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Indian cinema gets boost at Busan

Eleven Indian features are screening at this year’s Busan International Film Festival, reflecting the growing strength and diversity of cinema from the subcontinent.

The line-up ranges from indie dramas such as Laxman Utekar’s The Letter and Anup Singh’s Qissa – The Tale Of A Lonely Ghost, which are screening in Busan’s A Window On Asian Cinema section, to the brashest of mainstream offerings such as Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra’s Bhaag Milkha Bhaag and Telugu hit Fly (Eega), which are both receiving outdoor screenings in the Open Cinema section.

The festival opened with Vara: A Blessing, directed by Bhutanese filmmaker Khyentse Norbu, which is set in India; Mani Ratnam’s Kadal is screening as a Gala presentation, and Girish Malik’s Jal (Water) is screening in the New Currents competition.

A Window On Asian Cinema is also presenting Vikas Bahl’s Queen, Santosh Sivan’s Ceylon, Prakash Jha’s The Protest, Bejoy Nambiar’s David and Ritesh Batra’s Cannes favourite The Lunchbox.

The strong showing for Indian films in the BIFF line-up is the result of the emergence of a new wave of independent filmmakers in several regions of India; as well as the changing nature of Bollywood, and the festival circuit’s changing attitude towards mainstream Indian films.

“To be honest, we never thought we were making a festival film, but when Anurag read the script he said that if we get it right it will cut across,” says Queen director Vikas Bahl, referring to the film’s producer and his partner in Phantom Films, Anurag Kashyap. “It’s a Bollywood film with music and dance, but it’s the kind of Bollywood film that seems to be working on the festival circuit right now.”

Starring Kangana Ranaut, the film is about a young girl from a loving but over-protective Delhi family who ends up going on her honeymoon in Europe alone. “I’ve heard that this festival really helps to open up this side of the world for your film and they pick up films that they think can cut across. This film can do that because it uses several languages, but doesn’t really have any language; it’s a musical journey without a huge amount of dialogue,” Bahl adds.

While Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and South Indian directors Mani Ratnam and Santosh Sivan are all established filmmakers, Bahl is a former UTV producer who has previously directed one film, Chillar Party, and directors such as Laxman Utekar, Ritesh Batra and Girish Malik are attending Busan with their feature debuts.

Malik’s New Currents title Jal follows a water diviner, his local villagers and a group of ecologists as they search for water in Gujarat’s desert region Rann of Kutch.

“In recent years, many new talented and young directors have been emerging in India and we’ve been diligently inviting the works of new directors to the festival,” says BIFF executive programmer Kim Ji-seok. “It feels as though the glories of the auteur films which blossomed in the Bangalore and Kerala districts in the past are coming back to life all throughout India.”

But Kim adds that there is still a place in Busan for mainstream Indian films. “The audience at BIFF, espeically the East Asian audience, is becoming much more familiar with Indian films. The growing positive response to the distinctive appeal of popular Indian cinema, which is very different to Hollywood or East Asian commercial cinema, is one of the reasons we introduce them in our Open Cinema section.”

India is also represented in BIFF’s Asian Short Film competition with Omkar Barve’s Morning Walk and in the Wide Angle documentary competition with Bringing Tibet Home, directed by Tenzin Tsetan Choklay.  

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