India takes US centre stage - Forget power brigade, Mughal-e-Azam rules Washington

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By K.P. NAYAR in Washington
  • Published 10.04.05

Washington, April 10: India is stealing the spotlight in thousands of homes in America?s national capital area: not because K. Natwar Singh, P. Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal and Montek Singh Ahluwalia are promoting the country across the US this fortnight as the next global power ? or in spite of them. The Washington glitterati?s current peak interest in India is on account of Aishwarya Rai, Ashvin Kumar and Mughal-e-Azam.

On Wednesday, Filmfest DC, the 19th annual Washington DC International Film Festival will open with director Rituparno Ghosh?s Raincoat, an Aishwarya Rai-Ajay Devgan starrer set in Calcutta. The opening gala will be followed during the next 11 days by 10 Indian films.

In addition, a Bengali film, Songs of Mahulbani, has been entered for the festival?s ?Capital Focus Award?, a first-time, juried competition of selected films ?deserving increased recognition?. This Bengali film, set in the Santhal tribal village of Mahulbani, has already created considerable interest here in the run-up to the festival.

In these days when political correctness rules America, the film is controversial because of its focus on a young non-Santhal doctor who helps the villagers in the fight for their rights, and in the process, gets involved with a local married woman.

The film’s director, Sekhar Das, and heroine Rupa Ganguly will be here in person during the festival to discuss their work. Songs of Mahulbani will be shown here along with Ashvin Kumar’s 15-minute film, Little Terrorist, which was nominated for an Oscar this year in the short film category.

The festival’s organisers are using the occasion to premiere to viewers here one of Bollywood’s biggest extravaganzas ever, the 45-year-old Mughal-e-Azam. What Americans will get to see is the restored, colour version of the 178-minute epic, which was released in some American theatres in New York and Los Angeles a few days ago.
In a celluloid mirror image of the handshake between Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Wen Jiabao in New Delhi, the theme of this year’s Filmfest DC will be “From Beijing to Bollywood”.

The organisers have rationalised this choice on America’s current efforts to develop all-round relations with India and China. Festival director Tony Gittens believes that because of the initiative, “hopefully, areas of culture previously unknown will be illuminated in new ways”.

Gautam Bambawale, the counsellor for culture at the Indian embassy here, says Gittens and assistant festival director Shirin Ghareeb firmed up their decision to make India — along with China — the central focus of this year’s festival after they attended the 35th International Film Festival of India in Goa in December. He said a Gujarati folk dance troupe sponsored by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations will perform on the festival’s opening night.

On their return from Goa, Gittens and Ghareeb asked Manjula Kumar, a director of the Smithsonian office of education and museum studies, to programme the choice of 10 Indian films for the festival.

“We have selected works of celebrated contemporary filmmakers like Mani Ratnam, Rituparno Ghosh and Govind Nihalani and included the pioneering work of young, yet-to-be-discovered talent like Ligy Pullapally and Ashvin Kumar,” she explained in a festival document.