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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. 



IFFI Goa 2015, Festival Diary, I


It began, like Ameen Sayani’s legendary film music popularity countdown show, Binaca Geetmala, in 1952, a few months after I was born. The first International Film Festival of India (IFFI) was held in 1952, in Bombay, which was at that time, a state in itself. It was a non-competitive festival and ran for a fortnight. Twenty three countries, including host India, participated, along with the United Nations Organisation. 52 feature films and 115 documentaries, scientific films, cartoons, puppetry-based, educational and children films, were screened. A special feature of the inaugural function of the festival was the re-screening of the first film shown in Bombay, by the Lumière Brothers, 56 years earlier, in 1896.

It was nine long years before the second IFFI edition came up, at Delhi, in 1961. This festival was also non-competitive. Competition was introduced in the third edition, in 1965, and with an A gradation by the Paris-based Federation International de Producers de Films (FIAFP), it came on par with Cannes, Berlin, Venice, Karlovy Vary and Moscow festivals.

Thirty four countries participated in the fourth IFFI, 1969. The Government of India instituted national film awards in this edition. Thirty such awards were classified under three sections--films as art, films as communication and for special shorts films. I was 17 going on 18, an age that would soon allow me to attend film festivals, and that year was the first time I heard about IFFI. I also managed to see Akira Kurosawa’s landmark films, Red Beard and Rashomon, at private film society screenings in Mumbai. These two Japanese films opened my eyes to a world I never knew existed. When was IFFI coming to Bombay?

Delhi 1974 saw India adopting a permanent insignia: a representation of the peacock, India’s national bird, with a permanent motto of the festival ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (The whole world is a family). Till date, the peacock appears in various shapes and forms, on all festival paraphernalia as well as the animated video that precedes every screening. The same year, it was also decided to hold a non-competitive festival of films (Filmotsav, which, translated, means ‘film-festival’), alternating with IFFI. By this time, I was running a film society and viewing films that would never make it to cinema halls, both on account of their content and language (non-English).

IFFI came to Bombay too, but under another name: Filmotsav. Taking the shape of a travelling festival, IFFI stayed in Delhi for its competitive avatar, while a non-competitive version travelled from metro to metro city, every alternate year. 1976 saw it land in Mumbai, and I was part of the organising and selecting committees. It came back again as Filmotsav, in 1984, when I still played a small part in the organising.

The significant change in the 12th IFFI, held in Delhi in 1989, was that it was made non-competitive, following a decision taken in August 1988, by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, that the state sponsored film festivals, in future, would be non-competitive, and that all festivals would be called IFFI, marking the end of Filmostavs. Hence, the festival held in Calcutta was called the 21st IFFI, instead of Filmotsav 90. Another important decision taken in 1989 was that IFFI will hence-forth be of 10 days’ duration only. Many reasons were forwarded for these changes, but I cannot comment on their veracity or accuracy. The general feeling was that IFFI did not attract the better films for competition since it was yet to achieve the heights of other major competing fests, and that 14 days meant higher costs, so the pruning to 10 days was mandatory, as an austerity measure. Never mind. I was by now an IFFI addict, and braved the 3-20 ̊ C temperatures that greeted us in the Januaries of New Delhi.

During 1996-2004, when I was based in Singapore, I managed to attend at least six of the eight IFFIs, at great cost, both to the pocket and to my career. The last IFFI held in New Delhi was its 34th edition, from October 9-19, 2003, when I was back to Mumbai for good. The 35th IFFI was held in Goa, shifting to the tourist paradise for the first time, from November 29 to December 9, 2004, making Goa the permanent venue. Since then, IFFI is being held in Panaji, Goa every year. It is just pre-festive season in the state, and hotels, food and travel are just below the sky-high level that they touch mid-December to February. 

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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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