Sydney film festival kicks-off with `Gandhi, My Father'

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By Neena Bhandari

Sydney, Oct 17 (IANS) Critically acclaimed Feroze Abbas Khan's 'Gandhi, My Father' kicked off the 5th Australian Indian Film Festival Wednesday at Cinema Paris in the ritzy Entertainment Quarter that houses the Fox Studios.

Driven straight from the airport to Taj Blue Sydney, a boutique hotel in the heart of a luxury marina, entertainment and apartment complex, Khan was ready to face the media with Akshaye Khanna and Chak de India's director Shimit Amin and actress Sagarika Ghatge.

'Gandhi, My Father' is a very different film to the common perception, of kitsch romances with so called song and dance sequences that most Australians have of Indian cinema. Khan says, "I was intrigued that it was invited for a Bollywood film festival." However, like many other Indian producers and directors, he would rather call it Indian cinema than Bollywood.

So is he excited about his film being screened at major festivals? From Sydney, he goes straight to the Tokyo International Film Festival. Khan says, "I am from the theatre and for us, we only get excited about the show." In this case, the show is the film being screened tonight.

"You want to tell the story, something which has not been told earlier. In Richard Attenborough's `Gandhi', the Mahatma has been portrayed God-like. Divinity entails perfection, but there is nothing that comes without a price. For people who lead the nation like Gandhi, the price was his family," says Khan.

"Gandhi himself talks of his flaws in his letters. It makes one understand the depth of a person. Here is a man with a mission, asking for sacrifices from the family and nation. Gandhi is deeply inspiring, but very complex," he adds.

The writer-director of this highly praised film says, "Of course, the son cannot be the yardstick to judge the greatness of a man. The angst of a father and son has to be experienced by the audience. I had the desire to tell the compelling truth about the life of a great man. I didn't want to go for the jugular and make the film dramatic."

He says, "Gandhi's family understood the compulsion of making a film from a narrative, in this case his letters."

Actor Akshaye Khanna, who plays the character of Gandhi's son, Harilal, in the film says, "To be honest to the character was the thrust because it was my very first experience at playing a real life character."

"Before I read the script, I didn't even know Harilal existed! I was shocked and surprised to read this happened to Gandhi. The script, books and letters were all there to get an insight of the real Harilal. It was a huge responsibility to play a character no one really knows - he is not someone in the minds of people like Gandhi himself or Kasturba", says Khanna, who has been "inspired but not influenced consciously" by his father or any other actor.

The Australian Indian Film Festival has become one of the largest foreign film festivals in Australia. It has been added to Sydney and Melbourne's annual cultural calendar. Every October, 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.

As festival co-director, Mitu Bhowmick, who moved from Mumbai to Melbourne and joined the Black Cat Productions' sister company MG Distributions says, "It is great for the festival to be endorsed by the Australian and Indian film industries. It has been very interesting to note reactions and interpretations of Australians to some of the films."

"The festival has grown bigger and bigger in the past five years. It feels awesome. It is the first time, NDTV will be reporting on the festival to the audience back home for the next five days," she adds.

One of the highlights will be the Bollywood in Australia showcase - a selection of four Hindi films - Dil Chahta Hai, Salaam Namaste, Chak de India and Heyy Babyy, which were shot in Australia and hired Australian crew, dancers and actors.

The 10-day festival will be screened in Sydney from Oct 18-28 and Melbourne Oct 19-28, before travelling to Canberra, Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane and Auckland in New Zealand.