, which mix in song-and-dance elements but do not overwhelm the film. "Someone commented to me," she says, "that after 9/11, people need these kind of films that reaffirm the positive things, celebrating life and what's important. No doubt, they also do provide solid entertainment for three hours."
For next year's festival, Sangeetha hopes to have a Bollywood section so film fanatics can have a taste of both the commercial and independent aspects of India's film industry. Until then, film lovers can have a taste of the fine spread of movies featured for this year's festival. Fortunately, you can't get Delhi Belly from watching too many of them.
Tickets for Indigo, the Indian Film Festival July 11-17 2003, are S$9 (S$8 for SFS members ) and are available from 26th June at the GV Marina Square box-office, on-line at www.gv.com.sg, and at AXS stations island-wide. Details of films available from Singapore Film Society website at http://sfs.org.sg