For past two weeks, Toronto has held its 32nd Annual International Film Festival, a prestigious festival that is said to be a lead-up to the Oscars. In fact critic Roger Ebert said, “Cannes may be the biggest, but Toronto is the most important.” At this years’ festival the Hindi film industry certainly made its presence known with many of Bollywood’s brightest stars attending and with several films premiering during the two weeks.
Film critic Christopher McKinnon said on the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) website: “A new crop of films from India defies the Bollywood tropes that Western audiences often mistakenly apply to all of Indian cinema. You won’t find many scenes of singing and dancing, and hardly a frame of melodrama. Bollywood represents only a part of India’s national cinema, and these diverse selections will show Toronto some daring and innovative new films from acclaimed filmmakers and actors.”
One of the biggest films from India that had its premiere at the TIFF was Rituparno Ghosh’s The Last Lear starring Amitabh Bachchan, Preity Zinta, Arjun Rampal, Shefali Shah, and Divya Dutta. The Last Lear (see our exclusive review) has received a tremendous response when it was showcased at a ‘Gala Presentation’. In fact Amitabh Bachchan’s performance in Last Lear is being compared to some of the all time greatest performances in cinema!
“The show was received well. The audience just loved the film. There was a ten-minute standing ovation after the screening got over and most people were seen coming out of the theatre with moist eyes. People were stunned with the performances of Mr. Bachchan, Preity, Arjun, Shefali Shah and Divya Dutta,” Shubho Shekhar Bhattacharjee said, the CEO of Planman Motion Pictures.
Preity Zinta who attended the premiere along with Mr. Bachchan, Arjun Rampal and director Ghosh said, “The response has been beyond anything I’ve expected. Mr. Bachchan is being treated like god. His Shakespearean oratory is sending audiences into raptures. You know I grew up on Shakespeare so I’m not so bad with it either.”
Arjun Rampal said of the experience working on the film, “I think I have done something I never done before. This is seriously a challenge to me to keep working and offering better performances. This would not have worked out so well if not for the trust Rituda (director Rituparno) had in us. Our morale was boosted by the presence of Mr Bachchan.” The critics praised Arjun’s “natural and spontaneous performance.”
About all the accolades from cast, critics and audiences alike Big B said, “the comments on my performance are flattering. I’m honoured and embarrassed.”
Before the Rains is another film that was showcased and got a wonderful response. Starring Rahul Bose and Nandita Das, it is one of two films that director Santosh Sivan had premiering at the festival.
Bose is very happy with the response; “Santosh and I got a standing ovation after the first screening of ‘Before The Rains. This was the first time that I was watching the film. And I must say I seldom feel so happy about my films and especially my performance. Fortunately, the feeling is shared here in Toronto,” said Rahul. Canadian critic Cameron Bailey lauded Rahul Bose’s performance in Before the Rains by writing in his review; “Rahul is the heart of the film”.
Sivan said, “Actually I’m here in Toronto with two films. ‘Before The Rains’ and also my AIDS film Prarambha, which is part of a four-film bouquet. All the four AIDS films have been very well received. As for Before The Rains, Rahul, Nandita Das and I are enjoying the attention.”
Sivan’s AIDS film was part of Mira Nair’s AIDS JaaGO, which along with a film by Mira herself included a film directed by Vishal Bharadwaj and one by Farah Khan. Starring many well-known Bollywood actors and actresses each film addressed a different issue to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS.
Amal directed by Canadian director Richie Mehta received a lot of festival buzz. A film shot entirely in Delhi, it stars newcomer Rupinder Nagra along with Naseeruddin Shah, Roshan Seth and Seema Biswas. On a blog about Amal, that included an interview with Nagra, Sameer wrote: “Nagra’s performance as a rickshaw driver in Amal is one of the highlights of the film, and Nagra held his own acting alongside some of the greatest Indian actors in our generation: Naseeruddin Shah, Roshan Seth and Seema Biswas. The Canadian actor acknowledges that working with people like Shah was a fantastic learning experience: ‘It was like taking a master class with some fantastic actors, and I was getting paid for it instead of paying.'”
Satish Kaushik, the actor-director, was there with his British film Brick Lane. Kaushik said: “I travelled from Mumbai to Toronto with Shekhar Kapoor, Shilpa Shetty, Sameera Reddy and Vishal Bharadwaj. We had lots of fun. Shekhar showed me the trailer of Elizabeth 2. I showed him stills of my next film Tere Sang. It was nice to feel that guru and chela (teacher and pupil) were heading for the same festival for their films. You know I was assistant to Shekhar during the filming of Mr. India.”
In the film, he plays a foul-mouthed spouse-abusing Bangladeshi, “It was great to know that the Brick Lane author Monica Ali was very happy with my performance. In fact, earlier she had mailed my director Sarah Gavron and complimented her for casting a real life Chanu (the name of the character),” Kaushik added.
It is wonderful to see Bollywood’s finest actors and some of it’s leading directors making their mark on the international film stage. We applaud each and every one of them and look forward to seeing these films when they are released in theaters.