Riding on a new wave

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By Aruna Vasudev has made it her life?s work to promote Asian cinema, says Samita Bhatia FACE OF THE WEEK - Aruna Vasudev
  • Published 16.07.05
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Aruna Vasudev is sitting in her cheerful office puffing at one cigarette after another. Outwardly, she looks calm but, with the 7th Osian Cinefan Film Festival approaching, there are tiny signs that she?s on edge. As the festival director, she knows that at such events anything can go wrong ? and probably will.

Vasudev has had an eventful career from the time she joined as a greenhorn helping out in the make-up rooms of Doordarshan some 45 years ago. She has lived and breathed cinema since she edited her first film as a rookie filmmaker in a New York film school back in the ?60s. Returning to India after film schools in New York and Paris, she converted her passion for Asian cinema into Cinemaya, a quarterly magazine about filmmaking in the region. ?It was just to let the readers into the vortex of Asian cinema,? she says. A film festival was a natural corollary and Cinemaya?s First Asian Film Festival was born in 1999, opening with a modest 25 films over six days at one venue.

The festival is now into its seventh year and this time it has a rich offering of 120 films spanning 10 days at four theatres. There?s more: two international five-member juries will sit in judgement over films in the Asian and Indian categories. There?s prize money involved and winners will walk away with Rs 5 lakh each. But why has Vasudev been obsessing about Asian cinema? ?The future lies here: culturally, economically, artistically and cinematically,? she says.

Over the years the festival has gained a strong following. Not only are the films worth queuing up for, but there?s the chance of bumping into some of the region?s famed filmmakers. Last year, Vasudev got the Makhmalbaf family (they began the cinema revolution in Iran) into the festival?s fold. This year, Chinese director Wang Xiaoshuai is gracing the proceedings.

And film buffs are prepared to wade through seas of humanity to bag a seat for a show ? any show. Vasudev sighs that she may just manage to cut through bureaucracy and red tape and make the shows ticketed by next year. So what?s up this time round at Osian?s Film Fest? Since Arab films are close to Vasudev?s heart, she?s expanded upon them this year. Film buffs can also reap a rich harvest of martial art movies such as The Valiant Ones by King Hu and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon by Ang Lee.

Cinefans can also go on a nostalgia trip with Satyajit Ray?s Pather Panchali (in its improved and restored print), while others on the schedule include Hong Kong?s master director Wong Kar Wai?s latest 2046, Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-hsien?s award winners, City of Sadness and Caf? Lumiere. Hindi flicks to watch for are Chausar (Dice) by Sagar Sarhardi and Saurabh Shukla?s Aye Dil (Heart goes Sha la la) which will have their world premieres. The master of arthouse cinema, Buddhadeb Dasgupta?s Kaalpurush (Memories of Mist), will close the festival on July 24.

Vasudev has created a buzz with the Cinefan fest ? which collaborated with Neville Tuli?s art auction house, Osian?s, only last year. The festival, which had been growing steadily over the years, turned the corner when Tuli joined hands with Vasudev. She says of Tuli, ?He has a unique vision as he thinks of art and cinema as a part of the development process of a country.? Which pretty much ties up with her own beliefs: that cinema should be a part of the decision-making of the country and that it cannot be marginalised. She is also sure the festival couldn?t have achieved as much as she has without his vision, energy and, of course, money.

Vasudev has been a crusader for the cause of Asia?s arthouse cinema. ?Why shouldn?t the audience have the option of seeing something different if they choose to?? she asks. She recalls her years in France in the ?60s and the proliferating arthouse movies that ran in the theatres. ?Why shouldn?t that happen here as well? With the multiplexes it is certainly possible,? she says.

Today Vasudev has attended just about every film festival around the world -? the International Film Festivals of Hawaii, Fukuoka, Yamagata, Fribourg, Singapore ? just name it. Along the way she has also picked up awards such as Chevalier des Arts et Lettres, France?s top cultural award. She is a very familiar face on India?s film scene ? and yes, she seems to have achieved what she promised herself once, in her teens.

Just out of college she had made a few decisions ? that she would be financially independent and never change her surname if she were to get married. ?I guess those were revolutionary ideas in the ?50s,? she smiles. Once done with college she was at a loose end. There were few jobs going for women and she wasn?t too keen on anything in particular. Her sister Uma was a journalist but Aruna ?couldn?t write at all?.

Around this time, television made its first faltering start in India ? for two hours in a day. She simply walked in asked for a job and spent the next few months helping around with the make-up and costumes that were worn by actors and newscasters. Then her father moved to New York with the UN where she took an intensive summer course, training for over 15 hours a day on film, television and radio. When she edited her first film she was hooked. ?I knew my calling then,? she says.

It wasn?t long before she ?bullied? her parents into sending her to Paris ? the centre of new wave cinema. She got a break when while attending film school she landed the job of apprentice to a filmmaker. Juggling her time between New York and Paris, she wrote to India?s ace filmmaker, Satyajit Ray, asking to work with him on the science fiction film that was in the works. Ray?s film didn?t get off the ground and and so she made a short documentary film after returning to India. ?There was no looking back from then,? she says. So what?s the secret of her success? ?Certainly my parents,? she says. ?Someone once commiserated with them as they only had daughters. But my father said with great pride that his daughters were as good as sons,? she recalls. The sisters ? Uma and Aruna ? have both made names for themselves.

Today as her festival gathers momentum, Vasudev looks back with wonder: ?I think I feel vindicated that there?ll always be an audience for a great movie.?

Photograph by Jagan Negi