The Toronto International Film Festival will showcase its largest Indian presence in 37 years. Indira Kannan talks to Cameron Bailey, the man behind it all
Most people in India have never heard of him. But Cameron Bailey, the 48-year-old artistic director of the Toronto International Film Festival or TIFF, may be the strongest champion of Indian cinema on the global circuit.
In recent years, TIFF, more than any other major global film festival, has boasted a rich line-up of Indian films from various genres. This fall, it has upped the stakes further and from September 6 to 16, will showcase its largest Indian presence ever in its 37 years. “We’re now seen as a leader in this field, in bringing Indian cinema to the world every year,” says Bailey in an interview in Toronto.
His big catch this year is the world premiere of Gauri Shinde’s English Vinglish, the comeback vehicle for Sridevi. Bailey had been tracking the film for several months, and during a visit to Mumbai in early July he was able to view it, although it was not yet finished. “It felt like a real privilege to see Sridevi back on screen after so long, and being as charming a screen presence and as sophisticated an actor as she ever was. As soon as the screening was done, I said I want to have this film in Toronto,” says Bailey.
|TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2012
September 6-16, 2012
English Vinglish, world premiere; director: Gauri Shinde
Midnight’s Children, world premiere; director: Deepa Mehta
The Reluctant Fundamentalist, North American premiere; director: Mira Nair
CITY TO CITY:
The Bright Day, Mohit Takalkar; world premiere
Gangs of Wasseypur, Part One, Anurag Kashyap; Canadian premiere
Gangs of Wasseypur, Part Two, Anurag Kashyap; North American premiere
Ishaqzaade, Habib Faisal; Canadian premiere
Miss Lovely, Ashim Ahluwalia; North American premiere
Mumbai’s King, Manjeet Singh; world premiere
Peddlers, Vasan Bala; North American premiere
Shahid, Hansal Mehta; World Premiere
Shanghai, Dibakar Banerjee; Canadian premiere
Ship of Theseus, Anand Gandhi; world premiere
While English Vinglish is the gala attraction, there’s a veritable bonanza in City to City, a section featuring films from a particular city each year; this year the spotlight is on Mumbai, with ten features from the city’s film makers, including four world premieres. While the focus is on independent films, the programme will also showcase works by Anurag Kashyap and a Yash Raj studio production. “I think the films coming out of Mumbai are at a turning point,” says Bailey. Mumbai was chosen for the City to City section at TIFF this year, following Tel Aviv, Istanbul and Buenos Aires in previous years. “The city used to be known just for the big Bollywood movies. But there’s a really interesting new wave of film makers who are making movies with a little more edge, a little more grit and who have their eye on the international market.”
For Bailey, India has become familiar territory, and he has developed personal connections in the film industry. He travels to India frequently, and makes it a point to meet film makers and actors like Kashyap, Guneet Monga, Abhay Deol and Rahul Bose on his trips. He counts Buddhadev Dasgupta as a “dear friend”, though he says he still needs to work on his contacts in the south.
According to Aseem Chhabra, a New York-based writer and festival director of the New York Indian Film Festival, Bailey’s passion for Indian cinema has been a great boost for the industry. Says Chhabra, “He has befriended film makers and follows their work. People know he’s interested, and want to show him their films.”
But the connections were not formed overnight. For instance, Bailey established contact with Aamir Khan over two years before he could bring Dhobi Ghat, produced by Khan and directed by his wife Kiran Rao, to TIFF for its world premiere in 2010. He recalls meeting Khan for the first time in the actor’s trailer during the shoot for Ghajini (2008). “He told me a lot about his hopes for not just his career but what he wanted to see happen with Indian cinema,” says Bailey. “And this was probably two years before Dhobi Ghat came to our festival but I feel like that’s how we’ve been able to bring some of these great films to our festival, by starting relationships early, staying in touch with people.”
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Bailey, who was formerly a film critic, started programming Indian cinema for TIFF in 2005. By then, he was familiar with Indian cinema through his friendship with Indo-Canadian film makers like Deepa Mehta, Srinivas Krishna and Ali Kazimi. His predecessor at TIFF, Noah Cowan, advised him on how to approach Indian films. “He said you can’t just go to Mumbai, you have to see everything else that’s going on.” Bailey visited Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Trivandrum, Delhi. “The thing that’s very obvious very quickly is that there are many different cinemas within India, many national cinemas in a way.” Bailey also works with Mumbai-based casting director and programmer Uma da Cunha on TIFF’s Indian selections.
TIFF had featured Indian arthouse and parallel cinema even during the 1980s and 90s. What Bailey did was add the excitement of Bollywood. “We have a lot of Hollywood films and stars at our festival, and it made sense to have some of the star driven films from India as well,” says Bailey. The initiative started with a bang, bringing Karan Johar’s Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna in 2006. The screaming crowds that showed up to see Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan dwarfed the turnout for Brad Pitt the previous night. “It was the biggest event we had at the festival that year,” recalls Bailey.
Sridevi is expected to attend TIFF this year, although Bailey won’t confirm her attendance until the official announcement. TIFF is also hosting the Asian Film Summit, billed as a networking and business opportunity for players from the Asian and Western film industries to meet each other, and Bailey promises a prominent Indian presence at this event as well.
There’s also a strong showing this year by famous film makers of Indian origin. Deepa Mehta’s adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s award-winning novel Midnight’s Children will make its world debut at TIFF. And Mira Nair’s latest film, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, will have its North American premiere in Toronto.
As a big fan of the technical quality of Indian cinema, Bailey has some friendly advice for the industry: “Films are often made very quickly in India and often the long process of script development, of honing the story, refining the character, going deeper and deeper over several drafts of the screenplay, often there’s not enough time to do that given the economic circumstances of Indian film making.”
He has also got over the unprecedented debacle handed to TIFF by Bollywood last year, when Pankaj Kapoor’s Mausam, which was scheduled to be a gala presentation, pulled out at the last minute, after tickets had been sold for screenings. “I’ve been assured by everyone I met that they would certainly never let that happen again,” says Bailey.
TIFF is a high-profile showcase for Indian cinema. It’s among the world’s premier film festivals and certainly the dominant film festival in North America. While the US has well-known festivals like the Tribeca Film Festival in New York, Telluride in Colorado and Sundance in Utah, they are smaller events or focus on niche categories. TIFF also kicks off the awards season, and since it’s a festival with huge public participation, it can create big buzz for audience favourites, like Slumdog Millionaire in 2008. For any Indian film maker seeking global attention, TIFF can be just the ticket.