The International Film Festival of India (IFFI) is the biggest film festival in the country. It’s also the oldest. Being the official film festival of India, it also has the biggest budget as compared to dozen odd international film festivals that are held in the country every year. Also, lately, there’s been a lot of talk of making it as good and prestigious as Festival de Cannes, Sundance Film Festival or Berlinale. Now, if IFFI is such a special event, one would expect it to give a brilliant cinematic experience to those attending it. Having been here, I think it certainly gives such an experience, it really does, but only to VIPs, international guests, jury members, other special invitees and, probably, those holding media accreditation. These folks enjoy unhindered access to screenings, to parallel events and panel discussions besides many of them enjoying it as a 11-day free trip to the tourist hotspot paid by the Government of India.
But for a common delegate, the film festival delivers more disappointment than delight, more frustration than fun and feeling of a helplessness than contentment. Additionally, an ordinary delegate should also brace himself/herself for knee pain (hours of queuing up), headache (standing in scorching sunlight to wait your turn to enter), increase blood pressure (arguing/fighting/begging with the organisers, volunteers and policemen). Now this doesn’t seem to be an exciting package for a cinephile who managed to attend the festival by securing a 10-12 days leave from work or college, spend money on accommodation and food in the expensive city and put up with the hot and humid climate of Goa. Does it?
Nobody is saying IFFI is a dud. There are many things that are admirable about IFFI: It presents an excellent selection of movies from across the globe, great retrospectives, there are very few cancellations, some very informative sessions by filmmakers, hospitable host city. But from the point of view of a delegate, there are more minuses than pluses and IFFI organisers has a lot to do to meet the expecations of the attendees and make it a thoroughly enjoyable experience for them.
I wouldn’t know where IFFI stands in comparison to Cannes or Venice which are loved globally since I haven’t been to these, but what I know from a first hand experience is that IFFI needs to mend many a things even to satisfy the local film lovers.
Now will this happen by relying on show off, extravaganza and huge expenditure on paraphernalia such as giant cardboard replicas of Bollywood-Tollywood superstars, lighting up the roads, setting up food stalls (which price a plate of panipuris at Rs 50) when a delegate is unsure if he would be able to return to her accommodation after watching the last screening (which ends around midnight) as there’s no public transport available post 9 pm.
However, the biggest complaint that the delegates have with the organisers is the ticketing system: As per the IFFI rule, a delegate can only get tickets only for three screenings a day when he can potentially watch six movies per day. Also, a delegate has to book the ticket two days in advance by standing in the queues as early as 7.30 -8 am. And since some movies will be more popular than others and there are 13,000 odd delegates against whom you are competing, it’s likely that you would end up missing tickets for movies of your preference. The option of online booking is of also little help.
At the risk of sounding boring, it’s important to see how simple arithmetic makes it clear that the event is bound to be a a disappointment the visitors :The capacity of the festival with seven screens at hand is to accommodate is 1,352 viewers at any given time, while as per the IFFI organisers, a total of 13,600 delegates registered for the festival this year. This means that even if only half of the total delegates turn up at the festival venue to catch different films, an overwhelming majority of them will be dismayed. Barring two screens (Kala Academy with a capacity of 925 and INOX Screen 1 with 517) all other five screens have an average capacity of 200 seats or even less. Smallest (Maquinez Auditorium) II can only accommodate 80 people. Now this certainly is a big lacuna when even smaller festivals, like Pune International Film Festival (PIFF) which had 9000 delegates last year, has as many as 14 screens with almost three times higher sitting capacity than IFFI. Also, festivals like PIFF follow the delegate-friendly practice of screening the important/popular films at least twice so that those who miss or are left out in the first screening can catch it again. This is rare at IFFI. Once you miss a film, you miss it. You can go home and rant.
If this is frustrating for all the delegates it’s worst for the senior citizens which forms a large chunk of the attendees at any film festival. I personally saw many of them struggling to book tickets. Many of them gave up and chose to simply queue up in spiraling ‘non-ticket-holders line’ only to be turned back from the counter saying the theatre was full. I came across many such senior citizens who chose to stick to the Kala Academy venue as it had a large capacity and less chance of getting housefull although they would have preferred to watch movies being screened at other venues. This certainly dampened their spirit.
Talking about the dampeners, another important pleasure that IFFI deprives its delegates of is the delight of hopping from one screen to another in the middle of a movie if you don’t like it, which happens often as the incomprehensible synopsis provided to you will seldom give you a correct idea of the theme and the story. But at IFFI, if you leave one auditorium you are told to exit the venue and queue up for the next screening which can be hours away.
It’s also beyond comprehension why the open air screen – which can accommodate any number of crowd – is only utilised to show festival-bummers like Dil To Pagal Hai (1997), Aaja Nachale (2007) and Dhoom 3 (2013) which fail to attract even 50 viewers. This screen could’ve been put to better use by screening movies which are popular with both IFFI delegates and locals (non-delegates) such as those in Gulzar retrospective, Godfather (Gordon Willis homage), Charlie Chaplin movies.
To sum up my disappointment with the organisers, it would be pertinent to share an incident which happened on the third day – Sunday. After standing in the ‘ticketless queue’ for almost one-hand-a-half hours to watch Ida (2013), a Polish drama, we were told by the volunteers guarding the entrance that the auditorium was full and we could leave. 250 odd delegates who were irritated by queuing up created a ruckus saying that their friends inside the theatre were telling them over phone that there were still 50 odd seats vacant inside. The policemen and volunteers wouldn’t listen to the request by delegate to let one representative inside the theater, to see if the auditorium was indeed full. Finally, a member of the organising committee appeared at the entrance. After listening to the complaints by the delegates, in an apparent attempt to assuage them, he said, “Listen, do you even know that this movie for which you are creating so much ruckus is a black and white movie! Totally black and white! Now you tell me, do you still want to watch it?”
If you have such lowly opinion of your audience, sir, how can you even dream of competing with Cannes?