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© Neena Bhandari, Indo Asian News Service

ImageSYDNEY, March 11 (IANS) – Acclaimed actress Vidya Balan has been the star attraction at the 2011 Indian Film Festival (IFF): Bollywood and Beyond, which kicked off this week at the iconic Fox Studios with the screening of director Raj Kumar Gupta’s  `No one killed Jessica’ and British producer Leslee Udwin’s `West is West’.

Featuring over 30 films, including 15 Australian premiers, this year’s festival celebrates Indian cinema with a special retrospective of some of Balan’s finest films from Parineeta and Paa to Lage Raho Munna Bhai and Ishqiya.

“The past six years since Parineeta have been very fulfilling. I have enjoyed the appreciation and brickbats. The most exciting thing as an actor is to do diverse roles. A film has to be engaging and entertaining as for me cinema is ultimately about hope”, Balan told reporters at the Taj Blue hotel here.

Growing up in Mumbai, Balan says, “There were never any restrictions and my family encouraged me to do   whatever I wanted to do. We are rooted, but not conservative. When I was doing television, my mother realised it is not a bad place and I could take care of myself. She has supported my journey into films”.

With a dream debut in Parineeta, she has mesmerised audiences with her powerful performances. Balan says, “I have had great fascination for everything Bengali from the way they drape their saree to their music and culture. I feel extremely at home with everything Bengali. It is some kind of past life connection I would think otherwise why would a Tamil Brahmin from Mumbai land in a Bengali film like Parineeta?”

So if she hadn’t been an actress what profession would she have chosen? Balan quips, “Thank God, I am an actress otherwise the schizophrenic in me would have unleashed in not so nice ways”.

Balan is looking forward to the release of Sujoy Ghosh’s thriller `Kahani’ in which she plays a six-month pregnant woman. “I took advantage of my role and didn’t let anyone smoke around me” she laughs, adding that the other film to look forward to in 2011 is Milan Luthria’s `The Dirty Picture’  based on the life of Silk Smitha, South Indian cinema’s ultimate sex symbol.

For the 33-year-old actress, who has travelled the world, Gold Coast (Australia) known for its sunny surfing beaches is the favourite locale to shoot. “I had the most chilled out time in Surfer’s Paradise. I also enjoy shooting in Toronto, which has a lovely energy with cultural activities all around”, Balan told IANS, recalling the fun-filled time she had while shooting for Heyy Babyy in Sydney.

She feels the more independent voices Indian cinema embraces, the more universal appeal it will have. Australians and Indians have been coming with friends, partners and spouses to the festival, which is showcasing a sizzling mixture of comedy, romance, action and drama; from hardcore blockbuster Dabang, the critically acclaimed No one killed Jessica, to the big hearted West is West, the platform is shared among others with Rituparno Ghosh’s Bengali film Abohomaan and Ananth Narayan Mahadevan’s Marathi film Mee Sindhutai Sapkal.

Producer Leslee Udwin, Director Raj Kumar Gupta with Mitu B Lange
As Festival Director Mitu Bhowmick Lange told IANS, This year we’ve made a conscious effort to bring you films that eloquently express a new sophistication in contemporary Indian cinema; a hugely exciting seismic, cultural shift that must be shared. The aim is to showcase just how absolutely versatile and unique is our film industry. We have ventured beyond Bollywood to include some of the finest regional films”.

The credit for bringing Indian films into mainstream cinemas in Australia goes to Mind Blowing Films, which has also been promoting Australian locations to Indian film producers and directors.

Director Raj Kumar Gupta, on his first visit to Australia, told IANS, “It is a privilege to have `No one killed Jessica’ as the opening film of this festival. The landscape of cinema is changing and how the audience receive the film, connect with the emotions and identify with this journey is important for me”.

The festival director called on the Diaspora to ditch pirated two dollar DVDs sold at South Asian spice stores and support filmmakers by watching their works on the big screen.

Audiences also warmed to `West is West’ a sequel to Udwin’s much loved indie smash `East is East’. Udwin, who now lives in Copenhagen, told IANS, “I always knew there was going to be a sequel. People recognise that this film is about their story. It is a crowd pleasing film with a heart and spirit, which makes the audience cry and laugh. It is where comedy and tragedy fit in the same frame, an absolute reflection of life. Infact, I feel there is a trilogy in `East is East’.” West is West, which has wowed audiences at the Toronto, Abu Dhabi, Berlin and London film festivals, opens in India next month (April). 

Also screening before most show is the winner of the Western Union Short Film Competition, Mumbaikar Ganesh’ by Indian director Collin John D’Cunha. As many as 200 short films around the theme ‘dreams’ were submitted for the prize.

“Acknowledgment of Mumbaikar Ganesh means a lot for me as I am able to share my work with family and friends in Australia through the festival,” Kush Badhwar, the cinematographer, who was born and brought up in Sydney and has been working in Mumbai for the last four years, told IANS.

The 10-day festival, which is screened in Sydney (March 9-19), Melbourne (March 11-20), Adelaide (March 22-29) and Auckland, New Zealand (March 24 to April 3), closes with producer/actress Juhi Chawla and director Onirban Dhar’s `I am’. This innovative film, produced from donations through online social media, explores the issues of homosexuality, prostitution and child abuse.

© Copyright Neena Bhandari. All rights reserved. Republication, copying or using information from any content is expressly prohibited without  the permission of the writer and the news agency through which the article is syndicated. 

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