In its eleventh year of running, the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne has adapted to suit the unforeseen circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year the IFFM, which curates a selection of high-quality films from all over South Asia, has shifted to a digital platform.
Over seventy films in over seventeen languages will be free to stream from October 23rd-30th, showcasing the best of what Indian, Sri Lankan, Nepalese, Bangladeshi and Pakistani cinema has to offer. All films are subtitled in English, allowing a wide audience to engage with a hand-picked selection of critically-acclaimed films.
“India has this huge film-making capacity, so we have something for everyone,” said Mitu Bhowick Lange, the festival’s director.
“The festival is divided into a few sections, the first is ‘Hurrah Bollywood’, which are the mainstream, commercial Bollywood films that we all know and love. And then we have ‘Beyond Bollywood’ which is the more Independent, Arthouse, regional films, and all the beautiful big and small gems that come from all over South Asia.”
Other sections included are documentaries, short films, and ‘Film India World’, which features films made by diasporic Indians. This year, the IFFM will also feature ‘Maiden Melbourne’, a selection of 10-15 short films that have been made and produced in Melbourne by Victorian filmmakers.
Lange is a well-known Indian-Australian filmmaker, film-producer and the founder-director of Mind-Blowing Films, a distribution and production company that specialises in Indian and Bollywood films. Lange founded the IFFM in 2010 with the intent to showcase the best of Indian cinema in a multicultural community like Melbourne.
The IFFM has since teamed up with the Victorian government, allowing for the festival to be put on at a larger scale. The IFFM now features interactive events, short film competitions, dance competitions, masterclasses and awards nights.
The biggest challenge, according to Lange, is trying to accommodate the linguistic diversity of South Asia.
“We have over twenty-four official languages and so many dialects,” said Lange.
“But we have an incredible curator [Uma da Cunha] in India who also curates for the Toronto International Festival, Berlin, so she’s really on the ball. A lot of our consultants in the Festival are critics, film journalists. They help us pick the best of the best and that gives us an edge.”
The two opening films for the festival are Natkhat, a boundary-pushing, Hindi short film, and Habbadi, a whimsical film in the regional language of Marathi. Both films address inequality and the effect that discrimination and isolation has on marginalised peoples, including women and children with disabilities.
While these films are generally geared towards the Indian diaspora, according to Lange, “These films will connect with anyone because these are the issues, and these are the things that affect all of us not just the Indian diaspora. Indians in the diaspora enjoy it because it’s all part of home. It’s our language, it’s our culture. But the stories are very universal.”
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The IFFM also highlights the importance of representation in film of those from diverse backgrounds.
“This is my constant battle for representation,” said Lange.
“Not only just for Indians but for people who are differently-abled, to the LGBTQI community. There needs to be a much stronger, more authentic representation that is not just ticking boxes.”
The IFFM has also commenced the short film competition, whose winners in the past have to become commissioning editors, short film directors, and a Bollywood film director.
They have also inaugurated an event known as IFFM Hero, as a way to share and celebrate the differences everyday people have made on others throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also shifted how the film festival was organised.
“It’s been a nightmare,” Lange laughed.
“We are all working remotely. We have meetings every day on zoom and there’s so many WhatsApp groups that I’ve lost track.”
The Indian Film Festival of Melbourne will be running from October 23-October 30th HERE
Natkhat will be available to stream on the 23rd, at 6:30 pm AEST for one hour only. Habbadi will also be available on October 23rd at 6:30 pm, for twenty-four hours only.