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Film festivals convert an audience nobody expects: Mitu Bhowmick Lange

Daman Bhasin | New Delhi |

The Indian Film Festival of Melbourne (IFFM) director Mitu Bhowmick Lange is excited over the 2018 edition and he says that these festivals provide a platform for good films which are not very successful  commercially.

Excerpts of an interview:

From a filmmaker to IFFM director, tell us something about your journey.

It’s been a very exciting and rewarding journey. I feel very lucky that I am working in the industry that I love, that I studied. And, the best of all, I get to showcase and promote films and people who are inspiring and wonderful in our new home.

What has changed for you all these years?

Being a mum has definitely changed me. It puts the world in perspective and made me better in time management.  Also, living in Australia, working with the film industry, does broaden one’s horizon and you feel a big part of the world family.

Share something about your vision for films in Australia?

My vision is that more Indian films are made in Australia; more people from Australia make films about the migrant community, their stories, and their lives. I want people to keep watching cinema and keep talking about it and above all, I want the world to realise that even though we are far away from the motherland, we are one of the highest consumers of Indian cinema in its entirety. I also wish to blur the lines between the Australian and Indian Film industries and make content together. It is a distant dream but we’ve already distributed two amazing independent Australian films, I hope we start producing them too.

You are the first ever Indian to win the Jill Robb Screen Leadership Award; tell us more about it.

I still can’t believe I’ve been given the award. When I came to Australia with my husband, I had a faint idea that I wanted to continue doing something with movies and especially try to balance being in Australia and keep my ties with India alive. Yash Chopraji was my biggest support; he encouraged me to start the distribution business and slowly start the film festival to engage the non-Indian community by showing the best of Indian cinema. We began producing films and from screening in two cinemas to now screening in over 80 screens across Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, we’ve definitely come a long way these last 10 years. During this time we also decided to start an Indian Film Festival because there wasn’t one in the entire continent then. I am talking about my past achievements because, for over the last 10 years, Film Victoria, the state’s film body, has been watching my every move. They welcomed me with open arms when I pitched the idea of a festival, they enabled me to think bigger by giving their own suggestions, and they are always looking out for IFFM.  Jill Robb was one of the torch bearers of promoting Australian cinema and it couldn’t be a bigger honour in the country than being awarded this.

You are very vocal about women’s rights; do you think the industry is going in the right direction when it comes to women?

It is absolutely fantastic that women are calling out the failings in the industry, be it harassment, pay gap, casting couch, etc. Having worked in this industry long enough, I know everything will take time to change at the grassroots. But the fact that it is slowly changing at the top, with policy makers, with the people who call the shots, I am sure things will get better. Women are a force to reckon with because we fight so many more battles, first at home, then society, then a work place, surely it’s subjective but this is mostly the case, especially in India. We would like to be taken seriously irrespective of our gender, we want people to see us as competent and resilient beings and this is in all industries, all over the world.

What can we expect from IFFM 2018? 

A lot! I cannot stress how happy I am with the theme, with the films we’ve lined up and the ones we are currently adding to the list. The other year we had a collaboration of three singers, two from India and one from Pakistan, who sing very different genres and perform on stage. We’ve had and continue to hoist the Indian Flag on Independence Day. The event happens at the pulse point of Melbourne, the iconic Federation Square. We began Australia’s first Bollywood dance competition, and we have had dancers from various ethnic backgrounds who have performed because of their love for the stage and Bollywood dance/music. And each year, we ensure the patrons get a chance to see their favourite stars in the flesh. This year, we’ve made it even more interesting and packed with more master classes, Q&A’s and panel discussions. Our aim is to let budding filmmakers, actors and producers get a chance to learn from the pioneers and non conformists of the industry. As the theme is inclusion, we have curated movies around it. With over 60 films in 22 languages, this might be our biggest film catalogue yet. We will speak to directors and writers who make a conscious decision to talk about inclusion, even the underlying theme of our dance comp is inclusion. This year we are in more cinemas around the city, we’ve got more free events and have a longer festival too. 2018 is going to be bigger, better and inclusive.

In recent years, we have seen Hindi films doing well in Canada and China. Do you think Bollywood films have an equally bigger market in Australia? 

Absolutely! DANGAL, PK, DHOOM 3 and Baahubali 2 were all highest foreign grossers at the Australian Box Office, which is testament to its growing popularity .The films were celebrated by the Australian Cinema convention where they were awarded. Sometimes we get the film before everyone else does!

Do you think festivals help films get a platform for commercially success later on when they hit the cinemas?

I think the beauty of film festivals is that they have a reputation of getting people interested in a film. Not just a particular community but people who don’t know the language, the style of cinema, or have misconceptions about what Indian cinema is also get to experience fantastic stories, honest filmmaking and hard hitting themes. India is filled with stories and if a story is right it can both be a commercial and a critical success. But what a festival does is bring and convert an audience nobody expects and watch them leave the theatre with satisfied smiles. So many films, Masaan, Court and many others got everyone keen on watching it. If a festival is credible, has a reputation for good films and then says a certain film is a must watch, people will definitely try and catch it whenever it is out. Good films that are not very commercial get a strong platform in festivals, thereby finding an audience and distribution deals when in the right festivals.