Boys and girls wearing volunteer tags mill about Bharath Mall in Mangaluru. Beaming widely, some hand out tickets for a movie that bagged a National Award just a few of days ago. There’s a long line of people waiting to see the 2015 award-winning film Naanu Avanalla … Avalu, based on the life of activist Living Smile Vidya from Tamil Nadu, who fights for the rights of transgenders. In another screen, people are getting ready to watch the popular Bollywood movie Shubh Mangal Saavdhaan, which deals with erectile dysfunction. Earlier in the day, Lokesh Kumar’s My Son Is Gay was beamed to an appreciative audience.
All this at the Nitte International Film Festival, organised by the Nitte Institute of Communication. And there’s an interesting backstory to how it all began.
About two years ago, some good Kannada films found a release window. So did some mega-budget Hindi films, one of which was especially tacky. A total of six people, all students of NICO’s film club, watched one particular Kannada film that was almost poetry in motion. The flashy competitor had a queue that seemed never-ending. “That was when we decided we had to do something to up people’s appreciation of good cinema, and also provide our students an opportunity to watch world-class cinema,” says Raviraj, Head-NICO, and coordinator of the NIFF, the second edition of which is underway at Bharat Mall, Mangaluru.
And so, the Nitte Deemed-to-be-University decided to host a film festival in 2017. A core team tracked movies, got in touch with people curating festivals, and put together a list of movies that were winning raving reviews on the festival circuit. Shortly before the festival, the National Film Awards were announced — the team had backed quite a few films that went on to win awards.
This year around, the four-day fest, primarily student-driven, hosts 60 films, many of which have been recognised with a National Award or two. The fest was inaugurated by renowned filmmaker and theatre personality M. Sadananda Suvarna, and among the ones screened so far are To Let, cinematographer Chezhian’s slice-of-life film that won the Best Tamil Film, the much-celebrated Village Rockstars from Assam, the meditative Mukti Bhawan (Hindi, 2016, Special Jury Award), and the Malayalam, Take Off, that won actress Parvathy a special mention. Yet to be screened are films such as the Marathi Sairat, Malayalam Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum (Best Malayalam film, Best Original Screenplay at the National Film Awards 2018), and Sanal Kumar Sasidharan’s S Durga, which is the closing film.
There’s also a session on ‘Representation and Identity Politics: Considering Caste and Cinema’ on the closing day, April 19, at 8 pm.
The films are invariably followed by a discussion with the director if present. Lokesh Kumar took questions on the casting process for his film on homosexuality, and raising funds for such off-beat efforts. RS Prasanna, who directed Shubh Mangal Saavdhaan spoke about his journey from Tamil to Hindi cinema, and how it felt to direct the original and its remake. A student explained the scene in the park and what it meant to her so well that Prasanna said she could as be an assistant director.
Chezhian spoke about why he was drawn to realistic films and how he took about 10 years to give life to his script for To Let.
The films being screened were sourced from different people. “We have now built a bank of directors, and they refer us to others, and we have access to quality cinema. We sourced some through Suchitra Film Society, Mumbai, some from Basil, and Heidi from the Embassy of Switzerland, Delhi — the film was given to mark 70 years of relationship between the countries,” says Raviraj.
Eventually, Raviraj hopes to make this a truly international film festival, with enough films from outside of the country. But, even in its present avatar, the fest is a dream come true for cinephiles. Imagine five screens in one venue, movie after movie being screened, relatively easy availability of tickets and a great audience. Cinema thrives in such spaces, and comes to life in darkened auditoria.