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Siraj Syed

Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. 



7th Jagran Film Festival was a wake-up call: Siraj Syed


by Siraj Syed

If they care, they should reflect. Reflect hard. Empty halls, mismanaged shows and several films with far below par audio-visual quality, do not augur well for the Jagran Film Festival, now in its 7th edition, organised by a media giant, the Jagran Group. Jagran's Vision, as enunciated on its website: Just like the morning sun that dispels darkness and brings warmth to the world, the vision of Jagran is to transform lives through enlightening and enriching experiences. A step in this noble direction was to be the festival, held from 26 September to 02 October, in Mumbai, at the four screens of the Cinépolis (formerly Fun Republic) multiplex, in suburban Mumbai. Unfortunately, we had loads of darkness, and little light. To be fair, though, some outstanding films shone through and almost saved the day.

Jagran Prakashan Ltd (JPL) is among India's leading media and communications companies, with its interests spanning Print, Radio, Out Of Home (OOH), Activations and Digital. Jagran group publishes 12 print titles, in 5 different languages, spread across 15 states, with over 100 editions. It follows that publicity and promotion should be a cinch, so they cannot blame the empty halls on the lack of advertising budget. Moreover, their Board of Directors includes some heavy weights in Public Relations and Advertising. Surely their services would be available to the Gupta family that runs the group.

It is not known whether they had a pre-event press conference, or any inaugural function, besides getting Arjun Kapoor as Chief Guest at the first screening. Most likely, they did not. It is known that they had an awards ceremony, but only they know why they held it mid-fest, and made sure that media was kept away. Media other than their in-house vehicles, that is. Budget constraints are always a good excuse, invariably a false one, so I hope they will not blame the poor show on pruned inflow.

It is also known that they had a retinue of students from the National Institute of Event Management (NIEM) getting their hands-on training, to augment the staff on duty. These students revealed that some of them were invited to the reception, where the guests included singers Udit Narayan Jha and Alka Yagnik, and aging villain Prem Chopra. And, lastly, they had three veterans at the helm of affairs: Former Entertainment Society of Goa CEO and former Deputy Director of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), Manoj Srivastava, as Strategic Consultant, and veteran Hindi journalist, former PRO, and currently Films Editor at Dainik Jagran, the Hindi daily, the group’s flagship, on ‘deputation’, aided by Mayank Shekhar, film-critic and author. The two consultants chaired moderating duties at the various one-on-ones and other workshops/sessions.

One often found the audience count limited to under 20. A couple of Cuban films were of very poor technical quality (even allowing for the fact that these were part of a retrospective) and incongruous formats. When really needed, there was no one around for as far as one could see. Films scheduled were sometimes not shown, and no reasons given. There was a small lounge near the media registration desk that served as some kind of office cum interview room cum media centre. Except for old faithful Bharati Dubey, I never found any media-person there. No media access computers/laptops, and, not surprisingly, no wi-fi. One large-hearted lady from NIEM offered to bring me some desperately needed tea. A full 15 minutes later, what she put on the table was a cup of sweetened milk, and a tea bag in it that had no tea at all. I was not interested in enhancing my knowledge about that lukewarm concoction as flavoured tea. “That’s all we have,” she said, with an air of finality. A couple of TV cameras were spotted once. No brochure/catalogue was published. Many screening slots were left empty. South America, including Cuba, seemed to be the flavour of the day, available in Spanish and Portuguese toppings.

There were some positives, for sure, but rather than rest on those fragile laurels, it would serve the powers that be real well to treat 7th JFF Mumbai as a wake –up call.

Talking about positives, here’s the list of the 10 films I caught at JFF, in descending order of ratings. Most of them make the cut:

Chato—The King of Brazil, ****


Battlefield, Bolivia, ****

Madagascar (1994), Cuba, ***1/2

The First, The Last, Belgium, ***1/2 (with Michael Lonsdale and Max von Sydow in supporting roles)


Maynak Shekhar, Vani Tripathi (actress turned political activist-turned Censor Board member), Sudhir Mishra, Politician Sudhanshu Trivedi, and Kaveri Bamzai (critic)

Bawra Mann, India, *** (Documetary on Sudhir Mishra)

Mithila Makhaan, India, *** (In the Maithili language, spoken in some parts of Bihar, mainly by the Jha clan)

The Surprise, Italy, **1/2

Suite Havana, Cuba, **1/2

The Plants, Spain-Chile, *1/2


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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.

Bandra West, Mumbai


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