For the past four years, movie stars, producers and directors alike from the Indian film fraternity have been converging on Australia’s arts and cultural capital, for the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne (IFFM). This bright and colourful annual event, presented by Film Victoria, City Of Melbourne and the Victorian State Government, is the biggest celebration of Indian cinema in the southern hemisphere showcasing a diverse range of films covering different genres and subjects. From record-breaking Bollywood blockbusters to thought provoking documentaries and regional films, this festival is fast becoming a premier event on Melbourne’s burgeoning event calendar.
Melbourne is well known for its multicultural facets of arts, music, films and fashion, so it’s safe to say that the city is never short of any festival at any given time. The city also leads when it comes to the cinema scene. It is without doubt a film lover’s paradise.
This year, The Maharani Diaries was fortunate to have been given the opportunity to attend the festival’s official press conference, opening night, India Independence Day celebrations at Federation Square and the fashion and awards show.
As per every year, the festival is centred on a theme; this year highlighting the fundamentals of ‘equality.’ This theme was explored through a range of different lenses, from gender and sexuality to disability and religion. With female-driven films such as ‘Mardaani,’ ‘Margarita With A Straw’ and ‘Lajwanti’ receiving critical acclaim, it just proves that there is demand for movies with female leads. Growing popularity of such films is a testament to the Indian film industry. It also goes to show that there’s more to Indian cinema than just Bollywood.
Spanning over a record 14 days, the festival is more than just about celebrating the world’s biggest film industry. For the first time, festival organisers partnered with Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital to showcase bespoke fashion from two of India’s leading couturiers, Anamika Khanna and Gaurav Gupta as well as the work of local and independent designers at a glamorous fashion show tying in with the second edition of the IFFM Awards Night.
The festival commenced with the all important press conference featuring Bollywood legend, Anil Kapoor, his daughter and style icon, Sonam Kapoor, talented co-stars of recent rom-com flick, ‘Katti Batti,’ actors Kangana Ranaut and Imran Khan and director Nikhil Advani.
We were fortunate to have had the opportunity to ask Imran and Kangana about working in the film industry and how they sustain their motivation when things aren’t running smoothly. Being the strong willed and confident character she is, Kangana eloquently explained that there’s no formula for success. One who makes mistakes should learn from their experiences. “For me it’s easier because I have no expectations and I don’t carry any baggage with me.”
On the other hand, Imran, having grown up in the industry, carries another perspective on expectations and achievements. “Seeing my uncles and my grandfather go through ups and downs, I think I was actually exceptionally well prepared because I knew it’s never going to be a clean upward route. It’s just the nature of the business.”
Kangana responded to the issue of equal pay between male and female stars in Bollywood as unjustifiable. But on a positive note, the versatile performer highlighted the change in roles for women in Bollywood.
“I think that movies are a reflection of society and as women in India are getting more equality, we’re seeing they’re also being stronger in cinema.” – Kangana Ranaut
Apart from being a performer constantly in the limelight, Imran Khan is also a social activist. He often speaks about issues related to Indian society and young people (including the elimination of violence against women, political awareness and sex education).
On the issue of same sex marriage not being accepted in developed countries, Imran responded by saying “In 10, 15, 20 years, we will look back and say how could we have been so prejudiced? It’s going to be a source of great embarrassment.”
With a career in cinema spanning four decades, 58-year-old actor Anil Kapoor mentioned that his film selection has shifted direction and his interests are now focused on roles that make him “insecure, nervous and something which is out of the box.” The star emphasized that he is aiming to diversify and he should not be expected to continue, “dancing around trees.”
In light of the preceding fashion show, The Maharani Diaries asked fashion icon and popular Bollywood actress, Sonam Kapoor about her thoughts about her upcoming fashion line.
“It’s called Rheson. I feel a lot of the high street and international designers such as ‘Zara,’ ‘H&M’ and ‘Forever 21’ don’t work on Indian bodies. My sister Rhea and I want to make specific high street clothes comfortable for Indian girls to wear daily and use fabrics that work in the Indian weather. Rhea and I had this amazing chance to collaborate with Shoppers-Stop. They really believed in us. We are going to launch the line in the first quarter of next year.” – Sonam Kapoor
Sonam’s father, Anil was full of praise of her success both on and off the screen. He even added modestly that Sonam was the main invitee of the festival while he merely “tagged along with her.”
The press conference was held ahead of the opening night of the IFFM, which kicked off with the Australian premier of indie film ‘Umrika’ which stars ‘Life Of Pi’s’ Suraj Sharma.
Day 2 of the festivities commenced in Federation Square highlighting the strengthening cultural ties between India and Australia. Superstar, Anil Kapoor raised the Indian flag in front of thousands of adoring fans and this was followed by the vibrant and colourful Telstra Bollywood Dance Competition with a talented judging panel comprising of actors Imran Khan, Kangana Ranaut and director Nikhil Advani.
By evening, fashion and film collided for a spectacular live celebration that honoured the best of Indian cinema for the last year.
The IFFM Awards Night was hosted to formally recognise our favourite Indian stars, films and filmmakers for their incredible artistry and where better to do so than in the iconic home of the arts, the National Gallery of Victoria.
Guests were given the red carpet treatment and were treated to special performances from local Indian classical dancers decked in traditional wear along with drummers.
The organisers and sponsors went above and beyond to bring to Melbourne a fashion show no other city in Australia has ever witnessed.
The gala event kicked off with a scintillating acrobatic performance that infused fashion, dance and ballet leaving the audience hypnotized and spellbound. Chief guest and yesteryear actress and TV show personality; Simi Garewal made a grand entrance gracing the runway in signature white. This was soon followed by the keynote address from IFFM director, Mitu Bhowmik Lange who thanked both the Indian and Australian community for their continued support and making the event such a grand success.
Quirky father-daughter comedy ‘Piku,’ directed by Shoojit Sarkar, swept the major awards for the categories of Best Film, Best Director and Best Actor. The lovable Hindi film, which follows the strained but loving relationship between a father and daughter, stars Irfan Khan alongside Bollywood superstars Deepika Padukone and Amitabh Bachchan.
Heart-warming drama ‘Kaaka Muttai,’ directed by M. Manikandan, won Best Indie Film. Newcomer, Bhumi Pednekar won Best Actress for her role in sleeper hit ‘Dum Lagake Haisha.’ Looking svelte and sharp in a full sleeved SVA gown, Bhumi was overwhelmed with the honour and what made it all the more special was that it was her first award.
The Telstra People’s Choice Prize for the Best Film, with the highest Australian box office takings in 2014, went to the commercial hit ‘PK’ directed by Rajkumar Hirani.
The final award for the evening for ‘Excellence In Cinema’ was bestowed upon Anil Kapoor for his long lasting contribution to Indian Cinema. Anil Kapoor was greeted on stage by Simi Garewal who couldn’t help but slip into her “Rendezvous” avatar and hosted a little tête-à-tête with Mr Kapoor sharing many candid moments.
Attendees were entertained by exquisite fashion presented by talented designers, Anamika Khanna and Guarav Gupta as well as renowned Melbourne based designers, Richard Nylon, Roopa Pemmaraju and Susan Dimasi.
The colourful extravaganza brought together Melburnians from all walks of life, including local television celebrities such as ABC journalist Del Irani and Real Housewives of Melbourne star, Lydia Schiavello as well as Australian Football personalities.
Showstopper, Sonam Kapoor was welcomed with a loud and thunderous applause. Sonam looked absolutely divine dressed in a classic Anamika Khanna gown, sporting natural makeup and swept back hair courtesy of the incredibly talented, Namrata Soni.
In a lovely gesture, a silent auction featuring participating designer’s outfits, was held with all the proceeds being donated to The Royal Children’s Hospital.
The evening drew to a spectacular close with the stars gathering together on stage, in what has become a norm for the festival awards night, to snap a ‘selfie’ with the audience.
Festival Director, Mitu Bhowmick Lange has to be credited for her tireless work and dedication for the IFFM’s success and expanding it to Australia’s biggest celebration of Indian cinema. Full marks also goes to The Victorian government who proudly supports the festival, recognizing it as a key initiative to foster closer ties between Indian and Australia.
Cultural diversity has been a reoccurring highlight of the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne and this year is no different with more than 55 films being screened from various regions of India as well as Pakistan. There’s something for everybody this year!
The Indian Film Festival of Melbourne is currently on until Thursday August 27th at select venues across Melbourne, Australia. For further information on films, tickets and events visit the IFFM’s official website.
Special thanks to Zara Zaher of SBS Radio and Tapashi Mukherjee for the brilliant coverage.