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10 January 1998

IFFI takes train to controversy, with Rooks 

Shantanu Datta  
NEW DELHI, January 9: Controversy, it seems, is the other name of India's premier movie mela. To be inaugurated tomorrow, the 29th International Film Festival of India has already kicked up a row over the Asian competition section with Pamela Rooks, director of A Train To Pakistan, questioning the norms followed by the selection panel in choosing films for this section.

"I am very disappointed that my film is not in the Asian competition section. And I am more upset because a film that is not in the Indian Panorama has been selected," she told.

The Asian competition section that replaces the one held last year for Asian women directors, has two Indian films among the 12 chosen. While Govind Nihalani's Hazar Chaurasi Ki Ma is one, hackles are being raised about the other -- Adajya by Swantana Bordoloi.

Rooks and some other directors feel that since Adajya is not even in this year's Indian Panorama it should not have been considered.

"You can't take a film from last year. We have 13films in the Panorama this year and these are supposed to be our 13 best films. Why not select the competition films from these. I take strong objection to it," she says categorically.

Film-maker M S Sathyu, who headed a three-member selection panel comprising Nabyend Chatterjee and Gautam Kaul, said: "While deciding on the films from 59 entries we chose to focus on some new directors from different countries and made sure there was a thematic variety in the final selection of films. As for the Indian films, we have chosen one with strong political overtones, while the other is an extremely sensitive portrayal of a relevant social theme."

Set in the mid 1940s, Adajya is about the plight of widows, with director Bordoloi managing to give ample contemporary relevance. It received rave reviews last year, and in fact, some critics even went to the extent of dubbing as "unjustified" its award as the best Assamese film last year, saying it deserved nothing less than best direction.

Commenting on Rooks's contention of choosing a film from the Panorama, Gautam Kaul clarifies, "We chose the films based on the entries we got. Whether they were included in the Panorama or not was never a part of our brief."

According to sources in the Directorate of Film Festivals, the selectors were reportedly never in any doubt about Adajya. The real dilemma was between Nihalani's Hazar Chaurasi Ki Ma, that takes a look at the turbulent Seventies of Calcutta in the time of the Naxalbari movement, and A K Bir's Oriya film Shesha Drushti, which deals with the disillusionment of a dying freedom fighter who has to bribe a government official to get his son a job.

"The clincher was that Nihalani's film is able to take the story beyond the realms of politics by showing the change in attitudes of the protagonist's family. The family, not only makes an effort to understand the reasons behind their son's rebellion, but also ends up furthering his cause once he dies.

But whatever the arguments, the bottomline is that with 12 films chosen out of 59, there are bound to be 67 aggrieved directors. And for now, round two of the controversy seems scheduled for the time when the five-member jury -- headed by eminent Hungarian film-maker Istvan Gaal and including our very own Sharmila Tagore -- comes out with its verdict.

Copyright © 1998 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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