When Vidya Balan addressed the press this month to announce the launch of the 2014 Indian Film Festival Melbourne program from May 1-11, one thing that came up again and again was how much she felt at home in Melbourne. Platitudes are common with actors and politicians but Bollywood actor Balan is far from sounding trite. True enough, festival director Mitu Bhowmick Lange substantiated this with a quote from Film India Worldwide magazine which wrote in its editorial that no other festival does a major star gives it so much time to make sure that the festival grows every year. As brand ambassador of IFFM, Balan has not missed any event or trip to Melbourne and has been credited with much of the festival’s success.
And much to the delight of Melburnians, Balan confirmed that superstar Amitabh Bachchan would finally be here in May to launch the festival. “Yes it is true that Mr Bachchan will be finally joining us this year. He couldn’t refuse, he played my son in a film called Pa,” laughed Balan, adding, “Please don’t report this, I have to go back to India.”
With a National award and the 2014 Padma Shri award in her kitty, this acting powerhouse who has rocked the screen with films such as Parineeta, No One Killed Jessica, The Dirty Picture, Kahaani to name a few, said, “Every year at the festival, we try to push the envelope more and this year’s endeavour is launching the awards section where we are recognising the special works by Indian filmmakers and Indian talent.” Balan was particularly thankful that Film Victoria and the ministry is supporting the festival and expressed happiness about more people coming forward to watch the versatile films of India here. “Last year we were encouraged by the fact that Australians and non-Indians came to the theatre to watch the films. I think it is a personal achievement when I see that happening. As always, there are a lot of exciting films that you will get to watch this year.”
But it was her love of Melbourne that struck a chord despite not having had much chance to explore much. “I love Melbourne and everything about Melbourne and I will keep coming back,” she said. But for her job and family, she said it is a city she would have loved to permanently reside in. On a humorous note, she said she was thankful that she was put up in different hotels each visit enabling her to at least capture different views of the city from atop the skyscrapers.
Minister for Tourism and Major Events Louise Asher, who received a sari as a gift from Balan, thanked her for flying down and “saying beautiful things about Melbourne”. With India being one of the largest growing tourism markets, Asher hoped more Indian film producers would come here as the government looked towards broadening its relationship with India.
This year’s festival will explore the richness of contemporary Indian cinema across four program streams, with films spanning Bollywood to art house and the subcontinent, as well as establishing an international competition, the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne Awards. The 11-day festival presents a world-class program overflowing with gala events, master classes with India’s leading film figures, and over 45 films screenings across four Melbourne venues.
By Indira Laisram