The 46th International Film Festival of India (Iffi) that concludes today in Goa is likely to be remembered for the intolerance it displayed towards a section of film students. FTII students, who had organised an unprecedented 139-day strike against the individual chosen by the information and broadcasting ministry to head the institute, were singled out for special treatment during the festival. The organisers, mainly I&B ministry officials, first cancelled a section on films by FTII students, a regular feature of past festivals. Then, FTII students, barring a chosen few, were reportedly denied passes. Police action followed after two students held up a placard against the government at the inauguration and cases were slapped on them. Festival delegates who wore badges to express solidarity with the students were told to remove them. The severity of the government response stunned the visitors, including the large film fraternity that had gathered in Goa from across the world.
From the inaugural event in 1952, Iffi has been a celebration of art and artists. The festival was conceived as a platform to showcase the new republic and the freedoms it guaranteed. The films that were screened, and the filmotsavs that were held every alternate year, celebrated creative freedom, including the right to dissent. Not surprisingly, these events attracted an extraordinary crowd — creative, eccentric, rebellious men and women. Great films with subversive content were screened. These festivals were classrooms for budding filmmakers who could watch the classics as well as the latest art house cinema and interact with established artists. Friendships and solidarities formed at Iffi contributed to the making of India’s parallel cinema and film society movement. The state may have been occasionally squeamish about the raucous character of the festival crowds in the past, but rarely shut the door on dissenting views.
The censoring of the audience at the Goa festival marks a new low for Iffi. With state governments sponsoring quality film fests, Iffi is already losing its edge as the country’s premier festival. Moreover, there is a conscious attempt to turn the festival into a film marketing jamboree. Do the organisers now want Iffi to be just a sarkari event, welcoming only those who conform? That would rob the festival of its soul.
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