After muttering 'my precious' to over 30 films at the recently concluded Mumbai Film Festival, Satyen K Bordoloi returns to tell the tale of a unique fellowship.
One Film Festival to rule them all, One Festival to find them,
One Festival to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.
- Definitely NOT from The Lord Of The Rings
To put it plainly, film festivals are not for the faint at heart. Or mind. Or emotions. It demands the utmost devotion and stamina. It demands a serious enthusiast.
A person watching one or two films a day at a film festival is as much an enthusiast as a man running 2 to 4 miles of a 26-mile marathon is a marathoner. A true devotee, like a marathoner, runs the whole hog, watching four to five films a day, battling exhaustion, fatigue and body ache.
And just like you do for a race, the body, mind and emotions need to be prepped for a film festival marathon.
Consider sitting 10-12 hours a day, in a huge dark hall, amidst strangers, starring at a screen lit up in front of you with little room to stretch your legs and, if you are unlucky in the neighbourly department, little to rest your hand as well. Imagine doing this for seven to 10 days without a day's break.
It is as if you are Alex DeLarge from Clockwork Orange, eyes forced open and glued to the big screen. Only, in your case, the one forcing your eyes is your own greed to savour as many of the best films from the world as you possibly can.
This greed inside you is the greed of a Smeagol/Gollum from The Lord Of The Rings, where you run at the slightest buzz crazily muttering at the impending film, 'my precious, my precious'.
Those who have indeed run the full marathon of a film festival realise that the sheer physical and emotional strain is like going through chemotherapy.
Yet, year after year, festival after festival, you find people bound together in the fellowship of their favourite film festival, watching five films a day not because they can't watch more, but because usually there aren't more than five playing in a day.
On rare occasions, due to cancellation or repeat shows, they rejoice at getting to watch six. But that is the maximum limit. Absolute maximum.
People endure all kinds of trauma to be at a film festival. Salaried people take unpaid leaves from work, college students bunk, lovers abandon disinterested partners, the impoverished ones beg, borrow or steal entry passes, the smoker endures withdrawal symptoms, one with spondylitis gobbles pain killers, a person with disability fights discomfort, prejudice and stereotypes and the film critic fights his editor so s/he can do less stories and watch more films.
Watching the hordes of masses, running like lunatics from one theatre to another trying to grab the best seats, you'd invariably end up waxing philosophical, wondering with Leo Tolstoy How Much 'Films' Does A Man Need.
Over the years, every film festival develops its own devoted fan following. As if the torture of one year isn't enough, these devotees come back for more the next. Many of them see each other only once a year: during the festival. Yet, the moment they see each other, there's a glint in their eyes, and a warm smile on their faces. Whatever they maybe to each other in the outside world, during the festival they are kindred souls, taking the same journey, guiding and helping one another - forming memories whose echo will reverberate for an eternity.
One looking at this magnificent phenomenon from the outside, is bound to wonder why?
The answer lies in the state of the mad mad mad world where often the only thing that seems to make a semblance of sense, is art. Art that can and often does become both an escape from and an affirmation, of the harsh and ugly realities of life.
And a film is but an amalgamation, a mixing and matching of almost all the arts existing in the world. A film festival to film fans is what a hospital is to a patient. Bruised and battered patients who have almost given up on cinema come here, only to be fed the purest films intravenously straight into their systems, reviving them. It is indeed like chemotherapy, the strain of which might be overbearing, but is a life saver.
Yet, you wonder: how can anyone digest so many films in such quick succession? To know how, you have to consider the eating habits of a cow. It gulps down as much food as it can initially, only to masticate on the same for hours later.
One truth every filmmaker acknowledges is that one has to be a little mad to subject oneself to the maddening task of filmmaking. The same madness runs through the soul of a film festival enthusiast who endures physical pain to support their favourite filmmakers. Didn't someone say madmen attract madmen? A festival theatre thus becomes a madhouse where some of the craziest people in society come to celebrate perhaps the only definite sanity in a world gradually growing insane with rampant intolerance, impatience and injustice.
Like Sadat Hasan Manto's short story Toba Tek Singh, the mad men and women in the madhouse of the theatre, are perhaps the sanest people in the world.
And like every 'pagalkhana', every film festival in the world houses its own share of idiosyncratic 'specimens' that are attracted to their favourite festival like a diabetic is to sweet things. Most of them are the most interesting samples of their society.
Some lie to attend film festivals. Many come from cities thousands of miles away, mainly to see just this one film playing at the festival. Some are on a learning spree, aspiring to be directors or actors, busy dissecting every frame into the many elements that make it possible. There are graciously pregnant women giving their unborn children a taste of the best. There are people with cerebral palsy, quadriplegics, and even the occasional visually impaired person (yes, you'd be surprised that even visually impaired people love cinema).
There are those who fidget constantly on their seats irritating their neighbours. Others spend more time tweeting about the film they are watching rather than actually watching it. Many wear cotton tops so they can constantly wipe their specs with them. Some laugh at a scene that is choking you up and you hear their muffled sobs when you think the director is being funny. There are those who come to network with directors, others who come merely to catch a glimpse of celebrities and sit next to them for two hours of a film and tell the tale for two lifetimes.
Some come to catch a friend's film which they know won't be released because of the near-sightedness of a commercial film industry. Some come to watch how others would react to their creation. Some dream of one day being pregnant with a film that would get the same rousing reception that they are giving right now.
All these people are poured into one big, dark melting pot of the film theatre, and the fire is lit not below, but above - in the burning of the projector lamp. The ingredients of this pot are shaken and stirred by the visuals and words. The ingredients of the pot breathe the same air, watch the same visuals, often burn with the same feelings, and cry the same tears.
Film festivals unite enthusiasts in a fellowship of moving images, marry them to one vision of a world that is just, fair, equitable and full of hope.
A film festival is one of the strongest tools to keep a society united. For those who sit in the darkness and dream together, will also work for a better, beautiful world together.
May a thousand film festivals blossom in every nation.