Cameron Bailey is blown over by Pudupettai.
“I was interested in the film because I was told it is a little bit like ‘City of God.’ I could see some of that in it. I could see a little ‘Scarface’ in it. But, it had its own distinct style. Dhanush reminded me of younger Al Pacino of the seventies… small, wiry but intense sort of presence on screen. The look of the film is amazing. It’s more stylish than I expected it to be. I would compare it to City of God, Amores Perros. Very expressionistic colours. Very nicely done visuals.”
That coming from the Film Programmer of the Toronto International Film Festival for South Asia and Africa is enough reason for Selvaraghavan to smile, after most local critics pulled up the film for violence, gore and a sloppy second half.
“Yes, the first half was better than the second but because the film is so stylish and has an unusual visual appeal to it and because Dhanush was quite good, I think the film still has a lot of merit. I wouldn’t say it’s the perfect film but it has a lot of merit,” he defends the film going on to add: “I would consider this film as long as it does not play at other festivals.”
Cameron Bailey saw it at Sathyam on a Monday afternoon and was quite taken in by the audience response. It must be said here that he watched it without subtitles.
“I didn’t have any problems following the story,” he insists. Bailey has been short-listing films for the last ten years. He is also a film critic and been choosing films from India for the last two years.
“Last year I had four films, Buddhdeb Dasgupta’s ‘Kaalpurush,’ ‘Amu’ by Shonali Bose, Ritu Sarin’s ‘Dreaming Lhasa,’ ‘John and Jane,’ a documentary by Ashim Alhuwalia, about call-centre workers. I chose those out of 60 films last year. I will be watching more this year.”
Bailey has already seen about 12 during his trip to India and had watched a few DVDs of Indian films he received in Toronto earlier.
This time too, he’s looking to arrive at four or five films from Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata and Trivandrum to represent India among 330 films that will be screened at the festival.
“I’ll be done viewing by June 16, done with short-listing in two weeks after that, when I get back to Canada. By last week of this month, I would have seen most of the significant films,” he reveals.
One would think ‘Rang De Basanti’ would rank high on his list.
“Rang De Basanti is a little old for us. But we have programmed it in our Aamir Khan retrospective for Cinematheque Ontario. Our first preference is for brand new films that we can premiere or International premieres of films not released outside India. We have a luxury of being a festival of premieres. So primarily we show North American premieres.”
The film festival premiered ‘Brokeback Mountain’ and ‘Walk the line’ last year and ‘Crash’ in 2004. The Toronto festival does not have a competitive section but does gala premieres with grand red carpets.
What exactly is he looking from India?
“We are looking at more interesting directors. Indian commercial cinema is such a strong force in the world cinema. If we can find a very good example of a mainstream Indian film that works on both the popular and aesthetic levels… If Rajnikant’s ‘Sivaji’ was going to be ready, we would be all over town with it,” he laughs.
Do filmmakers need to pay or get paid when their films premiere at the Toronto festival?
“There is no money exchanging hands either way. If your film premieres in Toronto, you get splashed across newspapers all around the world.”
There are about 800 to 900 from the media and about 4000 industry delegates. “Last year, the deals made at the Toronto Film Festival amounted to 52 million dollars of sales.”
Ask him about the challenges of choosing across different kinds of Indian cinema, the Hindi and the regional and he acknowledges the difficulty.
“They are all very different and not only that, the mainstream films are very different from the art. Some of the most beautiful, sublime nuances I’ve seen are in Bengali and Malayalam films. Fantastic filmmaking. But I wouldn’t expect the same things from a Shah Rukh Khan film or a Rajnikant film. If you are a mainstream film, I want to know if are you entertaining, is it achieving the demands of the
genre. From someone like Buddhadeb, (I look for) very sophisticated artistic expression, some innovation in film and something new about the way human beings live. I ask different things from different films. I’m aware that in different regions, the dominant style of filmmaking varies.”
Will he represent Indian cinema?
“I can’t choose one from each region. I wish I could do that. So I will choose the best. It’s always partly subjective. I’m employed for my taste, honestly. So I have to determine what I think is best. It has to represent, it has to have artistic merit. I’m looking at world cinema and I’m looking at what’s coming out of India. And Indian films have to be as technically accomplished, as creative as anywhere in the
Bailey is one of 12 programmers around the world choosing films for the Toronto festival. Having been exposed to world cinema, we ask him what he thinks is good and bad about Indian cinema.
“We could talk all night. But I would say Indian commercial cinema has fully captured its audience. It has no problem appealing to a broad audience of movie-goers. The passion with what people watch movies is unparalleled. What is not successful is Indian filmmakers reaching out to an International audiences that does not understand… One of the reasons is that the films are so tuned to the local market that they don’t work outside. The distinct thing is the tone. There is a tone of
intense sincerity in a lot of Indian commercial films. The emotions are big, very heartfelt and sincere. And in the West people are used to irony, people are used to watching films with scepticism, with a distance. Even West European films, they don’t take their films too seriously as much as Indian films do. I think the tone is what
separates the audiences.”
He believes that factors like song and dance and length are superficial and do not really put off global audiences. “Moulin Rouge is a Bollywood film made by an Australian with Hollywood money. So I think people are interested in that.”