Interview of the Month – Goutam Ghose

An award-winning filmmaker from India, Goutam Ghose has made ten feature films and a number of prominent gautamdocumentaries and numerous ad films, corporate and other short films.Ghose has won 14 National Awards (excluding 2008) besides Filmfare Awards and many International awards. He is the only Indian to win the coveted Vittori Di Sica Award. He was also awarded the Knighthood of the Star of the Italian Solidarity in July 2006.
He was present in our Spring fest to talk about his film. Read his interview as he speaks to our staff Neha Mahajan.

Here follows the complete interview.

I was very anxious while waiting for Goutam Ghose in a New Jersey hotel lobby. Having had a hectic day, I wanted everything perfect for the interview with this eminent filmmaker. It was not difficult to distinguish him amongst the crowd in the New Jersey hotel. His tall, dark, lean and a very confident persona stood out. For the next one hour, I could hardly keep a tab on time. Read on to know what DE SICA AWARD winner Goutam Ghosh had to say about his movies, Bollywood, National awards and his next projects. I wanted to ask him more, but time was short. Here is an excerpt of the interview with this very noteworthy filmmaker.

NM: Kaalbela is a film about turbulent 70s. How did you come across making this film and how nostalgic was the experience.

GG: This movie is based on a popular novel from the 80’s. The writer gave me the freedom to comprehend the story in my own way. It is about the student movement and I have special memories attached to the era of late 60’s and early 70’s where this film is based. While making this movie, my memories of that era just came alive.

Actually, this movie was planned to be a 5 hrs long ten part mini series for DD. But when Mrinal Sen, saw previewed, he wanted me to make a feature film out of it. It was very difficult for me to chop 2 hrs off, hence the length of the movie is about 3 hrs.

NM: You have been and avid follower of Satyajit Ray. Tell us about the close bond that you share with the legendary filmmaker.

GG: I admire Satyajit Ray. He was a unique man of the 19th century, the period which we call of renaissance and enlightenment. He was a great mind. I respect him as a brilliant mind.

NM: You were a strident political activist, an entertainer and director in theatre and photo journalist when you ventured into film making. How has that influenced your work?

GG: I was never a political activist. Born and brought up in upper middle class family. The people of that age were full of sheer romanticism. Without understanding the situation, they’d just jump in. We had an abstract poet in college. Me and my friend, we used to tease him that in times of rage and anger, you write about love and beauty. One fine day we came to know that he too had become a naxalite and was killed a few days later. This was the kind of craziness that youth had at that time.

From a very young age I had a fascination for technology. I believed science to be a part of philosophy. I had a keen interest in music theater and painting. This is what brought me to film making. Music was in my blood. All my siblings were taught at least the basic music. So I also know basic music.(I interrupted him here as he not only knows music much better than he claims but also composes for all his movies.)

NM: Your earlier films were about social issues. I read in one of your interviews that making Maa Bhoomi was quite a learning experience for you. How was the experience and how did you come up with the idea of making film in a language not so familiar?

GG: I met some producers from Hyderabad. It was some time after my first documentary Hungry Autumn. They wanted me to make a movie about peasant rebellion in the Telangana region. So I came across this short story by Kishan Chander. We were really short on budget and this film had a huge war sequence. The villagers were really supportive. They would tell us exactly how the clothes were worn in those times. I learnt a lot from them. Language definitely was an issue, but we had interpretors. One advantage about being in Hyderabad is that it has a heavy Nizam influence so the language is somewhat similar to Hindi, so we could understand most of it. The movie turned out to be a huge commercial success.

NM: Why all the rebellion in the films through protagonists?

GG: There is anger everywhere. If you see some injustice happening in front of you, you feel angry. It is romanticism, youth want change, something new. In 60’s this was dominant in Paris, US and Asian countries. Anger is the sign of the sensible human being. I do not believe in violence. We get angry when we see something wrong. The anger is in heart. We need tolerance in the society, violence cannot solve any problem. When I see terribly uncivilized people, I become angry.

NMWould you like to make a masala Bollywood movie?

GG: I do not understand the term Bollywood. They have money and expertise but the content is the same. If one formula works, they start following it and you’ll see many movies on the same subject. You cannot predict which film will be liked by the audiences. But young people are trying new content and style I have faith in young generation. I recently saw Delhi 6 and really liked the movie.

NMWhat is your take on movies being classified like multiplex, cross over, middle of the road cinema?

GG: Cinema is an intense language. You can write masala type, personal poetry or even the type relevant to the society. Cinema is flexible. When art and aesthetics come together, you’ll find good cinema. Not all my works are the ones that can be termed as great classics from the masters. The classification is more or less based on the economic definition, you really cannot define cinema. Mixed audience is a wonder, you have to work hard make a film for the mixed audience.

NMIs it necessary that cinema be the image of the society?

GG: It is not necessary. Directly or indirecty, you do get a reflection. After all, the characters, the stories are all part of the society. Cinema across the world is reflective of each culture. Indian culture is not homogeneous. It is difficult to define. Ours is a scattered culture. Bollywood along with regional cinema is incredible.

NMIs talent limited to only Bollywood? I mean why is it that Padma Shri (s) go to Aishwarya Rais and akshay Kumars? There is a hoard of talent around, is there something a miss or are we just blind to the right kind of films?

GG: Much to be blamed is the lobby of the strong groups. In the first place why was Hindi chosen as the national language of India? People speak more regional languages than Hindi. So whenever a lobby is strong, it tends to have its influence. Talent is there. I think per say that regional cinema has more talented actors. I personally feel Malyalam films is where the true super stars are. Even in the most ordinary Malyalam film, the acting is exceptional. It is in their blood, from all the Kuchipudi and Kathakali. But concentration is more on Bollywood– the popular cinema. Money and media both play an important part here. They manufacture the same content.

NM: National Film festival awards have always been shrouded in controversy over lobbying and preferences. What is your take on this issue. How will this be best dealt?

GG: National awards were once confirmed for serious type of films. It has become a commodity now. It’s a kind of a medal that everybody wants around their necks. There are a lot of games., lobbying and pressurizing. It depends a lot on the jury. I myself have been in the chair and can say that they don’t get true professionals. It needs three to four weeks of watchign movies, one jury member ends up watching over four full length feature films in a day and becomes an easy victim for the lobbyists. We have seen that in Oscars too for the past many years. Slundog didn’t really deserve to win, but with the media hype, it becomes a different ball game all together. They need to first shortlist at the regional level then be fair in bringing out the right talent.

NMYou acted in Buddhdeb das gupta’s Grihajudda way back in 1982, any plans of coming in front of the screen again?

GG: (laughs) No. I am happy making my cinema.

NMWhat are your next projects?

GG: I love making documentaries, scholarly, academic type of movies. I am currently working on two projects– one is a Indo Italian venture and the other is a Indo-Bangladesh. Until recently there was no bilateral agreement between India and Italy. Now that the agreement is being signed, I thought it was only relevant to make this movie. It is about a young boy and his love for his parents. It is an east-west encounter.
Our country is fascinating. I want to show people smiling, rural people who have nothing but that intoxicating smile.
The second project is about the Philosopher Lallan. It is a must to bring Lallan to the intolerant societies of today.; he was neither a Hindu nor a Muslim.

NJISACF 09 Spring Fest – A Report

Last month has been a busy and eventful one. NJISACF 2009 officially kicked off with a one day Spring Festival on Saturday April 18, 2009, at the Busch Campus Center, Rutgers University, NJ, with style, verve and dazzle. Four independent feature-length films from different regions of India were screened throughout the day, and once again witnessed an audience turnout far beyond expectation.

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Something noteworthy has been happening in Indian cinema in the last decade: the number of independent regional films being made has been comparable to that of the films churned out of Bollywood. These independent films not only deal with subjects rarely addressed in Indian commercial cinema, they often gain critical recognition and coveted awards at international film festivals around the world because of their excellence and brilliance. The one-day festival on April 18, 2009, was a rare opportunity to watch some of such films.

The 4 films screened on the occasion included the revival of a lost gem, Genesis — a story about love, jealousy and betrayal starring Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah and Om Puri — by Mrinal Sen, who is considered to be one of the socially committed filmmakers of international fame who ushered in a new era in Indian filmmaking back in the fifties. Another recent film, Kaalbela, a love-story set in the times of Vietnam and the Bangladesh wars, was directed by Goutam Ghose, who belongs to a generation of filmmakers who are influenced by the works of artists like Mrinal Sen. Noted theater personality Chitra Palekar had her debut feature Maati Maay screened on the occasion. Maati Maay deals with the crisis a woman faces in trying to balance between her professional commitments and instinct. Lastly, Bioscope, a new film by a first-time feature filmmaker, K. M. Madhusudhanan, about the introduction of cinema in a remote village in Kerala, may well be hailed as an outstanding cinematic achievement. Directors Goutam Ghose and K. M. Madhusudhanan were present at the screening of their respective films and both participated in intimate and in-depth question and answer sessions with the audience.

Most of the films played to packed auditorium, with Kaalbela being sold out well in advance. The snaking lines outside the theater and the excitement among the audience are evidence that NJISACF has become a sensation and a much-awaited event for film-lovers who otherwise may not have had the chance to see these films ever again. People travelled from far-away Washington DC, Virginia, Connecticut and Massachussetts to watch these films.

Now its time to wait for the main event in September 2009 – the 3rd New Jersey Independent South Asian Cine Fest, which will focuses not only on regional films from India, but on films by and about South Asians from all over the world.

Catch the updates about NJISACF 2009 regularly on www.njisacf.org.

Join Asian American Film and Theater Project’s free email subscription list and the NJISACF Facebook group.

Festival Updates: February ’09

NJISACF Spring Festival
Encouraged by the overwhelming and growing popularity of the festival, New Jersey Independent South Asian Cine Fest (NJISACF) will be organizing a Spring Film Fest on Saturday, April 18th, from 12 pm to 11 pm, at the Busch Campus Center, Rutgers University, Piscataway, NJ. This will be a festival of regional films by master filmmakers from India featuring rarely seen works by Mrinal Sen, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Girish Kasaravalli and Goutam Ghosh. Details will be posted soon on NJISACF website at www.njisacf.org.

New Website
NJISACF has launched its brand new website. You can check it out here at www.njisacf.org and take a look at our latest updates, blog and more information. Join our email list to get regular updates.

Call for Submission, NJISACF 2009

NJISACF announces its call for film submissions for the 2009 festival. Films submitted should have been completed prior to 2007. Films selected for screening will be eligible for jury awards at various categories. To learn more and download the submission entry form, visit www.njisacf.org.

Personality of the Month

selvaggia_veloSelvaggia Velo
Director, River to River. Florence Indian Film Festival (Italy)strong>

The River to River Florence Indian Film Festival is unique in several ways. It is a film festival in Florence, Italy, dedicated to Indian films and organized by an all-Italian committee, and started as the first festival in the world totally devoted to Indian cinema and films about India. With a great vision, tremendous enthusiasm and hard work, the festival founder and director Selvaggia Velo started this festival in October 2001. As the festival steps into its ninth year, we interview Velo to find out more about what attracted her to Indian cinema, her experiences and her visions.

When and how did you start the River to River Indian film festival? Also, tell us a little bit about yourself. How did your love affair with Indian films start?

SV: The first edition of the Festival took place in October 2001, and the reason was that I realized that at that time there were no festivals in the world totally devoted to Indian cinema. I knew a little bit of Indian cinema – the classics, and also a bit more – but not too much, but I firmly believed that Indian cinema deserved a festival all for itself.
I liked India, and I liked cinema, and I united the two things.

As for myself, I have studied history of Music, Theatre and Cinema at University. I have lived in Paris as a child with my family, in Bruxelles when I was a teenager, and studied at the University of Bologna near Florence. I used to play the piano.

Then since 1998 my love has completely been towards India and it’s culture, and it is since then that I have been travelling to Mumbai, where I have many friends and where I feel at home. I am 36 years old, and I remember that during the first meetings for the Festival, people would look at me a bit strangely, perhaps thinking that a woman would not be able to run a festival, but I am happy that I have am slowly managing all this!

Are there theatres in Florence screening Indian films on a regular basis? Are they Bollywood films?

The theatres do not screen Indian films in Italy at all. The only Indian films that are screened here are those by NRI filmmakers, such as Mira Nair, Gurinder Chadha and Deepa Mehta. Lagaan was screened here after winning the Audience Award in Locarno Film Festival in 2001, but it was not much of a success.

What are your mission and goals?

To showcase the best of recent Indian independent cinema

What kind of response do you get from the Italian audience?

The response is very good, and through the years it has been growing in numbers and quality, taking also into account that we are the only festival of this kind in Italy.

What percentage of the festival audience is Indian? Do you have any person of Indian origin associated with this festival?

Unfortunately, since we do not screen Bollywood films, the Indian audience is very little.

And yes, we have Mrs. Uma da Cunha who is associated with the Festival – she is a film programmer, journalist and casting director based in Mumbai, and she has always supported us since the beginning.

Tell us a little about your experiences in the first couple of years of the festival. What kind of challenges did you face?

During the first couple of years all was new, and I learnt running the Festival as time went by. It is not only the job of selecting films, but also of looking for the sponsors, thinking of the graphics with the graphic designer, deciding the entire film program and side events, the press office and the guests, and all that is needed for the implementation of a film festival. As I said before, I did not study this in any school or university, nor did I have any experiences in other film festivals, so I learnt from my own mistakes and by seeing how things went on every passing year.

How did you go about assembling a film programming team interested and informed in Indian films?

This takes time. I used to be the only person going to India and to festivals, and watching the films that are then sent here. Now, I have people selecting the films with me.

How do you raise funds for this festival?

Most of the sponsors are institutional ones. I am still not that good at finding private sponsors, apart from small ones.

Is there any other film-related event you produce during the year?

I am also a freelance consultant for Indian films in Italy, so often I am called to organize screenings out of the Festival.

What’s your future vision for the festival?

This year will be the 9th year of the festival, and 2010 there will be the 10th year – something that I never imagined would ever materialize, sincerely!

The Festival wants to become THE place in Europe where to watch Indian films, and be also a marketplace where future collaborations can begin

Yes Madam, Sir

yesmadamsirWhile Slumdog Millionaire continues to be in the headlines, another film Yes Madam, Sir, a documentary based on the life of India’s first woman IPS officer, Kiran Bedi and produced and directed by Australian film-maker Megan Doneman is making news too. The film is the winner of two top awards at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, including an award money of $100,000, the biggest prize for a documentary in any film festival as well as $2500 Fund for Santa Barbara’s “Social Justice Award” at the festival.

A film about Kiran Bedi’s journey in the police force, Yes Madam, Sir explores how Bedi established a place for herself in a profession mainly dominated by men, how she single-handedly confronted a mob of sword-wielding protestors, how she towing a car belonging to then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s cavalcade during 1982 Asian Games, and how she changed lives of thousands of prisoners by introducing unique reforms at India’s largest jail, Tihar in Delhi. The film also explores Bedi as a daughter, wife and mother.

On winning the award, Doneman said that “this is not just an Indian story. It is a universal, timeless and inspiring story about standing up for your convictions and never giving up. During today’s difficult times, this story gives us all hope”.

Supriyo Sen’s Wagah Wins Berlin Today Award

wagahIndian filmmaker Supriyo Sen’s film Wagah has won the sixth Berlin Today Award at a parallel initiative held at the ongoing 59th Berlin International Film Festival. This year, the theme of the competition was ‘My Wall’, so as to mark the 20th anniversary of the fall of Berlin Wall.

The 10-minute short is about the ritual that takes place at the Wagah border between India and Pakistan The film completes the trilogy for the two-time National Award winning director. Sen’s previous films, Way Back Home and also explore the story of the partition of India. Sen’s films have won the prestigious Sundance Documentary Grant and the Pusan Award.

While announcing the award on Sunday, Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that Wagah was “a convincing manifesto against any wall that divides people.”

Call for Submission 2009

We are now accepting film submissions for NJISACF 2009. Here are the film submission guidelines:

NJISACF 2009 will showcase independent films by or about South Asians from across the globe.

Filmmakers are invited to submit features, shorts and documentaries of all genres (including animation), formats and lengths. Films should have been completed no earlier than 2007.

Submissions for NJISACF 2009 will be accepted only through May 30, 2009. Films postmarked after May 30, 2009, will not be considered for the Festival. For questions about submission, please send an e-mail to: submissions@njisacf.org

How to submit your film

  • Scroll down and save both pages of the embedded submission form. You can right click and hit save for both pages to do this. Print out the form.
  • Carefully read the Submission form.
  • Fill out, Sign and date the submission form.
  • Refer to the Application Checklist below before mailing your entry. Send the completed entry form to the address provided on the form with 2 copies of NTSC DVDs or VHS tapes.
  • All applicants will be notified via email by August 4, 2009.

Submission Guidelines

  • Filmmakers may submit more than one entry. Each entry must be accompanied by the entry form. Films should have been completed no earlier than 2007.
  • Only films by filmmakers of South Asian origin/ about South Asians worldwide/ involving South Asian actors in major roles will be considered
  • All foreign language films must be subtitled/ dubbed in English language
  • Only NTSC DVDs or VHS tapes will be accepted for submission screening.
  • DVDs and VHS tapes must be labeled with the title, running time, contact information on the DVD/ tape label. Submission DVDs/ tapes will not be returned.
  • Every submission must be accompanied by a film synopsis (60 words) and Bios (50 words each)
  • Please do not send submissions in fiber-filled envelopes, as the dust damages DVD players or VCRs.
  • If your film is selected, you will be required to provide 1 screening master, electronic press kit including synopsis, full credits, b/w and/or color stills from the film, poster and promo reel or trailer (if available), filmography and the director’s headshot.
  • All filmmakers will be notified via e-mail by August 4, 2009.

Submission deadline is May 30, 2009

Send Film Entry to:

Asian American Film and Theater Project,P.O. Box 136, Monmouth Junction, New Jersey, 08852 USA

Courier packages should be sent to the address below:
Sakti Sengupta, 117 Jared Drive, North Brunswick, New Jersey, 08902, USA

APPLICATION CHECKLIST

  • Two DVDs or VHS tapes (NTSC)
  • 60-word Film Synopsis
  • Bios of cast and crew
  • Application Form

Application Form Page 1

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Application Form Page 2

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