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Siraj Syed


Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com 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. 

 

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FICCI FRAMES 2018, VIII: Glitches and beeps

FICCI FRAMES 2018, VIII: Glitches and beeps

It’s an age-old catch 22 situation: An event needs coverage, and a journalist needs events to cover. Symbiosis is the name of the game. In the given equation, a big event or a big media house may prove equal to each other, but an unequal arrangement—big event, small journalist; small event, big journalist--usually leads to bitterness. What confounds the issue is the playing of favourites: certain event organisers inviting only certain media-persons and certain media-persons covering only certain events.

FICCI FRAMES started at the turn of the millennium, when I was based in Singapore, so I missed the first three or four. The three-day conclave/convention is held in Mumbai, India. But ever since I got back, I don’t remember having missed any. That makes a score of a solid 14 in 14 years, till 2018. Moreover, I normally attend 5-6 sessions a day and actively participate in all, with relevant queries in the post session Q & A. Both facts can be verified easily, because there are written and video records made every year. I have also written about the event very often, another fact with documentary proof available with me.

Some one to three weeks before the event, media registrations begin online. Sometimes, a press conference is held a week before. I have always applied for registration and attended press conferences. Media registration is also called ‘accreditation’, and this accreditation was always granted to me and many other Mumbai-based journalists, without the least hitch. All this changed from March 2015. That year too, like was the norm till 2017, the convention was held at the Renaissance Hotel, Powai.

On the first day, I reported at the Media booth, having been informed officially that my registration was done and I had to collect my badge from there. I was handed over the badge, but not given the kit bag and its contents (reports, pen, pad, delegate profiles, itinerary, etc.). Assuming that it was an oversight, I asked for it. In reply, I was told that the bag was for select persons only, and would not be given to me. I couldn’t believe my ears. Media is usually given gifts, more stuff than the average attendee, to indulge them, and here was an event that was denying a senior media-person (I had been a media-person for 45 years till then) even the basics. I got a little upset and asked them why.

A burly Public Relations Agency executive took me to secluded spot, and threatened to beat me up unless I went away “quietly”. “But you are giving bags to everybody, including some of my fellow scribes. Why this discrimination? What have I done to you?” He had his agenda, “I don’t care what you have done or not. Just go away, or I will knock some sense into you.” Go away I did...and reported the matter to the sponsors of the bag. Yes, the bag was sponsored, and came to FICCI absolutely free. So what was the problem?

“Do you think the number of bags you gave them are not enough?” The sponsor was not convinced, “We have them all they wanted, and I am sure they would have arranged for some reserve stock as well,” she responded. So what was happening to the bags? And why me? No official answer was given, but logically, it had to be one or more of four reasons:

1. They held a grudge against me.

2. They did not like my face or name.

3. They were denying the bag to some others too.

4. The bags were being siphoned off, and they could not deny the ‘biggies’ their bags, so bags were refused to persons like me, who were not with the top 10 TV , print or internet publishers.

Things worsened the following year, when, besides denying the bag to several media-persons, Media Centre was reduced in size by half, resulting in several reporters having to sit on the floor and operate lap-tops. When I protested to FICCI officials, I was told that that the said reporters refused to sit on chairs as work-stations (there weren’t any available) and insisted on sitting on the floor. Meanwhile, the bags denials saga continued.

In 2107, the animus against marked media-persons hit rock bottom—they were denied registration altogether. What can one say about the decisions to bar part of media at an event that sings paeans to media growth and celebrates the achievements of the media industry in touching turnovers of INR X,00,000,000,000. What is the concern? That these 30 persons out of an average attendance of 3,000, a mere 1%, debarred will eat and drink the common items and will take home a sponsored bag?

Somehow, I was granted registration at the venue, last minute. When I went to collect my kit, I was given the same, familiar lines, with some choice addition. “Your name is not on our list. We will not give you any bag. How did you get that badge, in the first place?” Shocked beyond words, I went to the man who had given me the badge, and reported the incident. His reaction? “Don’t bother me. First you wanted the badge. Now you want the kit. Don’t make so many demands. We had made a policy decision this year not to invite editors, and you are an editor, still I gave you a badge. ” I took the hint. But the logic failed me. An editor attending is considered the ultimate in media reach, and here was an organisation that was dead against editors. Were they dead against getting any coverage as well? Denying entry to editors would surely seal the fate of all coverage.

Come 2108. I and many of my journalist colleagues from Mumbai registered online. Some 14 of them revealed that they did not get any replies, yes or no. The 15th person was I. Then we heard that they had appointed a local PRO to vet the applications. She called us to the inauguration and was to make our badges there. We went. Making of badges was postponed to the next morning, the first day of the convention. We went there, as planned.

Badges and bags were given routinely to most of us, but denied to a few, including yours truly. The concerned PRO suddenly perceived me as a stranger, and asked for my credentials. It was only when she saw the website of filmfestivals.com, my picture there and as many as four articles on FICCI FRAMES already uploaded even before the event had started that she took the initiative and got me my badge. (I now have eight articles uploaded, which, according to my belief, must be the highest count for anybody who wrote on the conclave).

A friend, upset at what had happened, who too was denied the kit bag, went up and spoke to an official manning the booth of the bag sponsors. The official  felt sad about the incident, and agreed to speak to the organisers and tell them to give us two of the kit bags. On the second day, the lady who had created a ruckus in 2017 about the issue, and asked her for the bags, in a mix of stern and polite tones. She gave him two, the second one was for me. How nice!

Grand Hyatt Hotel, where the convention moved this year in view of room shortages at the Renaissance, is no patch on the latter. Hot beverages were always served cold, cookies were always soft and soggy, and desserts were sour. There was nothing in the shape of a view, though the waterfall is cute. Electric supply tripped several times. It was usually impossible to speak to the captain on duty. As many as three staff-members would come-up, one after the other, pretending to be captains, before the man was located.

Coming to the sessions at FICCI FRAMES 2018, they were the usual mix, with technology and monetisation getting more prominence than software and creativity. A former FICCI bigwig from the Indian film industry got into a mud-slanging match with a moderator, an ugly sight anywhere, any time. A large number of scheduled speakers did not turn-up, including former Indian cricketer and captain, Anil Kumble. For the first time in a long time, the compères/anchors were shuffled and a new one, a lady, was asked to conduct the opening ceremony. The valedictory function was...believe it or not...cancelled. Cocktails and dinners used to be a fixture on all three days. That rule was ‘relaxed’ some years ago, to make it two. Now it is on the opening day only—one!

An array of film-stars used to attend the grand event. But, since 2015, it is steadily slipping ground. Maybe a fifth of VIP names make it to the venue. With many glitches and beeps, including the recurrent use of the ‘f’ word by speakers, it isn’t quite what it used to be. Of course, FICCI FRAMES remains one of the biggest conventions in the region and  definitely the biggest in India. May wiser counsel prevail and may FRAMES go back to its 2014 and pre 2014 glorious days.

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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 FilmFestivals.com 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

India



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