The forgotten Woodlands Cinemas – a Chennai landmark – wears a festive look once in a year for the Chennai International Film Festival. Regular movie screenings are shelved for CIFF related exhibitions and panel discussions; and thousands of cinephiles throng the theater.
This year, the festival was inaugurated at one of the enormous halls inside Woodlands. There were bugs and the stench of chlorine, but all was forgiven in a hall filled with people – students from film institutes to renowned directors – who genuinely revere cinema.
The CIFF inauguration was like a reunion of stars from the 8o’s; quite like the party that Suhasini throws every year. The guest list included Sarath Kumar, Suhasini, Mohan, Jayashree, Lissy, Poornima Bhagyaraj, Parthiban and CR Saraswathi among others, with the veteran filmmaker Mahendran headlining the event.
The festival was officially inaugurated by Rajendra Balaji, Tamil Nadu’s Minister for Information.
Actresses Aparna Pillai (remember Pudhukottaiyilirundhu Saravanan?) and Jayashree anchored the show. In a slightly nervous moment, Jayashree said to Sarath Kumar, “Sir, I request to deliver an address…” A smiling Sarath, went to the microphone and told Jayashree his (residential) address. Sarath’s impromptu joke elicited the loudest applause. “Art unites people. And festivals like this should be supported. If anybody watches all the 170 films that are screened at the festival, I would give Rs 10 lakhs to that person in the next festival,” declared Sarath. We are not certain if that was a joke again.
Reading the introductory note for Mahendran, Aparna said, “Does the name “Satyajit Ray” translate into “Mahendran” in Tamil?” A visibly embarrassed Mahendran waved his hands and shook his head in denial. Clad in his signature spotless white trousers and shirt, Mahendran saluted the audience before he began his speech on a note of gratitude. “One should always be grateful. I will never open my speech without thanking MGR, who helped me break into cinema.”
He spoke without notes, but Mahendran’s was well prepared. “I would like to make a confession today. Ulaga cinema enakku theriyum. Aana cinema ulagam enakku theriyadhu. Idhu sathyamana vaarthaigal,” he quipped. “There is abundant talent in India. But why are we still succumbing to the need to include songs in our films? Adhanaala naama enna laabam adanjitom?”
The filmmaker said that he recently watched the Turkish film Watchtower. “It was a beautiful film. We have to watch a lot of world films to understand the art of filmmaking. Thus, festivals play a very important role. And most of all, we must observe society to make good films,” he observed.
Before concluding his short speech, Mahendran made a request to the CIFF organizers. “Film festivals should also be conducted in other parts of Tamil Nadu too, to offer access to movie enthusiasts in the villages.”
Visit CIFF’s official website to find out showtimes.