OLD IFFI IS GONE, NEW IFFI IS HERE!

Lavender blue peacocks – the leitmotif of IFFI – were everywhere this 51st IFFI. The gentleman is Brij Bhushan Chaturvedi (or Mr BBC) from Indore, this is his 49th IFFI he shares with one and all. His story begins as a poor, humble newspaper distribution boy and ends as a noted hindi film journalist. He says old IFFI joys are turning into new sorrows for him because of online booking, despite a friend gifting him with a new hand phone!

By Tara Narayan

The hybridized 51st International Festival of India in Goa went digital with vengeance this year, making everyone young and not so young double up to learn how to book their films online!

SOMEWHERE there is a mean streak at the 51st International Film Festival of India this year! Is there any need for a film festival run on public funds to be mean? Might as well sell the festival to the highest private bidder and make money for the public exchequer for improving public infrastructure and putting aam aadmi on top of the list for free healthcare and other primary needs instead of luxurious film entertainment!
But that’s what I think. For me and many the fizz more or less went out of this belated 51ST International Film Festival of India in capital city Panaji in Goa early in the first week itself. The festival commenced amidst all the impressive trappings of Covid-19 precautions in place but quite simply somebody up there in the offices of the Entertainment Society of Goa and Directorate of Film Festivals doesn’t have a heart. Warm enough to exercise common sense!
On the surface of it at this year’s hybrid IFFI everything seemed tip-top and efficient but neither the numbers nor the “meat” (film personalities) as a media friend of mine put it, were there. Most outside media folk who came to cover the current ongoing IFFI left within a day or two. But many delegates who’d turned up had to put up with the headache of booking online or just saying goodbye to the festival which in any case sees a little more than 1,000 viewers this year against the backdrop of Covid-19 pandemic fears.

And the two young girls are Clarissa and Kevia at the IFFI help desk… they were good Samaritans patiently teaching film viewers to pick up rudimentary skills in booking a film online on their hand phones. What about those without smart hand phones?

NO PRINTED SCHEDULES
IN the absence of printed schedules which make a quick selection of films for the day easy, IFFI’s new insistence on online booking proved to be a headache; at least more so in the beginning until one got the hang of it. Even as one go clued up about how to book a film online it became a tiresome procedure for many, not to mention time-consuming. This is especially true for the many senior cine viewers for whom IFFI is an annual pilgrimage to see films. One could see a large number of senior delegates becoming helplessly lost in the smart world of digital booking online for the films they were keen to see.
To paint just one scenario here. After viewing an early morning film in a half-empty auditorium and on my way out, I stopped to say hello to a familiar senior IFFI-goer, namely Brij Bhushan Chaturvedi (a film buff affectionately nicknamed “BBC” by yesteryear film personalities). Hello, I said, how come you are basking in the morning sun and not viewing a film? The 84 years old veteran of 49 IFFIs from Indore has become a much loved person at all Goa IFFIs over the last 17 years. Mid-morning he was sitting at a table under the food court shamiana, forlornly nursing his bag and walking stick.
Upon asking him why he wasn’t viewing a film, he replied ruefully, “Aisa hona nahi chahiye, kyoon hona chahiye?” (It should not be like this, why should it be like this?) We come here to see films, meet our fellow film friends… yeh dafa yeh online booking bekaar hai. After seeing a film I had time and wanted to see another film but the Help Desk young girls were not there and thinking I would miss the film if I wasted time, I went and asked them to let me in the auditorium to see another film which was going to start. They refused! Even though I know there were empty seats going in the auditorium. They make you worry about you haven’t booked online, you have not sanitized hands, check your temperature again and again …but they won’t let you go in to see a film screening where only 25 people are watching in an auditorium for 100 people!”

IFFI MARKETPLACE!
THIS time’s IFFI, he rued, is “just dukaan dar, saajaya hai magar pakwan kahan hai!” (IFFI this year is like a decorated marketplace but where is the food?!) A startling and aptly harsh judgment from someone who has grown indulging his love for films and getting up close to many a film personality. Talk to him if you find him, it’s worth making a documentary on Brij Bhushan Chaturvedi from Indore! Over the years of IFFI I’ve acquired a lot of affection for him.
But the above scenario is just one of many similar scenarios by the third day of IFFI when many found the booking online insistence a pain in the neck. This is especially so for more than half the delegates who have come from down south India and other places to see some good films in the balmy wintry weather of January in the holiday state of India that is Goa. Like many others as shocked as Mr Chaturvedi they agree with him when he elaborated, “We come from out of Goa, we stay in hotels, I spend over Rs25,000 to come for IFFI…and now this. Online booking karo! Or maakhi maro hawa main!” (Book online or kill flies out in the IFFI courtyard!)
Clearly the IFFI of old is gone with the wind and the new IFFI in the making leaves no room for film lovers who are not digital savvy on their mobile phones, or quick enough to book the films they want to see in time to make it for the film before it starts to roll. If they change their mind about one film, to do cancellations and booking anew is a tediously fumbling process for them. The new IFFI leaves no room for film lovers to change their mind at the last minute! Films they would like to see become House Full soon (never mind that those who book online may not turn up for the film they’ve booked – there were no rush lines this year but one could book for a film of choice against cancellation at the last minute if one could with some fastest finger forward work on the hand phone) but by then one may well miss the beginning of the film.
Discerning filmgoers hate to miss a film’s opening scenes. They want to see the films they want to see and not the films which they can may see having failed to book for the film they wanted to see earlier….quite a rigmarole courtesy how savvy one is in the fine art of digital technology manipulation.
Perhaps the perception is that online booking makes for equality. Strictly speaking it is not equality if there is no equal playing field for all delegates young and not-so-young. The very first day itself, that is Sunday, January 17, witnessed a melee of confusion with IFFI film viewers crowding around the Help Desk to study the limited printed copies of the schedule before deciding which films they wished to see for the day.
Indeed, many IFFI-goers sought help from the obliging young helpers at the Help Desk, who were mercifully there to help old timers and even new timers to book their seats and clear their hand phone and Internet woes — remembering logging IDs, passwords, often revised, revised for whatever reason, not to mention failing Internet servicing. Smart phones may make for an efficient robotic tool to simplify life but this depends on in whose hands the smart phone is – with the mind oftentimes a devious and manipulative place for smartarse cheats if I may say so!
Speaking for myself, although it took me a couple of days to book and cancel my online booking of films I wanted to see — I humbly confess I’m a long way from being happy with the constant searching for schedules on my hand phone to make up my mind about which film would be worth watching. As an IFFI-goer from the festival’s inception in Goa I consider IFFI in town as my annual holiday break – or as a tonic of the very best kind to refresh the mind! See some films to beguile the soul and be inspired enough to feel that life is worth living and not the perennial deep pitfalls of slipping into meaningless adventures or so to speak.

MORE EXCLUSIVE, ELITIST
THIS year at IFFI I really felt like it is a festival of films which is becoming more exclusive, more elitist, and unreasonably so! Another thing which rankles — with so much space going at the Kala Academy grounds for parking why are four-wheelers allowed in but not two-wheelers? Are two-wheeler owning IFFIgoers second class IFFIgoers? Even vis-à-vis security concerns I’d like to repeat that IFFI is funded with public exchequer funds, since it is not yet privately sourced out – although the government of the day may seek sponsorship and contract funds all around, perhaps to the detriment of the basic aims and goals of the much loved festival.
In any case, any government which has to prove itself on the platform of entertainment needs to be taken to the cleaners! Many a Goan would say, with Covid-19 pandemic still lurking around, where was the need to squander money on IFFI? Surely, if one IFFI is dropped in these stressful times it should not matter. Surely the people need improved healthcare parameters more on an urgent footing first? So let me say IFFI this year is pitted against those who think it is a waste of money on entertainment and those who think no matter what the show must go on! We can’t all stop living, can we? Come to your own conclusion, my dears.

Says Marianne Borgo (French actress from Paris): I like IFFI and I have been coming for many years. Ever since Manoj Srivastava called me up in Paris in 2009 and asked for my help to invite film celebrities like Catherina Deneuve and Luc Besson and many others for IFFI, I was happy to help him and with reason I think IFFI is also my baby, although of course that is just a delusion! This year I think I must be the only foreigner here and yes, bookings for films are done online in the film festivals abroad too. Personally, I don’t like anything on line, I hate it, it is not my world. But I love IFFI here in Goa and despite the pandemic I think you have to give hope to humanity…what with so many dying anyway. My life whenever I am in India is blessed! I always come to Goa on a business visa and travel in India visiting schools with my friend Mahesh Rao from Hyderabad.
Says Vladislav Bogomolov (Russian tourist at IFFI this year): Oh for me it is easy to book for the films online because I am used to using my mobile phone for everything! I am here with my family and I book my three or four films on line and come and go peacefully to see the films… but I have also seen how on the first and second days how many of the delegates were having a hard time booking online… there should be an alternative for them too, that is fair.
Regular IFFI delegate and filmmaker Yogesh Sanghvi from Mumbai: I’ve attended 31 film festivals, 17 of them in Goa, 14 elsewhere in India. I’m a member of the IIFW or Indian Independent Filmmakers Worldwide and coming to IFFI in Goa right from the inception. I’ve over the years made friends from around the world, some of them useful to me businesswise. This is my platform for worldwide cinema, a lifetime’s opportunity! There is an amazing spirit of cinema here with writers, directors, producers, we speak Marathi, Hindi, Gujarati, Portuguese, English, French, Spanish and more…if you’re asking me I think it’s amazing that ESG and DFF have managed to organize this hybrid festival which I believe is at least 30% physical – that itself is amazing! There are 1,400 paid delegates here. Virtual is easy the world over now. I’m happy this is happening in Goa, the show must go on!

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