MENTION Indian cinema, and the first thing that usually comes to mind is Bollywood.
That said, it’s a term most Indians don’t even like.
“But we’re kinda stuck with it,” says Indian Film Festival director Mitu Bhowmick Lange good-humouredly.
“If you tell someone about an Indian Film Festival, there probably wouldn’t be much of a reaction. But the moment you say Bollywood films, everyone says, ‘Yeah!’”
Don’t get Lange wrong. Locals do love the magic, escapism and opulence that’s characteristic of the genre. It’s in their blood.
“Music and dance is a very integral of part our culture,” she says.
“All our folklore, stories and mythologies are sung, and we all love dancing anyway – if you see our weddings, nobody walks to our weddings, we all go dancing to the wedding.”
But beyond Bollywood, there is more to Indian cinema that Lange would like the rest of the world to witness – the new voices emerging from within Bollywood, and independent productions coming out from regional India.
The festival’s theme, “Bollywood and beyond”, encapsulates what Lange and her team have been working hard to achieve since the inaugural Indian Film Festival last year.
“We have so many languages and states and every region has its own language culture and film industry. They make very nice films which don’t get such a big overseas release, and they get lost among the big blockbusters,” she says.
Lange is no stranger to the industry – born and brought up in Delhi, she spent six years in Mumbai directing television shows from news to fashion and entertainment, including a daily breakfast show that ran across major networks like BBC World, Star Plus, Zee TV and Sony TV. She also wrote and directed an award-winning documentary on the impact of violence on the children of Kashmir.
Marriage brought Lange to Melbourne nine years ago, and to keep her passion for film and ties with India alive, she started up Mind Blowing Films in 2009, releasing and distributing Indian films in Australia and New Zealand.
She has observed the dawning of an exciting new era in Indian cinema, especially in the past five years.
“So many different types of films and stories are being made… we are no longer looking at just straightforward films,’’ says Lange.
“Earlier, the stories would have been boy loves girl, but girl is a rich girl, the boy is a poor boy, so they can’t marry. But now the stories are like, boy loves girl, and boy wants to marry girl, but girl wants to build a business empire so girl doesn’t want to marry.
“So even if the parameters and the love stories remain the same, the conflicts are keeping with the changing times.”
The festival’s opening film, No One Killed Jessica, is based on the true story of Jessica Lall, a model who was shot at a New Delhi restaurant in 1999 by the son of an influential politician; and her sister’s incredible journey to right a wrong following his acquittal.
Just Another Love Story narrates the life of a fading gay actor in India’s theatre world and the inspirational story of feminist and social activist Sindhutai.
The much-anticipated sequel to East is East – West is West catches up with the British hit comedy’s beloved characters grudgingly facing up to their demons in Pakistan, with side-splitting Manchester humour.
The festival closes with the independent film I Am, which was significantly produced through appeals for donations from the online social media network Facebook. Based on real life stories, the film explores themes you don’t often come across in Indian cinema – sperm donation, gay blackmail, and child abuse – which all serve to put the attitudes of modern India under the spotlight.
With a good mix of films in the line up, free screenings and events, Lange hopes the festival will appeal to an even broader audience this year, from international students to the mainstream Australian community.
“We have never looked at it as an event for the Indian community event only, we look at it more as a city event where everyone is welcome… to celebrate cinema, being together, art.
“We really encourage people to come with our friends, families… and like last year, it was really rewarding to see a lot of the Indian students introducing their non-Indian friends to Bollywood under the stars.”
The Indian Film Festival kicks off in Melbourne from March 11 through to March 20. Visit the festival website for the full schedule of programs and events.
You may also like to read our festival event highlights.
Meld Magazine has five double-passes to the Indian Film Festival to give away.
The competition has now closed.