Abu Dhabi, Nov 2: Away from home, yet so near - thanks to movies. NRIs, mostly middle-aged, used the Abu Dhabi Film Festival (ADFF) platform to catch up on classics like "Pyaasa" and "Garm Hava" as well as new ones like "Qissa" and "Goynar Baksho". Meeting a star like Irrfan Khan was a huge draw too!
The curiosity and excitement in the air was evident from the word go.
For many, the festival, which celebrated the centenary year of Indian cinema with a special programme of five classics, was a rare chance to watch the old films on the big screen.
The bouquet offered Guru Dutt's "Pyaasa", M.S. Sathyu's "Garm Hava", Jahnu Barua's Assamese film "Halodhia Choraye Baodhan Khai", Ritwak Ghatak's Bengali film "Subarnarekha" and Mani Kaul's "Duvidha", which had about 60 percent occupancy.
"It's lovely to watch these films in a cinema hall after so many years. We love the songs of films like 'Pyaasa' and it was a pleasure to come and watch the film here," Rekha Rajpure, who came with her husband to watch the Guru Dutt-Waheeda Rehman social satire, told IANS here.
In all, nine Indian films, including five classics, were screened at ADFF, which began Oct 24 and concludes Nov 2.
Raman Chawla, who curated the Indian programme for the fest, found it a daunting task to pick out just five gems from the history of Indian cinema to showcase here.
"I would have loved to bring in films by Bimal Roy, G. Aravindan, Mehboob Khan, Raj Kapoor, and Hrishikesh Mukherjee - all are important names in the history of Indian cinema," Chawla told IANS.
He said his choice of Indian films was driven by some common factors - where they came from and if their subject was based on India-Pakistan partition or its aftermath.
"The idea was to bring different films from different places in India, which showed the aspirations of the people, and more than the joy of partition, the sorrow of Indian society," said Chawla. The theme, he said, extended to the new films as well.
The viewers were intrigued.
Foreign film aficionados and critics, who are here for the fest, questioned Sathyu and Barua about the nitty-gritty that went behind their films.
To many, it came as a surprise that "Garm Hava", which was released in 1973, was shot only with one lens and all in one go. Even Barua shared interesting facets of the making of his film - he told the curious audience that he had waited for 17 days for actual rain to pour for a critical scene.
For Barua, it was a proud and emotional moment of watching his own film after 20 years. And for a few NRIs, it was heartening to see that films from their country were pulling in audiences from other countries too.
"When I was watching 'Pyaasa' here, I assumed many would walk out of the theatre because it is a little long and has songs off. But I was surprised that no one walked out. It was great," said Abhijit Singh, who has been in Abu Dhabi for five years.
Among the newer films were "Qissa", "Siddharth", "Goynar Baksho" and "Fandry", which also had young NRI viewers, who wanted to get a taste of non-commercial Indian cinema.
Irrfan-starrer "Qissa" turned out to be a huge crowd-puller. The star cast - Irrfan, Tisca Chopra, Tillotama Shome and Rasika Duggal's presence - gave it an additional pull. The film, set in post-partition era, and a man obsessed with having a male child, got a fan following from international quarters and gave them a taste of the evolving ethos of Indian cinema.
Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani told IANS that she loved "Qissa" and Irrfan's performance has left her in admiration of his versatility.
Aparna Sen's Bengali film "Goynar Baksho", which was attended by several Indian women dressed in saris and salwar kameez, was also welcomed with open arms for its endearing performance by Moushumi Chatterjee, who plays a ghost in it.
The audience members were happy about getting a chance to meet reel life ghost in real here.
Richie Mehta's "Siddharth" and Nagraj Manjule's Marathi movie "Fandry" found a connect with the audience members, as they touched upon roaring social issues like child trafficking and caste system respectively.
Chawla agreed "it would take time to develop an audience here", but it will happen.
(Radhika Bhirani can be contacted at email@example.com)