(This article first appeared in the Mumbai Mirror)
The Toronto International film festival held in Canada is widely considered to be one of the top film festivals in the world, having been acknowledged by the Variety magazine as “the Festival second only to Cannes in terms of high-profile pics, stars and market activity.” For years a variety of Indian cinema, mostly regional offbeat and often low budget has found place in the prestigious line up of screenings there. But last year the selection of Karan Johar’s Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna as a gala presentation in the festival with the likes of Almodovar and Ridley Scott came as a real surprise. The festival maintains its indie roots and even though in the recent years it has given extra attention to Hollywood films, it is still more likely to screen a Ray than a Titanic. What then was a mainstream ‘Bollywood’ extravaganza like KANK doing at the festival? When asked Cameron Haynes from the festival replied, “ It is a struggle to accept a film from such a different cinematic tradition. But Bollywood films are such a huge success all over the world that we felt the need to acknowledge it in the festival and accept that other forms of filmmaking exist. There isnt much argument one can put forward against the popularity of ‘Bollywood’ cinema. Recently when Guru hosted its world premiere in Toronto people bought out tickets for unprecedented sums of money.
Canada is more than well acquainted with Indian films thanks to its festivals and its large Indian population. But Mumbai which regularly indulges in American, British, French, German, Japanese and even Iranian films has still not got much of a taste of Canadian films. Haynes flew down with four contemporary films and some of their cast and crew members from Canada in an attempt to bridge this gap.
However, that Canadian films have not carved a niche here may have reasons other than hitherto poor cultural relations. For years Canadian cinema has been struggling to emerge from the shadow of Hollywood. Majority of the Canadian screens show American feature films. Canadian films, especially Canadian English films find themselves being treated as Hollywood’s poor cousins in their own country. There maybe good reason for this too because a lot of them tend to mimic the style, content and ideological disposition of Hollywood cinema and very few of them are culturally rooted in Canada.
Saint Ralph, one of the four films that were screened in the city, is a good example of this affliction. The film could just as well have been set in any part of North America. Except for its low budget and no stars, the film looks and sounds like a product of old Hollywood with stereotypical characters and very clichéd plots and subplots. It is a well made inspirational tear jerker alright, but there is nothing remotely ‘Canadian’ about it.
Fortunately the other three films made more of an attempt to depart from standardized Hollywood norms. A Simple Curve was a novel and heartfelt take on the overused theme of dysfunctional father-son relations set among North Americans who had migrated in protest of the Vietnam War. La Neuvaine and Away From Her may not have had distinct Canadian settings but in their content and treatment were certainly experimental. The former, written and directed by Bernard Émond, moves at an incredibly slow pace, as the
filmmaker initially emphasizes style and mood over character development. But gradually it picks up and turns into an engaging and moving tale about two characters who lean on each other while grappling with faith, death and disillusionment. The latter marks actor Sarah Polley’s directorial debut and deals with unconditional love, marriage and life in a retirement home which is fast becoming a tradition in North America. Her treatment of relationships is poignant, yet real- never marred by syrupy sentimentality.
The debate on identity aside the films were thoroughly enjoyable and very refreshing. Canadian films with their unique blend of the familiar and the new will leave you hungry for more. But while on the issue of identity, India is one of those rare countries which have survived the onslaught on Hollywood studio films and developed strong cinematic traditions. The undefeatable popularity of Indian cinema among its own people maybe its greatest achievement but it is certainly cannot be overlooked if you consider how Hollywood has colonized cinemas the world over.
- PRAGYA TIWARI.