The 26th edition of the International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK), organised by the Kerala State Chalachitra Academy, was kickstarted in Thiruvananthapuram on Friday. Actor Bhavana Menon, who recently announced her comeback to Malayalam cinema, was a surprise guest at the festival’s inaugural ceremony.
When filmmaker Ranjith Balakrishnan, chairperson of Kerala State Chalachitra Academy, invited her onto the stage by introducing her as a ‘female symbol of fight’, the audience burst into loud cheer and welcomed Menon with a standing ovation.
Menon had kept away from the Malayalam industry for five years after she was abducted and sexually assaulted in 2017. Breaking her long silence, she came out publicly this year to speak about her trauma and struggle for justice. After a five year hiatus, the actor is set to make her comeback in Malayalam cinema with the upcoming film Ntikkakkakkoru Premondaarnn.
Culture Minister Saji Cherian said that the actor is the ‘role model of Kerala’ and added that the state government will ensure the protection and safety of women working in cinema and other industries.
Celebrities from the Malayalam film industry, including actors Prithviraj Sukumaran, Parvathy Thiruvothu director Anjali Menon and members of the Women in Cinema Collective, took to social media to share their joy in welcoming Menon back to the industry. The video clip of Menon’s entry to the festival was widely shared on social media and celebrated by her fans and well-wishers.
Along with Menon, Kurdish filmmaker Lisa Calan, Hindi filmmaker Anurag Kashyap, and Bangladeshi actor Azmeri Haque were special guests at IFFK’s opening ceremony on Friday.
Menon lit the inaugural lamp along with Chief Minister Pinnarayi Vijayan and other dignities. Addressing the gathering, she said, “I am very happy to be a part of the 26th edition of IFFK. My special thanks to Bina chechi and Ranjith sir for inviting me here. My best wishes to people who make good films, audiences who enjoy them, and to women like Lisa, who are fighting all odds.”
Lisa Calan, who lost both legs in a 2015 bomb attack in Turkey, was presented with the newly-instituted ‘Spirit of Cinema’ award for her continued contribution to cinema.
Speaking at the event, IFFK’s artistic director Bina Paul noted that for the first time the festival’s stage featured four strong women – Calan, Menon, Haque, and Thiruvananthapuram Mayor Arya Rajendran.
“After yesterday’s judgment [Kerala HC’s order to implement ICC in the film industry], all the women of Kerala should know that we are very much a part of the film industry and very much going to tell the story,” she said.
She also noted that the festival is being held under the clouds of war (Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine), and by a strange coincidence, they had already chosen conflict as the theme for this year’s IFFK.
The festival runs until March 25. Around 175 films are to be screened from various countries. The number of foreign delegates has been restricted this year due to the Covid-19 situation in the state. Hindi actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui will be the chief guest during the closing ceremony.
The festival was originally meant to be held in December 2021, but was postponed owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.