Australian Indian Film Fest showcases Satyajit Ray classics

Sydney, Aug 30 (IANS) From a retrospective of Satyajit Ray classics to recent hits and small-budget gems, the ongoing Australian Indian Film Festival (AIFF) has plenty for every cinema lover.

Australians and Indians Friday night came with friends, partners and spouses to raise a toast at the start of the festival (AIFF) - which has become this country's largest foreign language film fest - at the iconic Fox Studios in the heart of Sydney.

For the first time in its six years, the festival showcases a selection of films from one of the world's finest filmmakers Satyajit Ray and includes a diverse range of regional cinema, besides the Bollywood hits of the past year.

From a hardcore blockbuster "Om Shanti Om", an epic historical with leading stars "Jodhaa Akbar", a tale of a dyslexic child in "Taare Zameen Par", the platform is shared with the controversial "Dharm" and a small budget yet beautifully woven Marathi film, "Tingya", a story of a little boy and his cow. The festival line up is a true reflection of Indian cinema.

"The aim of this year's festival is to showcase just how absolutely versatile and unique our film industry is. Besides Ray's retrospective, we have ventured beyond Bollywood and have a true representation of Indian cinema by giving a platform to some of the finest regional films from our country," festival co-director and CEO of Melbourne-based Swish MG Distributions Mitu Bhowmick-Lange told IANS.

"Ray's films have a huge following among the Western audience and it's the best platform to bring in a wider audience. We are thrilled to showcase five of Ray's classics on the big screen in new enhanced prints, including the eternal much loved timeless classics - Pather Pachali and Apur Sansar - which break all cultural and language barriers," Bhowmick-Lange said.

Every Australian spring, the audience, largely reared on mainstream American and Australian productions, and the growing Indian diaspora, is treated to a selection of the best Indian films.

"I am big fan of Indian cinema. It helps me keep the connection with Indian culture," Zara Zaher told IANS. Her family hails from Afghanistan and she had spent six years in India as a child.

"Watching Hindi films also complements my other talent. I am learning Bollywood dancing", says Zaher, a graduate in Media and Communications, who has been encouraging friends to come and explore what the world's largest film industry has to offer.

For many, Bollywood films have been the closest they have got to the 'exotic world' of 'magical experiences' that India is for them. "Since watching 'Bend it Like Beckham', I have been smitten by Indian cinema as it answers a lot of questions about my family who are originally from Mauritius, which has a strong Indian influence," Jeannine Baird told IANS.

The credit for bringing Indian films into mainstream cinemas in Australia goes to Swish MG Distributions, which has been promoting Australian locations to Indian film producers and directors.

"It is a good idea to broaden the festival now. The diverse range in this year's festival gives films more validity and helps people understand that Indian cinema has a lot of variety and it is not all song and dance.

"Ray is one of those maestros, whose films have not been easily accessible on DVD, so this is a unique opportunity to see how his films have stood the test of time," Adrienne McKibbins, Chief Executive Officer of the Film Critics Circle of Australia (FCCA) and Asian Film Research Consultant, told IANS.

The AIFF's Best Feature Film Award was bagged by the inspirational "Taare Zameen Par", produced and directed by one of India's most acclaimed actors Aamir Khan. The Best Performance Award went to Kareena Kapoor for her role in "Jab we met".

The festival, which has been added to Australia's annual cultural calendar, will travel to Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth in the coming months.

Supported by the Directorate of Film Festivals and India's Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, this year's festival had a marked absence of any stars or producers and directors from the industry.

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