Incredible India by the Nile

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By Pratim D. Gupta In Cairo Has Slumdog Millionaire been good/bad for Indian cinema? Tell
  • Published 24.11.09

It took 33 years but India was finally the focus of this year’s Cairo International Film Festival. And by Indian cinema, the annual film festival by the Nile meant the entire spectrum, from Adoor Gopalakrishnan to Celina Jaitley, from New York to Gulabi Talkies. According to the festival organisers, the reason for CIFF to pick India as its theme country this year was: “Bollywood has left its indelible mark on the international screen and we are all anxious to learn more about its origins, themes and music.” Or was it the “indelible mark” left by Slumdog Millionaire, which is strictly considered an Indian film here in Cairo?


Dev Patel and Freida Pinto in Slumdog Millionaire

Among those chosen to be felicitated were Anil Kapoor and Irrfan Khan. While Anil couldn’t make it — he, of course, has a “mindblowing, fantastic, fantabulous” schedule in L.A. — brother Boney Kapoor and bhabi Sridevi stood in for the Slumdog quizmaster. Irrfan was present throughout the 10 days of the festival, only flying out to Luxor and Aswan for a couple of days to soak in touristy Egypt. The other Slumdog man in Cairo was Vikas Swarup, the writer of Q&A, from which the Danny Boyle film was adapted. He was part of the digital feature film jury and he said it like he saw it. “It’s been more than one year now and the Slumdog mania continues as strong as ever. Even in a place like Egypt I can see what an impact the film has made for Indian cinema. There is a fresh interest in films coming from that part of the world and it’s all thanks to Slumdog Millionaire.”


The other Indian film in competition was the Yash Chopra-produced Kabir Khan-directed all-star Bollywood biggie, New York (picture above). The John Abraham-Katrina Kaif-Neil Nitin Mukesh-starrer, supported by Irrfan, was also the opening film of the festival with Mira Nair’s (you can’t miss this Indian connection) Amelia being the closing movie. New York, though, didn’t pick up any awards, which was almost a given, what with Adoor Gopalakrishnan being the chairman of the jury.

The Bollywood-parallel cinema divide was also evident in the selection of Indian films in the special Incredible India section. While Bollywood was represented by movies like Kaminey, A Wednesday! and Summer of 2007, there were lots of regional arthouse winners like Kanchivaram, Gulabi Talkies, Naalu Pennungal (Four Women) and Gabhricha Paus (The Damned Rain).

The digital section sprang another surprise winner from India. Krishnan Seshadri Gomatam’s Tamil film Mudhal Mudhal Mudhal Varai (First Time) picked up the Silver Prize in the category at the glittering closing ceremony in the Cairo Opera House on Friday evening. “Not all films demand 35mm… I tried shooting my film in all types of formats before deciding on HDV (high definition video),” said Krishnan, who was part of Mani Ratnam’s team in Roja.


Madhur Bhandarkar with Irrfan. Picture by Pratim D. Gupta

Madhur Bhandarkar was another Indian honouree at the Cairo Film Festival. His Slumdog Millionaire connection? Well, not much apart from his Traffic Signal being touted by a few as the original desi version of the Oscar darling. There was a retrospective of his films with five of his movies — Chandni Bar, Page 3, Corporate, Traffic Signal and Fashion — being shown in the Nile City. “Itni jaldi retrospective de diya bhai?!” being the trademark Madhur quip.

But the real Indian stars of the festival turned out to be a couple of lesser-known names. Jai Tank’s Madholal Keep Walking, one of the two Indian films in the main competition, won the Best Actor award for Subrat Dutta (in picture below right), who’s been a regular face in Tollywood — from Bibar to Chaturanga. Subrat wasn’t present and so Jai picked up the citation on his behalf. “We were surprised to have made it to the competition category, our film being chosen over Kaminey,” said an excited Jai, whose debut film is based on the Mumbai train blasts of July 2006. “The win for Subrat is our win and this will certainly boost the prospects of a small film like Madholal Keep Walking. We hope that our film too can keep walking.”


An ecstatic Celina Jaitley with her
award. Picture by Pratim D. Gupta

The Golden Pyramid, the biggest prize at Cairo, went to a Finnish film called Letters to Father Jacob, directed by Klaus Haro. Mona Achache won the Best Director trophy for her French film The Hedgehog, which also picked up the Silver Pyramid prize.

But the head-turner on the last evening was ex-Calcutta girl Celina Jaitley. The brand ambassador of Egyptian Tourism was felicitated as the glam face of Bollywood.

Wearing a Neeta Lulla gown “specially tailored to give it an Egyptian feel”, Celina looked red hot on the red carpet and went on receive the trophy of honour from Egypt’s minister of culture, Farouk Hosny. “This is my third visit to this beautiful country but this has been the most special… bhishon bhalo lagchhe,” smiled Celina.

Clearly, the land where Shah Rukh sang Suraj hua maddham to Kajol and Akshay ran Teri ore towards Katrina, is special for the people from “Hind, the country of Amitabh Bachchan”.