Sydney gets a close look at the Westpac Indian film festival

A Report By The IST Newsdesk

The Westpac Indian Film festival in Sydney opened at Cinema Paris on 18th August, 2017 with great fanfare and amidst the prominent people from the Indian Diaspora and media. The presence of stars enhanced the status of the festival. Tanishtha Chatterjee is a regular at the festivals every year with a new Art House film.  This year her most talked about film is Dr. Rakhmabai, a biopic of India’s first practising medical doctor from the nineteenth century, a time when the women were prohibited from study leave alone medicine and people had to rely on midwives. The male doctors were not allowed to come near the women enclosures and just examined women in a purdah, remember “Kamasutra.”

Dr. Rakhmabai was born in 1864, a time when she had to defy society to study medicine in England. Not a modern family, but traces of modern thinking could be seen when her stepfather with two children refused to marry a 12-year-old after he lost his wife, and chose to wed Rakhmabai’s mother, a widow with two children. In those days Rakhmabai’s mother wrote a love letter to her would be husband. Her stepfather took the initiative to send Rakhma to study medicine abroad.

Tannishtha Chatterjee, who plays Doctor Rakhmabai said after the film that there were challenges of playing a character from the 19th century and the language. She doesn’t know Marathi but somehow cleared the dialogue delivery test. Dr. Rakhmabai lived and practiced up to the age of 90 and in the last year she became ill and could not survive. She died at the age of 91.

Photo courtsey TIDU

A night before, at the masterclass Westpac Indian film Festival, Sydney (WIFFS), Tanishtha was asked to comment on an incident in which she had to leave the show. It was a very popular comedy show and the presenter commented on her dark skin tone. Answered Tanishtha, “Yes it was a very popular comedy show where they commented on my dark skin tone also made some racist joke. I had never ever been made conscious of my colour in my family and friends. And here it was on a show with so many Indians watching the program, I found it very funny. They even made rape jokes when I couldn’t take it anymore. They said it’s only a joke but to me it felt not good at all. So I walked out and posted my comments on Face book when it all went viral.”

“Imagine what impression it would leave on young people who are still not literate about life.”

“It is a pity that even highly qualified women in India can’t get a job if they are not fair.”

The discussion was participated by Shab director Onir and Mitu Bhowmick Lange, the festival Director and of course Tanishtha. The discussion was moderated by Ganesh Chandrashekhar, General Manager of Westpac.

Mitu opined “A lot of social change can happen through such cinema. We need more women to make women centric films not just Indian but all films.” Mitu’s opinion was that “now some movies are there which include diverse characters, be it one in a wheelchair or women as such. A lot of social change can happen through such cinema. We need more women to make women centric films not just Indian but all films.”

The opening film of the festival Shab is about human relationships. While Tanishtha and Mitu favoured song and dance sequences in films. Onir was asked to comments on importance of music in films he said music is an integral part of a film and attaches importance to music as long as it goes along with the story.

The national award winner director Onir was little disappointed with distributors who price small budget films same as big budget films, “Indie cinema needs more theatres at lower prices or tickets at reasonable cost.” There are very few women directors who are actually doing a good job, directors like Sai Pranjpe, Hema Malini are still marching on. Onir’s next project is “kuchh bheege alfaz.”

Raveena Tandon, winner of National award for best actor in 2010 for her role in Kalpana Lajmi’s Daman said that she waited for 17 years for Shab. “When we met 17-18 years ago, we discussed Shab. But life took on, other things came along and we put the film on the back burner. If we had made Shab earlier, that would have been a film ahead of its time for India. But nothing shocks us now! So the wait was worth it, the time has come to show the film to the world.”

Debutant Ashish Bisht was the pick of Shab, flamboyant and attractive, he has proved that talent is abundant in the Indian Film industry.Raj Suri, our own backyard boy, has done a marvellous job as a fashion designer.

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Ashok Kumar

Ashok Kumar is an accomplished journalist with over 38 years of experience in the profession in various capacities. He was a sub-editor in Patriot and later Chief Sub-editor in The Hindustan Times, New Delhi. He has several published articles and reports in Patriot and HT. Published reports in The Blacktown Sun in Sydney. He had also been a tutor in journalism in the University of Western Sydney. He is currently Editor at The
Indian Sub-continent Times, Sydney.

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