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  • Tanisha A.

Festival Dispatch: Indian Film Festival Bhubaneswar

What does it take to facilitate a film community in a city like Bhubaneswar? Festival Director Subrat Beura shines a light on Film Society Bhubaneswar’s work in the last two decades, taking us through their triumphs and tribulations along the way!

Post screening QnA with the Joram crew

This January, FSB organized the 13th edition of the Indian Film Festival of Bhubaneswar. Much like the emblematic figure of the Nabagunjara, their distinct curatorial vision brings together a wide variety of stories with their own forms and concerns. The lineup is a motley crew, from films shot in seldom-encountered languages and formats, films without avenues for distribution, to those not traditionally considered “festival films.” Placed in conversation with each other, there is an interplay among these works, cohering the many margins the festival tries to platform! 

This year’s lineup included many flavours from contemporary Indian cinema alongside a Mani Kaul retrospective. Each day began with beautifully shot shorts like Achal Mishra’s Dhuin and Arun Fulara’s Shera. Silver screen triumphs  Joram and Jigarthanda Double X featured alongside International Film Festival Rotterdam premieres like Harshad Nalawade’s Follower and Shahrukhkhan Chavada’s Kayo Kayo Colour?. They were complemented by strong independent fare like Rajni Basumatary’s Bodo language film Gorai Phakri which had previously won best film at Kolkata International Film Festival. 

This profuse diversity invites connections between the rural and the urban, the young and the old, the arthouse and the commercial. An attendee can, for instance, explore women’s desire through representations as varied as those seen in parallel cinema classic Duvidha, the intimate short film My Mother’s Girlfriend and indie slice-of-life It’s All In Your Head, and think about similarities and differences that emerge as they move across time, age, class, sexuality, and filmic language. Adding on to these enriching festival experiences are the opportunities to interact with filmmakers and engage in dialogue with fellow-festival go-ers. 

Filmmakers interact with film critic Aditya Shrikrishna
Audience engagement with Follower director Harshad Nalawade

Post-screening QnAs and discussions revealed a wealth of insights into each film. Joram’s cinematographer Piyush Puty virtually shared his intense experience of shooting this constantly moving, on-the-run film entirely handheld (!), while also delving into the production design and ambiguous plot points of the film. Don Palathara, the director of Family contextualised his film as a work of horror, despite not having the markings of a genre film, and explained the narrative relevance of his framing choices, and his decision to cast celebrated Malayali actor Vinay Fortt as an antagonist. Among other lively QnAs, Karthik Subbaraj took us through everything from his filmmaking process and his efforts to platform other filmmakers, to storytelling being the hallmark of cinema! 

What are the behind-the-scenes efforts involved in executing such a vision? Since its inception, FSB has created an avenue for filmmakers to develop a sense of community. Relying more on organic long-term relationships and word-of-mouth connections has allowed the society’s festivals to sustain themselves over the years, even as they operate without a revenue model and dedicate minimal resources to publicity. 

With a volunteer team primarily consisting of young students and alumni from Ravenshaw University, pulling off an event at this scale year after year comes with its challenges, both on the organizing and drawing participation front. Chief Showrunner and longtime film-enthusiast, Mr. Beura painted a bleak picture of the current cultural landscape. Operating in a time and space where film societies are no longer considered integral to film culture, archives are getting privatised, and there is a lack of government support or interest from those with capital-- FSB has its work cut out for them. 

Festival director Subrat Beura at the closing ceremony
Audience interactions during the opening day

But the struggle doesn’t end there. Maintaining a varied and consistent audience is tough. Apart from some older regulars, most of the attendees are young college students. A sizable proportion of Bhubaneswar youth move out of Odisha to look for opportunities and establish themselves. Among those who stay back, rapid development has allowed commerce driven socialisation in the city to increase, without the same reflecting on the cultural front. A general decline in the humanities, with nearly non-existent film studies programs, further contributes to the fringe status of non-classical arts. 

Despite the increasingly uphill endeavour, FSB continues to platform cinema with regular screening programs dedicated to Indian indies. As an agency working to enable community film screenings and build a stronger backbone for Indian indies, Lost The Plot hopes that the work of groups like FSB grows and continues to drive interest in the cinematic arts. With two more film festivals, focusing on documentaries and children’s films, lined up for July and September, we highly recommend following their IG page for regular updates! 




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