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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 



IFFI 52, 034: Some competition films not competitive, below par


IFFI 52, 034: Some competition films not competitive, below par

When you have already attended 44 IFFIs, you pretty much know what to expect. Or do you? Arriving from Mumbai by train on the 20th morning, the day of the inauguration, I found my usual hotel in an unkempt state. The owner, who had a flat there till some years ago, has let it sink into squalor, but critics like me, who fund all own expenses at IFFI, cannot really complain. A couple of hours later, after unpacking and freshening-up, I managed to get both, my accreditation badge and an invitation to the inaugural function, for which we had to report by 2 pm at the car park, where a coach would be waiting for us.

Afraid that I would be late, I almost ran towards the waiting bus, only be made to wait till 3 p.m. after boarding it. The inaugural function was scheduled for 3.30 pm., and we just about made it by 3.25 p.m. Incidentally, the bus was nothing like the air-conditioned, plush-seated vehicles that had been the norm at earlier IFFIs. These same buses were plying to ferry delegates from Panaji to INOX Porvorim, the other venue, but more of that later. It had begun to rain, and as we disembarked at the venue, we were told that this year, the media entry gate had been relocated from where we alighted to the diametrically opposite entrance of the Shyama Prasad Mukherjee stadium. So, I trudged along, found the right gate and entered.

For almost a whole hour, we witnessed rehearsals, practice and trouble-shooting, before the compères came on stage. They were Karan Johar and, if I caught the name right, Murli. The latter sounded like a RJ. We were then bombarded with introductions, speeches and audio-visuals, for a whole 90 minutes. There was so much repetition and back-patting that I just could not take it any longer. It could be assumed that the programme would last for another two hours. By six, I left. I learnt later that Salman Khan and Ranveer Singh performed. There was the inaugural film to follow, and, in absence of the Kala Academy, which is under renovation, it was to be screened at INOX Panjim. But I had no means of transport.

A kindly soul, from the IFFI transport team, obliged, and sent me to INOX in a car. I was already wet, but not soaked. Getting off at the festival complex gate, I had to negotiate my way to the serpentine queue, about 200 metres away. That did it. Now I was soaked. And to add to the misery, there was a huge queue to watch Carlos Saura’s King of all the World. Wet and bored, I felt I could not do justice to Saura’s “modern reworking of his earlier film called Carmen,” as one French lady delegate in her 70s described it, post-viewing. So, I skipped it.

Since I was not invited to the inaugural party (surprise, surprise!), I decided to accept the invitation of hospitable friends, a couple named Atul and Lata Mishra, and have dinner at their home in Taleigaon. My focus, as always, is on watching films in the international competition section, which process I thought I would begin the next morning. The next morning, the same couple, and about a dozen others, were going on a ‘singing picnic’ to Bondla sanctuary, and I joined them. It was a treat, with a lot of guitar playing and old Hindi film songs. My film watching began on the 21st, at 5.30 p.m. So, Charlotte was my inaugural film. And IFFI 52 began, for me, with a bad start.

If memory serves me right, International Competition films are never screened on the first day. For completely logical reasons, I expect the films in the Competition Section to be of the highest calibre, among those on display at the festival. A film from Paraguay, directed by Simon Franco, Charlotte was only 79 minutes long, and I walked out after 60 minutes! Forget about the Competition section, it would barely make the cut in any category. Rubbing it in, the leading lady got the Best Actress award! Hoping for the best, I chose my second Competition film, called Leader, from Poland. Hyped by the director before the screening (why wouldn’t he?), it was a bit of a let-down, but nevertheless one which you could sit through, all 95 minutes of it. This was on the second day.

Wonder what made the powers-that-be schedule as many as four competition films in a single day, on the 23rd of November? What chance would one have of catching all four, with bookings jamming the website/app between 12 midnight, when bookings open for the day, and 1 am? Nobody should expect you to keep awake till 2 am, to book your tickets. By some miracle, I got tickets for The Dorm (Hungary, Roman Vasyanov, 108 min) and Mee Vasantrao (India, Nipun Avinash Dharmadhikari, 180 min), both Competition films. While the former proved tortuous, prodding me to walkout, I sat through all 180 minutes of Mee Vasantrao, albeit catching my twenty winks a few times. Who would blame anybody for nodding off in a three-hour films that is slotted at 8 p.m.? And what about Once We Were Good for You (multi-country co-production) and Moscow Does Not Happen (Russia)? They just did not happen.

Come 24th November, a kind of mid-point, we had three competition films, The First Fallen (Brazil), Any Day Now (Finland) and Land of Dreams (USA-Germany, Shirin Neshat and Shuja Azari). Due to a booking mix-up, The First Fallen became my first fall, because of overlapping timings, I had to opt out of Any Day Now, which I would surely not see any day now, and due to a film-making mishmash, I had to walk out of Land of Dreams too. I could barely keep my eyes open, with the tedious goings-on on screen. Another competition film that turned out to be a bore. That’s a bad score, overall, as far as Competition films is concerned, and raises a few questions about the selection.

While the names of the selection jury members of the Indian Panorama were announced in a press release by the Press Information Bureau, one could not find the names of the selection committee members of the International Section anywhere. Maybe they are hidden somewhere, and a hyperlink will take you there, but I have yet to reach that list. It is too late and pointless to question their decision-making process, but something it does lack something somewhere. Were these the best films they saw? Were these the only films available? These are only some of the questions that arise.

For some years now, this writer has been campaigning for the recognition of film journalists and critics who have covered 40 or more festivals and are 60 or more years old. Their experience would be invaluable, and they should be included in the various juries and committees. Besides, they should be given all the privileges that any other jury/committee member gets. Of course, to maintain some balance, only three or five such persons should be chosen every year. Considering the criteria, which they must prove, there are not bound to be many more journos who will qualify each year.

Lastly, a word on the below par buses. While a group of us journalists was talking about them, Ms. Mrunal Walke, the General Manager of the Entertainment Society of Goa was within earshot. Being the go-getter she is, she got on to her mobile and a couple of minutes later, told us that the buses would be replaced. That some of the buses were still not replaced is a fact that was hard to ignore. On the issue of replacement, how one wishes the below par Competition films could be replaced too!


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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