melbourne film festival

A scene from Vidya Balan’s “Natkhat.” (Abhishek Thukral photo)

MUMBAI — The Indian International Film Festival of Melbourne goes completely virtual this year owing to the pandemic, and it kick-starts Oct. 23 and wraps up a week later.

Cinephiles across the world are inevitably missing the lack of intimacy and fervor at film festivals. With red carpets staying rolled up and ticket counters shut, the frenzy seems compromised. But film aficionados will vouch for the fact that the joy of a good film stays even on a home screen.

Luckily for movie buffs, the month of October has a special treat in store. The Indian Film Festival of Melbourne, which is hosted in August annually since the last 10 years, is looking at going virtual this year. Though the festival director, Mitu Bhowmick Lange, had hoped to do a compact schedule at the original venue, keeping in mind the threat of the pandemic, the festival will now be hosted virtually and the films at the festival will stream free at the festival’s official website for cinephiles.

All the popular sections of the festival, namely Hurrah Bollywood, Beyond Bollywood, Film India World, Documentaries and Shorts are expected to be on schedule. Interestingly, the festival’s short film competition section this year saw a record number of entries.

This is over and above their new property, IFFM Film Club, that kicked off in June and has hosted filmmakers like Shoojit Sircar, Anurag Kashyap and Aparna Sen, and Vidya Balan among others. Yes, Balan is also a filmmaker now.

The festival will retain the short film competition (which will be converted into a virtual one). Plans for the much-awaited awards gala are being reworked to fit into the rules in the post-pandemic era.

Over and above the usual sections, the festival will continue to host virtual Masterclasses that will be open for registration to the festival goers and will accommodate 100 early bird users to the talk. The Masterclass is a fortnightly property that hosts sessions with well-known filmmakers and actors.

Amongst the festival’s highlights this year is a crucial tie-up with the Mental Health Foundation. Patrons of the festival can donate to the MHF and all proceeds from the Festival this year will be directed to the foundation as well.

Opening the virtual festival is the Vidya Balan film “Natkhat,” which marks the actress’ production debut. The film is a story of a mother teaching her young son about gender equality and calls out toxic misogyny. “Natkhat” premiered on YouTube as part of the prestigious “We are One: A Global Film Festival,” and will now screen at IFFM. This will premiere in a double bonanza package along with the Marathi film “Habbadi,” which traces the story of a young boy with a speech impediment, being true to IFFM’s core value of celebrating diversity though cinema.

The choice of films is fairly telling of the festival’s commitment towards social impact. Like every year, the festival this year too, will offer over 60 films in 17 languages.

Lange said in a statement, “It’s an unusual time that the world is going through and now, more than ever before, cinema has been people’s support system and respite through fairly dark times. IFFM stands strong in its spirit to entertain movie buffs across the world and hope that we heal a little together.”

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