I have done quite a few things in life, quite a few of them randomly, taking opportunities as they come – being a print journalist, radio anchor, television news correspondent, teacher, radio jockey, dotcom journalist. What one November afternoon in 2015 brought into my life, I could have never expected, nor had the wisdom to plan.
Film-festival organiser & curator, this brand new identity came my way all thanks to a piece I was reading that day, written by one of India’s foremost actors of parallel cinema, Shabana Azmi. Shabana in that evocative piece, spoke about a woman who the world (Hindi cinema fans and followers) thought was her ‘rival’: Smita Patil.
Smita, the youngest star to win the Padmashree died at 31 in 1986, barely a few days after the birth of her first-born Prateik. Shabana and Smita, for those who came in late, were the leading lights of the avant-garde movement that Indian cinema witnessed in the 70s and the 80s.
Moved by what I had just read, and overcome by that feeling we all get often to ‘share’ with someone, I pinged the first ‘green’ contact I saw online on Facebook messenger, and sent him the link. Mayank Chhaya, a senior journalist friend who lives in Chicago, replied immediately when I said “I wish I could take off only to watch films all day” with “But why do you want to watch movies only by yourself? Why don’t you show them to the entire city!”
I guess that was it – the transforming moment (the kind for which Hindi television serials would have had dhan–dhan music, zoom’in closeups of my eyes and shots on a loop). The Smita Patil Film Festival was thus born.
Until then, in my mind it was either government bodies or special interest groups organising a festival, not an individual. But the thought seemed so thrilling! I then reached out to scan the next set of ‘green’ on the friend list, and it stopped at Manasi Holehonnur.
Manasi, until then only my ‘padosann’, my neighbor two streets away, was this Marathi short story-writer, mother of a little brat. I messaged her, saying “Hey if I curate a film festival, will you join me?” And she landed home to join – in less than 5 minutes, with both of us discussing our wishlist of what films of Smita we should show, where to show them and who should we invite in a small little notepad of mine (reminds me, I should laminate that scribbled page for history’s sake). We stopped just short of Amitabh Bachchan, or maybe he too made it to that list of ours!
The next step I had to think of was – what next! How will this film fest get going? Should I hire professional experienced teams? Find capital? … how does one source the films? What about rights? Should the shows be ticketed? And the venue? How many days should the festival ideally be? And. Where would the money for all this come from, huh? That story, let me leave untold, till the next week.”
-Vasanthi Hari Prakash