First day, first show? 2 Dons and 1 Didi
AB to the right of her, SRK to the left of her… MB conjured up a picture-perfect start to her annual tryst with the world of Make Believe, on Saturday the 10th.
If chief guest Amitabh Bachchan's speech with a smattering of Bengali wowed Netaji Indoor Stadium and soon went viral, 'host' Shah Rukh Khan called Mamata "really, really cool", someone who "does carry a big, powerful punch in a small, little packet". His Jab Tab Hai Jaan co-stars Katrina Kaif and Anushka Sharma upped the Bolly glam quotient.
No wonder Mamata Banerjee, event-manager-cum-star-struck host, couldn't stop beaming and set out to "build the bridge between Hollywood, Bollywood and Tollywood". (So what if the Calcutta commuter would much rather have a few far simpler bridges just to speed up traffic?)
Soumitra Chatterjee later called the inaugural show "a circus", but for sheer star power, two Dons on the same dais scored big.
Festival-worthy films? MIA (missing in action)
A Separation, the Best Foreign Film at the Oscars, separated the inaugural Netaji audience into two ' the footfall that fled as soon as the stars left, and the few who stayed back for the 'film' part of the 'festival'. "We couldn't watch the first 20 minutes of the opening film as everyone was too busy leaving," said a film-maker.
That set the tone for the rest of the festival. No one really seemed interested in the screenings, with just about 10 out of a total of 180 qualifying as true-blue festival films. One Francois Truffaut here and a Theo Angelopoulos there could not hide the fact that a Bari Theke Paliye or an Anand, playing on some TV channel every other day, would hardly make the cut as a festival film.
Saving grace: The one and only screening of Miss Lovely, after creating a stir at Cannes and Toronto. And then Michael Haneke's Love that won the Palme d'Or at Cannes this year.
Where's the buzz? At the food stall!
Breaking news from Nandan: More fish fries sold at the Bijoli Grill stall than film tickets during the festival.
We still don't have the figures to back up this fact, but that was the buzz among fest veterans.
Most of the 12 venues went relatively empty, specially Navina, Mitra, EZCC and SRFTI.
And why not? "Apart from a few films like A Separation, which most of my friends and I have already watched, and a Bertolucci, there was nothing to look forward to. I have been a regular at the Calcutta Film Festival for the last few years, but this year was the most thanda," said a movie buff.
The lack of multiplex options, unlike last year, kept some away.
"The screening schedule was all wrong with a few good films being screened only once, unlike in other years when we would have multiple options to catch them," said a festival veteran.
The attempt to draw crowds to the film mart with a free-entry Hiralal Mancha screening old and rare films was a flop, as the festive feet entered the tent only if word spread that a Koel Mallick or a Rituparno Ghosh was in there.
The seminars featured a few Tollywood faces but done-to-death topics and pedantic conversations drew some curious passers-by and not a captive audience.
Most of Tollywood's A-team was also conspicuous by their absence at Nandan.
Long live libido: The lure of posters and names like House of Tolerance, Hemel and Shameless did find takers.
Foreign delegates? Find them if you can!
A festival that has drawn the likes of Krzysztof Zanussi and Gus Van Sant and Fernando Solanas, had no big name from beyond any border and the total count of foreign guests dropped to 20, less than half the average turnout. The festival organisers kept their fingers crossed for Asghar Farhadi, the director of A Separation, to turn up but even that was not to be.
The chief minister played host at the inauguration in Netaji Indoor Stadium, busy "running around enthusiastically, pushing people and getting things done", as Shah Rukh Khan put it.
She was the queen bee at the first-night party at The Oberoi Grand [the Oberois are yet to try and set up a car plant in Bengal and so the grand old lady of Chowringhee is no achhoot kanya (untouchable) for the CM]. She chatted with actors and actresses, observing how one had lost a lot of weight while another was looking very smart.
She skipped a starry party at the same venue on Thursday hosted by Bengal's largest film production house, but she did make a 90-minute special appearance at Friday night's PC Chandra Gardens party. (We will come to that later.)
Unlike last year's surprise visit to Nandan midway through the festival, Mamata did not make a special appearance at Nandan this time. She will make her Nandan debut this time with a Tea Meet on Saturday evening, bringing the curtains down on her pet culture project inherited from Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.
At Friday's party, keeping her company were the likes of follower-turned-foe-turned-follower Dinesh Trivedi, Arup Biswas, Madhabi Mukherjee and Locket Chatterjee.
Again, Tollywood's A-team was conspicuous by their absence.
At a roundtable later, Mamata mingled with a few foreign guests.
To a Nepali delegate she said: "Nepali and Bengali are very similar. Like Darjeeling!" Smile.
To some delegates from Europe she asked: "How do you like the weather?" With their hometowns in Poland and Azerbaijan freezing over, they said: "Calcutta is nice and warm." Smile.
To all and sundry she said: "There is a place in Bengal like Goa, it's called Digha. And a
place called Sunderbans with jungles, like the African Safari." Smile.
Pssst: Of course she can
hard-sell Bengal ' in the world of Make-Believe. Of course she's industry-friendly, as long as it's the film industry, silly.
How would you rate the 18th Calcutta Film Festival? Tell firstname.lastname@example.org