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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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Jabbar Patel, Vijay Desai demand pre-festival coverage from journalists seeking accreditation at the Yashwant Int. Film Festival

Yashwant International Film Festival organisers Jabbar Patel and Vijay Desai insult media

This year marked the fourth successive edition of the Yashwant International Film Festival (YIFF), held in Mumbai and organised by the YashwantRao Chavan Pratishthan/Chavan Centre, a Foundation inspired by the memory of one of India’s leading politicians and a patron of the arts, Y.B. Chavan. It comprises a selection of films courtesy the Pune International Film Festival (PIFF), which precedes it, and is held in Pune, about 200 km from Mumbai. The moving spirit behind PIFF is Marathi theatre and film director, Dr. Jabbar Patel. Chavan Centre has its own building in uptown south Mumbai, and three auditoria are reserved for YIFF, one large and two smaller ones.

 

Having attended all three previous editions of YIFF as an accredited media-person, and having also attended over 100 other film festivals, in India and abroad in that same capacity, I was looking forward to attending YIFF too. Usually, such festivals hold a press conference a week or two before the inauguration, and some journalists are invited to the same. At any international film festival in India, not more than 5% of the journalists who eventually attend the festival are present at such press conferences. If 300 media-persons are found attending shows, only around 15 of them would have attended the press conference. Moreover, most of those who attend press conferences are reporters, not necessarily film-buffs or film-critics. So, many of them do not attend the screenings but merely report on the event. Journalists are always given free access to all festival events and venues, whereas delegates are charged fees that vary from Rs. 100 (US$1.6) to Rs. 500 (US$8), each festival charging its own fees.

 

I too have been invited in the past. This year, however, I did not get any intimation or invitation for any YIFF press conference, and was not even aware whether one was held. The festival was scheduled to begin on Saturday, the 18th of January, 2014. Usually, such festivals have an inauguration ceremony that begins between 5 and 7.30 pm, which is followed by the screening of an inaugural film. I arrived at Chavan Centre around 5.45 pm on the 18th, and headed straight for the booth near the entrance of the Centre, in the left corner, where cards/passes are made. The young staff on duty there could not understand why I was seeking accreditation as a journalist. They demanded proof of my identity, which I provided. They then asked me to produce a clipping about advance coverage of the festival, against which they would grant me accreditation. I could not believe my ears. Nevertheless, I explained to them that I was not a reporter and that I only wrote about festivals during or after the event. They then sent me to meet Mr. Vijay Desai, who, I believe, is the Manager of the Centre’s auditoria.

 

Mr. Desai’s office is on the fourth floor. I had to wait for the lift, go up, and then locate his office. He was not in. I was told that he was downstairs. I came down and spoke to a girl sitting near the entrance. I explained my plight to her. She said I could attend the inauguration, but I would have to go the booth for getting accreditation. I told her I had already been there. Then I was told that Mr. Desai was inside the auditorium. Having been explicitly told that I could attend the inauguration, I went in and sat down inside the auditorium. There were a series of speech being delivered, by senior Indian Administrative Services (IAS) personnel, Mr. Sharad Kale (Secretary of the Foundation) and Mrs. Neela Satyaranayan, and by Guest of Honour, acclaimed Malayalam film director Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Dr. Jabbar Patel was also on stage, and spoke the longest, around 20 minutes.

At the end of the formal function, I spotted Mr. Desai and went up to him. I introduced myself as Siraj Syed, freelance journalist and writing for FilmFestivals.com. As soon as he heard my introduction, he started sneering. Patronisingly, he said he was granting me permission to attend the screening of the inaugural film, but I should meet him after the show to get accreditation. I was taken aback, but attributed his scowl to the pressure of the occasion. Soon, the Mexican film Club Sandwich was screened. A compelling film that uses the technique of minimal camera intervention and alternates between boring routine and black humour, Club Sandwich is surely worth a watch and a good choice as the inaugural film.

 

After the screening, I searched for Mr. Desai, but he was nowhere to be found. After a while, I was told he had left for the day. The next day, Sunday the 19th, was the Annual General meeting of the Freelance Media Journalists Combine, and organisation of which I am a Founder Member and a Former President. Obviously, I could not go to YIFF that day. On Monday, the 20th of January, I went to Chavan Centre and headed for the fourth floor. Mr. Desai was in his office. As soon as I entered, he almost jeered at me. I re-introduced myself. The following conversation ensued, with Vijay Desai glowering with hostility:

VD: Did you attend our press conference?

SS: I did not. I was not invited this year.

VD: That does not matter. I will only give accreditation to those journalists who attended my press conference and can produce a clipping of what they wrote about the festival to give it pre-event publicity.

SS: Surely it is not my fault that I was not invited. Besides, I am a senior film-critic and have been given accreditation to every film-festival, including some abroad. Also, I was duly accredited at YIFF in all the past three editions.

VD: I am not concerned.

SS: Are you saying that you will only give accreditation to journalists who have attended the press conference and who produce a clipping to earn accreditation?

VD: Yes.

SS: This is incredible. I would like to approach any of the Trustees/Directors of the Pratishthan or of YIFF, any of your seniors. Mr. Sharad Kale, perhaps? Dr. Jabbar Patel? Where can I find them?

VD: You can talk to whosoever you want.

SS: I am asking you for their contact details. Phone numbers…Is anybody here at the moment, in the Centre's office?

VD: I am not going to give you any information.

SS: Mr. Desai, this is a polite request for just the phone numbers or contact details of the Trustees/Directors of the Pratishthan you work for.

VD: And I am politely telling you that you are wasting my time. Nobody can do anything. I am the boss!

 

There was little point in continuing the conversation, so I left his office. Suddenly, a thought flashed across my mind. Surely Dr. Jabbar Patel must be unaware of Desai’s unethical demands? I called Jabbar from my mobile phone. Shockingly, Jabbar first asked me to give a detailed introduction of myself. After that he confirmed that he was fully aware of what Desai was doing, and showed approval of the same. But he told me he would talk to the persons concerned and call me back immediately. He did not call at all. Now, several questions arise.

Is it ethical, moral or acceptable that journalists who are invited to a press conference are given accreditation for a film festival, and no other film journalists/critics?

  1. Is it ethical, moral or acceptable that journalists who produce clippings are given accreditation for a film festival, and no other film journalists/critics?
  2. Can anybody be allowed to make barter deals, giving accreditation worth Rs. 300 (US$4.8) in this case, in exchange for press coverage, openly and brazenly?
  3. Is it too much to expect an organiser of a film festival to show some respect to media-persons, especially senior journalists?
  4. Does Chavan Centre and a much-appreciated film-director have to stoop to this level to get publicity for their film festival?
  5. Would a media-hostile stand get them positive publicity? Are media-persons for sale, at Rs. 300, in kind? What will the organisers achieve by denying a handful of seats, when the three auditoria at the venue oftern, collectively have 200-300 seats vacant?
  6. Slotted in three-month season that includes, among other international film festivals, Mumbai Film Festival (MFF), Mumbai Women’s International Film Festival (MWIFF), International Film Festival of India (IFFI), International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK), Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF), Bengaluru International Film Festival (BIFF), Third Eye Asian Film Festival (AFF), PIFF, Navi Mumbai International Film Festival (NMIFF), Mumbai International Film Festival (MIFF), is YIFF so desperate to get publicity?

The least fellow media-persons can do is boycott YIFF, till there is a public apology and the accreditation-for-clipping barter deals are discontinued, forever.

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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

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