TIFF Love For Mumbai Cinema

June 29, 2012 9:18 am by

Cameron Bailey with Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao. Photo credit: Alberto Rodriguez/WireImage for TIFF.

This year, the Toronto International Film Festival celebrates Mumbai in its City to City Programme, which will spotlight ten filmmakers who are living and working in our bustling metropolis. Cameron Bailey, the co-director of TIFF, is the man responsible for bringing Indian programming to the internationally respected film festival and clearly has a soft spot for the city and its film community. We spoke to Bailey about India’s new generation of filmmakers, the rise of Anurag Kashyap and what we can expect from the subcontinent at the glitzy 37th edition, which will take place from Thursday, September 6 to Sunday, September 16 this year. Edited excerpts:

Tell us about the City to City Program.
We started the program four years ago with Tel Aviv, then Istanbul and last year we did Buenos Aires and this year Mumbai. In every case I was looking for cities that are at turning points. The cities themselves are fascinating and have rich histories—that’s what we’re looking for. We’ve never had a city with such a strong film tradition as Mumbai or as much production or as wide a range of filmmaking, from the most commercial cinema to some incredible avant garde work and documentary work. And I’ve never had as much to choose from; there’s more happening in filmmaking in Bombay than anywhere else in the world.

Because I’ve been programming the city [Mumbai] for a long time, I think I was able to find the right moment, in the sense that there’s a really important shift happening right now. I feel so lucky that we chose it this year. What’s happening with the rise of the incredibly rich, independent film work coming out of Mumbai, is that there’s a new generation that is fully versed in Bollywood but they’re not of Bollywood, they’re not making Bollywood movies at all.

I liken it to the late 1980s and early 1990s in the US when suddenly you had this New York independent wave—Spike Lee, Hal Hartley, John Sayles and others who were making films that were fully American but they weren’t Hollywood movies, at all. And suddenly there was an audience that grew up with those films and a new film language around it and I think exactly that is happening in India right now.

When do you think that change started to happen in India? Did you feel it?
You began to feel it, yeah. There’s always been a very strong art cinema in India but this is something else. I think what changed is when you began to see filmmakers who had independent sensibilities, who were a little more adventurous in terms of the forms of their films but were still working with a commercial film language.

When Madhur Bhandarkar began to make films like Fashion, when A Wednesday came out, then of course with the rise of Anurag Kashyap—I think it really exploded. I think he and Dibakar Banerjee have really been at the forefront, partly because they are so bold as filmmakers. They’re really audacious, they know both the international art-house film language as well as the Bollywood language, intimately. And they’re so prolific, they’re making lots and lots of movies so you get the acceleration of this new wave.

It seemed like Anurag Kashyap needed international attention before India would give it to him.
Yeah, it’s unfortunate but not surprising. That’s always the way. India’s not alone in this. Certainly in Canada, we know this as well. When your own filmmakers, your own artists are celebrated abroad, it gives them validation that they will never get at home. It’s the way of the world.

I was glad to see him at Cannes, Gangs of Wasseypur is epic. It’s amazing. It’s both an epic gangster story, in the tradition of Goodfellas, The Godfather or Once Upon A Time in America but it’s also got something to say to Indians, specifically about the way society works. Although it’s set in the criminal milieu there’s obviously echoes of other elements. I’m going to leave that to Indians to decide what it’s really about.

So is that a confirmation of Gangs of Wasseypur at TIFF?
Absolutely not! (Laughs) Nothing’s confirmed until it’s announced but he could expect a much warmer, bigger response here.

A lot of people think Deepa Mehta’s adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children will premiere at TIFF 2012.
I can say that we’ve been looking forward to the film for a long time. Last year at the festival, we did a conversation with Deepa Mehta and Salman Rushdie about the making of Midnight’s Children and we snuck a couple of scenes to show the audience. They had just come back from Sri Lanka from the shoot and we showed maybe ten minutes of scenes from the film. We gave people just a little taste of what it would be like.

It’s interesting to see just how much of the book was in the film. With adaptations you never know how freely they’re going to be adapted but she’s [Mehta] very faithful to the book and to the voice of Saleem, the main character in the book. You really get a sense that this is an adaptation that’s fully immersed in the novel and all of its richness, all of its complexity.

You’ve seen countless films from India—any favorites?
It’s a real mix and probably my favorite ones are the ones that I remember for some kind of personal connection as opposed to films for pure enjoyment. Lagaan is a film that I think is great and it’s epic and it’s very long but I was fully engaged the whole time. I remember it played at the festival in 2001 in the year of 9/11 so there was a very dramatic connection to that film.

I remember going out to a theatre in Scarborough to see Devdas when it came out. It was a big experience to see that with a south Asian audience in a suburban Toronto theatre. Dhobi Ghat is a film that’s not exactly a Bollywood movie but a film that I feel a very strong personal connection to because I was lucky enough to see it fairly early on and be drawn into a conversation about the film with Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao and saw it before it was completed.

I was able to present the world premiere here in Toronto [at TIFF 2010] and really felt connected to that film and to those filmmakers because I knew they were trying to do something different, really unique, that they hadn’t done before. They were really trying to make a film that meant a lot to them personally and reflected something of the city that they live in.

The ten films at TIFF 2012’s City to City Programme will be announced by Bailey in July.

Marissa Bronfman is a freelance writer and regular Huffington Post contributor who lives in Mumbai. In India, she works with and contributes to Condé Nast Traveller India and Vogue India.