DAY ONE (september 6)
6.30am. Jet-lagged and groggy-eyed, one third of the Tolly team comprising Kaushik and Churni Ganguly, Rudranil Ghosh, Srijit Mukherji, Ananya Chatterjee, Neel Dutt, Arindam Sil, Mir’s band Bandage and t2 arrive at the Changi International Airport for Darpan 2012. Mir is already in town, playing the good host despite “each hair turning grey with each last-minute detailing”!
THE RED CARPET ROLLS OUT
7.30pm. We are at Cathay Cineleisure on Orchard Road, a busy, bustling mall with a multiplex that has become the nerve-centre for the five-day fest of Tollywood films.
A red carpet bathed in neon lights has been rolled out for the Laptop team of Kaushik, Churni and Ananya; Rudranil for Chaplin; Srijit for Autograph and 22shey Srabon; Anjan, Neel and producer Rana Sarkar for Ranjana Ami Ar Ashbona; Bhooter Bhobishyot producer Joy Ganguly and special guest actor Joy Sengupta.
“It’s so well-organised — the gathering, the way we are being presented... it feels very warm,” smiled Churni, decked out in a Dhakai jamdani. The Singaporean women, too, are dressed in saris and kurtas, alongside a large number of Bengalis living in Singapore who have turned up for the first-of-its-kind festival. Even Indranee Rajah, a member of parliament and chief guest for the evening, is draped in a chiffon sari! If Darpan is meant to “be a multi-ethnic endeavour to mirror integration through the arts”, it is definitely walking the talk.
Before rushing off to catch Autograph, Rajah, the Singaporean MP of Tamil origin, told t2: “In Singapore, we have had different Indian groups for more than a 100 years — Punjabis, Tamilians and Bengalis have had a presence since the colonial times. Singapore celebrates all these cultures, languages and ethnic backgrounds because it makes us who we are.”
Anjan Dutt felt the Darpan 2012 initiative was “rare”. “I’ve been to many film festivals that celebrate the world but very rarely do we see a film festival focused just on one ethnic community outside their country. The beauty of Darpan is that it is not just showing the changed Bengali films to only Bengalis but to a large international audience. I’m proud to be a part of it,” said the actor-director.
An exciting participant and panelist was Jourdan Lee, a Hollywood actor of Chinese descent known for TV series like Ghost Whisperer and Young Lions. “I would do anything to promote the language of films that bypasses all borders. I’m intrigued to learn that many Bengali films are independent and grassroots,” said Lee, who has been involved in the planning of Darpan.
Going a step further, Nikhilesh Gupta, the president of the Bengali association in Singapore that has more than 2,000 members, has business on his mind. “We just had a special release of Suman Ghosh’s Nobel Chor for an audience of 250 as a test, so that in the future all the Bengali films releasing in Calcutta would release here on the same day. We are in talks with producers and working out the costs,” he said.
After introducing the festival’s inaugural film Autograph, Srijit hung around to catch the audience reaction. “They seemed taken in by the universal appeal of the theme. There were also people from the film fraternity and what struck them was how things don’t change across the two industries, in terms of matinee idol and ambitions,” said he.
While Srijit made his way to the quaint Arab Street for a late-night supper, the rest of the Tolly gang was already on its way to the bustling Clark Quay waterfront, led by their Anjanda. “Arindam (Sil) is actually the team captain,” laughed Anjan, who had been to the Singapore Film Festival before with Bow Barracks Forever in 2006 and The Bong Connection in 2007. “I love the China Town here. It’s comparable to the one in New York. I like how clean and friendly the place is,” smiled Anjan as he walked down the palm-lined riverfront to find the best Chilli Crab, with the gang close on his heels.
One of the little bistros was chosen for dinner. “Thanks to Anjanda’s food map and the right kind of people, the fun has just multiplied!” chimed Churni.
DAY TWO (september 7)
With no festival appearances lined up for the afternoon, team Tolly hopped into Chen Fu Ji, a 50-year-old restaurant, for an authentic Chinese lunch. Chen Fu Ji is known for its special kind of fried rice made with an age-old recipe of crabmeat and egg floss. Swastika Mukherjee and her daughter Anwesha have joined the gang after a two-day river cruise. Post-lunch, some made their way to Universal Studio, some decided to take a walk around the Jurong Bird Park, while the rest went shopping in the Bugis junction.
Our films, their films
While the star brigade was taking it easy, the two festival organisers — Mir and his schoolfriend Sreyashi Sen — arrived at the Lasalle College of the Arts with Joy Sengupta for a session with media students. Mir turned moderator for the workshop that included Pia Aquilia, associate dean of the Tisch School of Arts, New York, and Gabrielle Kelly, a screenplay writer and a BAFTA board member.
While Joy highlighted the “golden age of Indian cinema made in neo-realistic style” and the need to persuade “producers who refuse to look outside the domestic market for collaboration and co-production”, Pia dwelt on the importance of exposing film students to different cultures through films “so that they want to tell more universal stories”.
Back at the Cathay, audiences started trickling in for the screening of Ranjana Ami Ar Ashbona. The Bengalis in the crowd were eager for a glimpse of the maker, who they knew from the 1994 song on which the film is titled. Ranjana, I Ain’t Coming Back — Anjan had decoded the title for the Singaporean Chinese audience, like Lim and Rebecca who got the 20-dollar tickets to satisfy their “curiosity and check out the difference in theme and subject compared to Bollywood films!”