Melbourne got a taste of Bollywood glamour and theatre screens came alive with the sights and sounds of Indian movies as stars and films aligned to kick off the 2015 Indian Film Festival of Melbourne (IFFM) – Australia’s biggest annual celebration of Indian cinema on Friday, August 14.
Festival guests Anil Kapoor, his daughter Sonam, Kangana Ranaut, Imran Khan, director Nikhil Advani, descended at Hoyts Cinema, Melbourne Central on Friday, August 14 to an exciting mob of fans waiting to see and interact with their favourites in flesh and blood. The crowd was left wanting for more.
The film Umrika, director Prashant Nair’s second feature film (after Delhi in a Day) about a wide-eyed young man from the village who ends up in sprawling Mumbai in search of his elder brother, who supposedly left for America but never got back in touch with the family, marked the opening screening.
Earlier in the day, festival director Mitu Bhowmick Lange welcomed the stars in two press conferences that followed each other in quick succession. Star powers led by Anil, his daughter Sonam, designer Anamika Khanna, and Victorian Minister for Creative Industries Martin Foley addressed the first part of the press conference. This was followed by the Katti Batti team of director Nikhil Advani and actors Kangana Ranaut and Imram Khan. Katti Batti, a modern day romance that traces young architect Madhav Kabra’s (Imran) love for the free-spirited Payal (Kangana), will premier on September 18.
But the other highlight of the festival was the unfurling of the Indian flag at the iconic Federation Square by Anil Kapoor and the Indian High Commissioner to Australia, Navdeep Suri on Saturday, August 15, to commemorate India’s 69th Independence Day. It was for the first time that the Indian tri-colour fluttered at Federation Square with a lot of fanfare.
“As India makes progress in leaps and bounds and marches to become an economic superpower, we as Indian global citizens have to take upon ourselves further this cause of growth and progress,” Kapoor said while addressing an enthusiastic Indian-diaspora crowd.
“Whatever professions we practice, whatever avenues we foray into, let’s promise ourselves that we will always strive for excellence,” said the superstar.
“Victoria and India enjoy a very close relationship,” said Foley while speaking at the function.
“Victoria is proud home to Australia’s largest Indian community which is making outstanding and growing contribution right across our society ,across many fields of endeavour and activity,” he added while paying tribute to a 100,000 plus Indian community which calls Victoria home.
“It’s time for reflection because ours is a young, restless, impatient nation one with great aspirations and one certainly in immemorable words of prime minister about our tryst with destiny continues to resonate till this date,” said newly-appointed Indian High Commissioner to Australia, Navdeep Suri.
A number of other luminaries also attended the function.
The flag hoisting function was followed by a dance competition which saw the Katti Batti team as judges. Well-known Indian television Kiku Sharda, known more as Palak of Comedy Nights with Kapil added to the star quotient and had the crowd in splits.
The Indian Film Festival has acquired a unique cultural status as it celebrates the incredible diversity of the world’s largest film industry, from record-breaking blockbusters to genre-defying arthouse hits. More than 55 films from India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh will be screened during the two-week festival which runs until August 27.
Masti in the Air
Over 10,000 people thronged Federation Square on August 15 the venue of the Telstra Bollywood Dance competition, a much anticipated event of the festival. Dancers of all age-groups from across Australia battled it out for the cash major prize.
Bollywood team from the upcoming film Katti Batti – Kangana Ranaut and Imran Khan and director Nikhil Advani were the judges.
Kiku Sharda aka Palak of Comedy Nights with Kapil also made an appearance, entertaining the crowd with impromptu dancing between acts which added to the festive cheer.
Telstra created plenty of amazing experiences for the crowd. Rajesh Magnani, Prakash Gupta and Srishti Gupta were the lucky winners of the Telstra Air SMS voting competition, and got to meet the one and only Palak on stage, where they took a selfie with the star and also received a Telstra Air prize pack that included a Samsung tablet.
Telstra also gave people the chance to ask the stars a question.
When asked what inspired her to work on the film Queen by Dinusha Parmar of NSW, Kangana said, “I think Queen was a neutral film and it has gone very far for its content and the way it was made…as an actor you are always at the receiving end and I hope that I get that kind of content…Bollywood is a medium to entertain and if it can be quoted with a social responsibility, I think it is a bit aspirational.”
Katti Batti director Nikhil Advani was impressed with a question from Payal Bhanwal of Victoria, who asked him what he would do if his friends were katti with him, to make batti back? “The best way to make batti with your friends is to just say sorry and plead… that’s what Payal and Maddy are constantly doing in the film. It’s in the ups and downs of relationship between couples. Not only what they do to show that they love each other but also what they do to show that they are out of love with each other. That’s what the film is about.”
Hyma Vulpala sked Imran Khan who the most inspiring person in his life was. Imran’s response came straight from the heart, “Since my daughter Imara was born, I’ve started to think very differently. I’ve started to look at myself through her eyes. I want her to look at me a certain way…so now everything I do, I ask myself what would she think, would she like this, would she approve of this, will she be proud of me? ”
The competition winners were announced with The Dancing Bird winning in the under-12 category and Natya Bollywood in the adult category. As for the People’s Choice Award, over 7,000 SMS votes were received from the audience on the day and the award went to Bollywood Dimensions.
Director Nikhil Advani also made a surprise discovery in singer Jagpreet Grover of singing-dancing duo Cheryl and Jagpreet – his singing talents were praised by Advani, who invited Jagpreet to make a trip to Bollywood for an introduction with Shanker-Ehsaan-Loy.
All winning groups received a cash prize of $1,000, courtesy of Telstra Air, which is available with Telstra’s new broadband bundle.
Telstra also took the opportunity to reward its customers by giving them free goodies including warm blankets and traditional Indian snacks to ensure they really enjoyed the show.
AND THE AWARD GOES TO…
The National Gallery of Victoria hosted a star-studded Awards night with a captivating showcase of exotic and modern couture presented by Indian and Australian designers. The night celebrated a fashion show with the theme of “equality”, it also honoured the best of Indian cinema. The event was attended by a number of dignitaries, celebrities and other guests.
The IFFM awards for 2015 for best film went to Piku, best director award went to Shoojit Sircar and Bhumi Pednekar of Dum Laga Ke Haisha picked her first award for best actress. The best actor award was given to Irrfan Khan for his performance in Piku.
The best Indie film award was bagged by Kaka Muthai and Best Telstra People’s Choice Award was given to Rajkumar Hirani for PK.
Anil Kapoor was conferred with a special award for excellence in world cinema.
Speaking on the occasion, Executive Chairman of Visy and Pratt Industries, Anthony Pratt said, “I believe that under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the next ten years will be the greatest in India’s great history and the 2.6 billion eyeballs trained on every Bollywood movie is testament to your power.”
Victorian Special Minister Gavin Gennings congratulated the IFFM for organising an event in the state that represented the true nature of multiculturalism of the state.
Five leading designers from both India and Melbourne including Anamika Khanna, Gaurav Gupta, Roopa Pemmaraju, Susan Dimasi and Richard Nylon showcased their creations. A silent auction was held, the proceeds of which will go to the Royal Children’s Foundation.
The finale act for the night was presented by Anamika where a stunning Sonam, dressed in a white and heavily gold work garment, walked the ramp as the showstopper.
ANIL KAPOOR: It was Anil Kapoor’s first visit to Melbourne but he loved Melbourne and Melbourne loved him. An actor who has remained Bollywood’s evergreen hero, Anil was at his candid best at Hoyts Melbourne Central and at Federation Square where he came up, close and personal with his fans.
“The support and love of my wife, my family is what has worked for me,” he declared in his press conferences, and interactions with fans who had the rare opportunity to ask him questions. “The love of your family is very, very important. Hard word and destiny too is favouring me but this is a tough industry and you need the right kind of support to stay sane and normal,” he added.
As special guest of the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne, Anil who was also conferred with a special award for excellence in world cinema, said his role in the film Dil Dhadakne Do which is being screened at the festival stemmed from a strategic decision – that was, to put an end to his perceived eternal youth. In the movie Anil plays an industrialist patriarch, an older man for perhaps the first time in his 40 plus years career.
But he is not ready to hang his boots, of course. “I want to do real films, which are relevant and has global aesthetics, which can be seen all over the world and made by young directors. My choice of films has changed. I kept on reinventing myself. Now you don’t expect me to run around trees anymore. My son is debuting, my daughter is there.” Jhakaas!
SONAM KAPOOR: It’s a first too for Sonam Kapoor, daughter of Anil Kapoor, to visit Melbourne. Sonam, known better as a style icon, spread oodles of glamour as she dressed herself up in many distinctive designer clothes. Not only did she walk the red carpet and the ramp for the awards night at the Nationally Gallery of Victoria but she also visited the iconic Melbourne Cricket Ground to watch a game of footy between Richmond Tigers and Gold Coast Suns. She was also presented with a football signed by the Richmond Tiger’s team. Sonam also met fans at the opening night and during a Q&A session on her movie Khoobsurat.
Earlier at a press conference, Sonam introduced her fashion, a high street fashion line. “High street fashion doesn’t work well on Indian bodies. We wanted to make a clothing that works for us, in Indian weather. So we have this amazing chance to work on.” She announced that the clothing line will be launched in first quarter of next year.
From a jacket dress by Chanel to a black dress by Diogo Miranda to graceful gown by Pablo Sebastian, Sonam just upped her own glam quotient.
KANGANA RANAUT: The actor was making her second appearance at the festival and this time came with her team from her upcoming film Katti Batti – Imran Khan and director Nikhil Advani. As Kangana Ranaut interacted with the press and fans at Hoyts Melbourne Central and at Federation Square, it transpires that she is becoming a festival favourite as she took on questions from fans with the same earnestness she treats her films.
Describing her journey so far, Kangana said she came to the film industry with no expectations and no baggage. “Whatever I have achieved has been on my own and I have expectations only for myself.”
One of the constant questions that the actor was met with was how a small town girl hit big time in Bollywood and whether she had any advice for aspiring actors. “I really don’t feel that my life is a blueprint for others to follow or look up to because I made a lot of mistakes and paid a lot of heavy price for that. If I could I would like to go back and change a few things… No one formula has worked for me. Everyone has her own journey, every woman has to find herself on her own, make her own choices… Yes it is good to break away, break free but everything about our culture and what our parents say is not negative, everything has its own drawbacks and plus points.”
Since 2005 when she got her first Bollywood break until now, the actor said, “It seems as if I have crossed many births with each phase drastically different than the other. There was a stage when I was hardly allowed to watch TV, then there came a phase when I was in a science lab doing experiments, then came a struggling phase where I had no money to even eat and then a phase where I have meetings where I am asked what I want to do with my money. It is all like a dream at times.”
Riding high on the success of her films Queen and Tanu Weds Manu 2, Kangana said she has no graph set in her mind as to how to chart her career. “I am a modern Indian woman and I think I just have to be myself. I do my work without any pressure. If my characters are fierce I don’t tame then down just because it is supposed to be conventional.”
Asked how she maintains her beauty, Kangana said, “I do a lot of yoga. I feel beauty is about being pleasant. I feel I am a very ordinary-looking person and I thank God for that because as an actor that works for me. I can play any character, say, a Datto, a super woman, etc., I can do anything with my face because of my mediocre looks but I think why you find me pretty is because I meditate a lot and people who have a pleasant aura around them often appear beautiful.”
IMRAN KHAN: The actor’s Melbourne trip would be memorable for more than one reason. Coming from a family of actors, and the shadow of his famous uncle Aamir Khan looming over him, Imran had to answer a few questions regarding his “Mamu”. But there was no room for complaint. He himself received loads of adulation from his fans.
“Seeing my uncles and grandfather in the industry I think was exceptionally well prepared knowing that it is never going to be a clean straight journey, there would be ups and down and you have to take things on with an even keel. Sometimes a film does well and suddenly everyone wants to call you, at other times a film does badly and everyone forgets you. You have to remember that that is the nature of the business,” Imran said.
Asked about his character choices, the actor said, “I am always drawn to characters who are flawed, someone with a wrong perspective or a wrong attitude and it is interesting to see them grow and change and become the persons you aspire to be.”
Imran said, “I have reached a creative comfort level with Katti Batti. This is my 12th film but this was the first time I felt I was confident and in control of what I was doing.”
Basking in the adulation of fans in Melbourne, Imran said, “As part of promoting films we travel round the world, every time I am amazed by how many non-Indians watch our films. It is a strange and humbling feeling, the fact that we are able to make films that transcends cultures and countries and language barriers. That people are able to relate to it is a wonderful feeling…Just want to thank everyone for supporting Indian cinema.”
NIKHIL ADVANI: Ten years ago, when the Indian Film festival of Melbourne was still in its infancy Bollywood director Nikhil Gupta was a guest having made his first directorial venture with the superhit movie Kal Ho Na Ho. This time again as festival guest and jury member for the IFFM Awards, Nikhil is promoting his new film Katti Batti. Fresh, modern and edgy is how Nikhi describes the film.
“It’s been a wonderful journey. Katti Batti started last year when UTV sent me the script and like most projects I approached it with a lot of cynicism. I read it and it just appealed to me and the first person I wanted to take the script to was Imran Khan who read the script and said ‘I dislike it’,” said Nikhil. His next big task was to convince Imran. “Subsequently we met somewhere and I said why don’t I read it to you, maybe it’s not communicating well through the pages. So that is how he is here.”
When he decided to take the script to Kangana, he thought she would reject it too in the beginning. “But she just started saying we should do this, the moment an actor says ‘we’ I know she is in it. Next she asked ‘can we shoot in 10 days?’”, laughed Nikhil.
When asked what Katti Batti means, Nikhil said, “Being friends is katti and making up is batti. Fighting, making up, some more fighting, some more making up some thus provides the jist of the film.”
Exploring the festival’s theme of equality, he said, “Equality needs to be there in every aspect of filmmaking… What people like Kangana are doing with us as filmmakers is they are giving us the independence to think outside the box. Before we couldn’t make women-oriented films. Today the female protagonist is literally the protagonist. I hope it goes down in every aspect for filmmaking.
“I think the inspiration for filmmakers is looking at the Indian woman in India or anywhere in the world. They are now aggressively fighting for what they want, the stories is there in their fight. They are vibrant and strong.”
(Indira Laisram with input from agencies)