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The Return of the Osian's Cinefan Festival of Indian, Asian & Arab Cinema

Resurrection of an Important Festival, after 3 years


Lekha Shankar, in N.Delhi

The Osian’s Cinefan Film Festival of Indian, Asian and Arab Cinema, one of the pioneering festivals for Asian cinema, founded by the dynamic Aruna Vasudev, made  a come-back after three years, to New Delhi, India, pleasing the many film buffs  in the country.

After all, this is the Indian capital city’s only film festival, at a time when nearly every city in the country,  is holding a film festival-  Mumbai, Pune, Trivandrum, Chennai, Bangalore,  Jaipur , Bhubaneshwar.

The oldest festival, ofcourse, is the International Film Festival of India (IIFI), which used to be held in Delhi, but has now shifted base to the lush beach-town of Goa. This year, the Festival will be held between 20 November and 30 November, and boasts of  many top films and film-makers who will attend.

The newest festival will be the Kochi International Film Festival, which will  open out in the beautiful port town of Kochi in Kerala, this December  ( 16 December-23 December.)

The Osian Cinefan festival  boasted of   176 films from 38 countries, this year. Many were Indian premieres, including  arresting movies  like Highway from Nepal, The Last Step from Iran, Death for Sale from Morocco, Labyrinth from Turkey,  A Simple Life from Hongkong.

The festival has been one of the progenitors of  the new Thai cinema, and everyone from Nonzee Nimibutr to Apichatpong Weerasethakul, has visited and  relished the festival.

This year, there was an arresting package from Thailand- Penek Ruttuanruang’s  ‘ Headshot’ ( probably the most popular Thai film on the international festival circuit,this year) ,Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s   Cannes-entry ‘Mekong Hotel’ (the one-hour ghost-tale is  the Opening Film of  the forthcoming World Film Festival of Bangkok),  Tanwarin Sukkhapisit’s  ‘It gets better,’  and debut director Wichanon Somumjarn’s Rotterdam-entry ‘ In April, the following year, there was a fire’ .

Wichanon’s film, infact won a Special Jury Prize, at the festival. The young director was delighted by the award, and said with pride that his debut-film was travelling to festivals in London, Vancouver, Italy, Japan,Korea.

In keeping with the  ‘Freedom of Expression’ theme of the festival , Japanese Director Shinji Imaok ‘s notorious ‘ Pink Films’ were screened in the country, for the first time as also Pier Paolo Pasolini's  Salo, Shuji Terayama's  Emperor Tomato Ketchup, Jafar Panahi's This is Not a Film, and others. Infact, Panahi’s young son Panah, a short film-maker, served on one of the Juries.

 He informed that his famous father ,who’s not allowed to travel overseas, was spending  his time travelling within the country and  taking numerous photographs. He admitted that his father was   'lonely', but was trying his best to remain creatively occupied.

Thanks to the Festival’s ‘Freedom of expression’ theme, many  films by young Indian directors had daringly explicit sexual subjects and scenarios. Amitabh Chakrabarthy’s ‘Cosmix Sex’ was one, as also   Ajay Kaul’s debut film  BA Pass which went on to win  two awards.

 ‘Chitrangada’, by India’s best-known transgender director Rituparna Ghosh, was the daring Closing Film. The famous director ,who’s now openly gay  and  has begun act  in his gay-themed films, goes one step further in this film, and deals with the issue of a sex-change operation .

The fact that the Closing Film of the Festival could deal with a little spoken-about theme like this, was proof of the bold vision of the Osian Cinefan festival.

“ We’ve had gays from the beginning of time, and erotica from over 5000 years” stated the  ebullient Chairman of the festival Neville Tuli  ” we were fearless then, and  we need to bring this fearlessness back, now !”

It was with the same sense of déjà vu that this dynamic art entrepreneur resurrected the festival, after  the long break brought about by many reasons, including financial. He not only settled his financial losses, but was now working hard at his dream-project- the Osianama Foundation.The Foundation aims to  be  the country's biggest resource-centre for the arts and culture. 

Thanks to Tuli’s strong art-consciousness, a regular feature of the  Osian Cinefan  festival has been an art auction. This year, the auction was unique because it  featured   Indian  film- memorabilia, in keeping with the 100th Anniversary Celebrations of Indian Cinema. The auction fetched a record 69.55 lakh rupees!

The biggest bidders were Bollywood super-star Aamir Khan and wife Kiran Rao, who bought six collectors’ items, including  the late  Bollywood star Shammi Kapoor’s colourful coat . Other rare artefacts included posters designed by the great Satyajit Ray, as well as black-and-white  photographs signed by the late Bollywood icon Dev Anand.

Neville Tuli stated with pride that the auction emphatically indicated that an enormous potential existed for developing the market for Indian cinema memorabilia, and that the film fraternity now felt a sense of respect for its cinematic heritage.

Another important addition at this year’s Festival, was a section on ‘Environment’ films.

There was also a big focus on Animation films. Infact, the Opening Film was  a grand Japanese animation film Asura ,with a strong environment theme. There was a big section on Estonian Animation films, and a workshop conducted by Estonian animation film-maker Priit Tender.

Among the lectures, which have always been one of the highlights of this festival, was the Inaugural  ‘Mani Kaul’  lecture ( named after the famed Indian film-maker who was actively  involved with the festival, and died recently of cancer), which was addressed by   ex-Venice Festival Director  Marco Mueller. 

A Master Class was conducted by the famous American horror film-master  James Hart. A two-day seminar discussed the subject ‘Is Delhi India’s Next Film City?’ Most people believed it was not.

Among the award-winning films, one of the favourites of the Festival, was ‘ Hansa’ by  debut film-maker Manav Kaul. It won two diverse awards-  the Audience  Award as well as the Fipresci  International Critics award .

“ It’s a dream come true “ exclaimed the director, a successful theatre director, in Mumbai, now making his film debut.

 Artistic Director of the Festival Indu Shrikent, was proud that the Festival  had  drawn house-full screenings and  huge crowds. It also attracted  an array of  top film-makers from the Asian- Arab region- Korean director  Jeon Kyu Hwan , Turkish actress Meltem Cumbill, Jordanian Director  Anne Marie Jecir, French-Afghan  director,  Atiq Rahimi, and many others.

Last but not the least, was the vibrant presence of  New Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit, who has been an ardent supporter of the festival, from its very start. She described  the festival proudly  as  “ A ground-breaking film festival, a world- class cultural event,  and  a very important  happening for  our capital-city. ”

The Osian's Cinefan Film Festival is indeed, an excellent example of  a unqiue marriage between private and public enterprise. More important, it has been responsible for the pioneering promotion of Asian and Arab cinema, which today, has resulted in a plethora of  'Asian' and 'Arab' festivals ,  around the world.


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I'm an Indian film-writer, based in Bangkok, and write for publications in India & Thailand. I also coordinate and curate film programs in the two countries, at cultural centres/clubs, film festivals.



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