Nandita Das

Travelling The Festivals

  • September 1, 2009

Back from Vladivostok, I realize how a year has gone by since Firaaq was premiered in Sept 2008 at the Toronto Film Festival. But to be honest, I am here more to see yet another part of the world, than to see how Firaaq goes down among the Russians. When I look back at all the places I have been to and all the people I have met, I know that it has been hugely enriching. Apart from the usual suspects, traveling to festivals in Thessaloniki, Istanbul, Durban, Telluride, Deauville and now Vladivostok has been a great treat. When I directed my first film, I didn’t think it would go to any festival, as I had made it for the Indian audiences, who I thought would relate to the context and the references better and understand its many nuances. But with every screening in each of the places, I realized how wrong I was. Human stories and emotions are universal and transcend all boundaries.

In India when people talk about festival, often they are either full of awe or full of disdain. We have either made festivals a benchmark to gauge the film’s credibility or have pushed it into a niche where only pretentious arty people meet. Without sounding judgmental, often these comments are from people who haven’t been to any festival because those have would know that most festivals are nothing more than a gathering of cinema lovers, where you watch films from around the world, meet a cross section of people, and have a good stimulating time. It is an event that neither needs to be taken too seriously, nor to be looked down upon. 

I have been to many festivals as an actor but traveling as a director is different. It is like showing your baby around to strangers and saying ‘tell me what you think of it’. You go through emotions of vulnerability, excitement, fear, hope and everything in between. But baby aside, I have had an incredible time going to different parts of the world and opening my mind to other ideas, cultures, people and places. The wonderment of new experiences never ceases and the appetite for more just grows. It is often a journey of putting pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together, with all that you know and all that you discover.

For me, every festival has opened something new. In Thessaloniki, Greece, I met Gustavo Santaolalla, the Argentinean Music Composer (for films like Motorcycle Diaries, Brokeback Mountain, Babel) had come to the festival with a documentary on the reunion of old musicians in Buenos Aires. In the same festival I also met Oliver Stone and a first time director from Cyprus and saw her lovely film. When asked how many films they make in their country, she said less than one a year! I talked about the 1000 odd films we make in India and through our conversation we concluded, despite the difference in nos. the struggle to make an independent film is the same.

Every place, like Thessaloniki, has stories that I cherish and I know they help me widen my world. After all we are nothing but a product of all our experiences that we have had in our life. Even the films I have acted in, has taken me to tucked away places in remote India. So whether it was shooting in Ottapalam in Kerala, Taki in Bengal, Amravati in Maharashtra or Pollachi in Tamilnadu, they have all been equally enriching. For me, working on films is not just about exploring the medium of cinema, but with it exploring different milieu, languages, food, people and cultures. I have never had answers to questions about ‘my favourites’. The list of “these are a few of my favourite things” has always been long.

Vladivostok may well be one of the last festivals I travelled with Firaaq, and it sure feels good to yet again return with an award, but now I want to sink my anchor for a bit. With the recent release of the DVD, I know the film will continue its journey, with or without me. Now I need some time to process all that I have learnt, share the many stories I have experienced, reconnect with old and new friends and explore the life ahead.

Virata Parvam


Director: Udugula Venu

Language: Telugu

Character Name: Shakuntala

Key Cast: Kundan Alexzed, Chakrapani Ananda, Banerjee

Feastivals and Awards: NA

Film Stills: 9

BTS: 11