By Frederick Noronha
Panaji, June 29 (IANS) Eight diverse countries, differing historical and political traditions, unmatched cinematographic backgrounds and over 45 films - mixed together, it is a treat for cine buffs at the on-going South Asian Film Festival here.
This four-day festival, which ends on Monday, is seeing films from eight South Asian Countries - Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka - on the screens.
Five categories of films are being shown: classic, short, documentary, mainstream and new films.
For a region that has been at the flash-point of some bitter rivalries and even nuclear misunderstandings, the screenings remind viewers of the needs for "dissolving boundaries" and "promoting peace and harmony" - the goals of this endeavour in sharing cross-border culture.
Likewise, in a region where ignorance about neighbours is rife, it's surprising to see how much misunderstanding exists about each other.
Journalists covering the festival have also found it tough to sometimes locate online or background early information about films being screened, especially from smaller countries.
What is interesting is also the diverse film backgrounds of participating nations.
Regional and global cinema giant India - certainly so in terms of size - claims to be home to the largest film industry in the world. Its official claim is for having produced over a thousand films each year.
"Every three months, an audience as large as India's entire population visits these halls. Indian films are popular in various parts of the world, especially in countries with significant Indian communities," says a backgrounder to the event.
Cinema was introduced to India in July 1896, and a documentary on a wrestling match in Hanging Gardens, Bombay, was made in 1897. Apart from its Hindi films, India makes films in 30 other languages.
Some prominent regional film industries include Bengali, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Tamil and Telugu.
In contrast, neighbouring Afghanistan has faced a slowed cinema growth due to political changes there after early 20th century start.
When the extremist Taliban took power in 1996 in Kabul, cinema halls were attacked and many films burnt.
"Since 2000, the cinema of Afghanistan has slowly started to emerge from a long period of silence," says an introduction to that country's film industry.
On a positive note, in 2001 Afghanistan's cinema entered a new phase and since its films have been attracting international critics.
Bangladesh's Dhaka-based film industry, sometimes called Dollywood, has an early history, like India's, beginning in 1896 in Calcutta. Hiralal Sen, whose native home was in Manikganj, some 80 kms from Dhaka, was an early filmmaker of this part of undivided India.
Earlier, most production was in Calcutta, but the Nawab family of Dhaka produced "Sukumari" (1928-29) and "The Last Kiss" (1931).
During the late 1960s, Bangladesh produced between 20 to 35 films each year. This grew after independence, and in the 1990s, over 90 films were released in a year.
Tiny Bhutan's experiments with films began in just around 1989. "Gasa Lamai Singye" was the first film made in the Dzongkha language. The film industry is still young, but some films have earned good reviews.
The 1997 film "Jig Drel", made with songs and music likes the ones of Bollywood, is seen to have transformed the movie scenario in Bhutan. The 1999 movie "Phorpa" (The Cup, 1999), about the true story of a young Buddhist monk's obsession with watching World Cup soccer on TV, made a splash in Hollywood and picked up awards in Pusan, Munich and Toronto film festivals.
Likewise, Maldives and its scenic beauty has attracted many filmmakers to shoot there. But drawing audiences in a populous subcontinent for its tiny sub-culture is no cakewalk for this tiny island nation of barely one-third of a million.
Nepal doesn't have a long film history, but films with their Bollywood-style songs and narrative have their own place in the Himalayan country's cultural heritage. Its first film goes back to 1951 - D.B. Pariyar's "Satya Harishchandra", in Nepali, produced in nearby Calcutta.
Pakistan's cinema, called Lollywood after its Lahore connections, ranks among the top film-producing nations in the world, mostly in Urdu. In 1947, Pakistan established three-film production centres in Lahore, Karachi and Dacca. Dacca went to Bangladesh and Karachi collapsed.
Pakistan's film industry has produced greats like actor Sultan Rahi, who has a phenomenal 670 films to his credit, including key roles in 525 films. Screen-writer Nasir Adib has scripted over 400 films in three decades.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka, which first saw a film in 1901 being screened in Ceylon for the then British governor, saw its first Sinhala film "Rajakeeya Wickremaya" (Royal Adventure) screened in 1925.
According to the industry backgrounder, in recent years, feature films have begun tackling courageous subjects including family relationships, abortion and the years of conflict between the military and the Tamil Tiger rebels. Many films are also based on Sinhalese literature.