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Recently, a fascinating combination of a conference and a film festival on Indian Cinema was showcased at RMIT University in Melbourne. The theme of the Festival was ‘Indian Stories, Australian Screens’ and it was organized from 1st to 4th December 2016. The conference witnessed 14 paper presentations by media academics and professionals and 25 panelists that discussed the various aspects of Indian cinema and the cinematic connection between Indian and Australia.

Over the four days, ‘Indian Stories – Australian Screens’ presented an array of prominent keynote speakers from both academic and filmmaking backgrounds, providing a platform for dynamic discussions. in total 24 films were screened during the festival, including features, shorts, experimental and documentaries, which were well received by audiences. Filmmakers presented their work and engaged in Q&A’s for audience feedback and comments.

An assortment of films included blockbusters from Bollywood such as Pink and Airlift, to Indian regional language films such as Vaapis/Return (Punjabi), Anubrata Bhalo Acho/And a Verse Called Life (Bengali), Kachru Mazha Bapa/My Father’s Name was Garbage (Marathi) and Australia made Indian films such as Love and Love Only, Muqaddar, I Do Ishq Only Tumse and many other films.

The special guests at the conference and the film festival were: Ritesh Shah (Scriptwriter – Pink, Airlift), who recently won the Star Screen award for ‘best dialogue’ for Pink, Vipin Sharma a renowned Bollywood actor (who featured in the critically acclaimed Taare Zameen Par/Like Stars on Earth and Kick), Anupam Sharma – a well known Australian-Indian filmmaker, Vishwajeet Pradhan – a Bollywood Actor, Professor Richard Allen from City University, Hong Kong, filmmaker Natalie Millar Jadhav and Professor Ambrish Saxena (Zee Learn, New Delhi, India). Wyndham Councillor Intaj Khan was one of the guest of honor for the opening of the film festival.

Ritesh Shah found the idea of a conference and a film festival very interesting. He felt more at home with the conference discussions, his keynote address focused on the growing importance of India in Australia, and Australia in India. Bollywood Actor Vipin Sharma conducted a special master class on acting on the second day of the conference, which was well received. Sharma loved the opportunity presented by the conference and festival for an extended interaction with the audience. He presented his work in progress film – Akki, Vikki te Nikki. Cr. Khan applauded the organisers and he exhorted that more of the community members should support such events, which takes the Indian cinema in the right direction, not only in terms of viewing the cinema, but providing a platform to discuss and analyse how the films have shaped India as a nation and now it is one of the soft cultural power playing an important role in extending and expanding the growing relation between Australia and India.

When asked about the main focus of the conference and the film festival, the director of the film festival Dr Vikrant Kishore responded, “while, one can find few events organized around Indian films in the capital cities, there is hardly any event that focuses on Indian cinema on an academic level, therefore, the Indian Cinema and Culture Research Cluster under the Communication, Politics and Culture Centre at RMIT University planned this film conference and festival with a focus on academic discussions on Indian cinema and aims to create a network of academics, students and film professionals who are interested in Indian cinema.”

Dr Kishore, further elaborates, “with the growing Indian diaspora, the demand for Indian media content is increasing in Australia. This conference and film festival has been able to provide two-way understanding of India in Australia. First, about the global and local importance of Indian cinema and second, about how Australia can make India based content, market and distribute it within Australia.”

The film selection includes Hindi, Tamil, Marathi, Punjabi, English and Bengali language films. The film festival was a good opportunity to not just watch the films, but also take part in the discussions and Q&A sessions. The opening film of the festival was Pink, which was presented by Ritesh Shah, the scriptwriter of the film. The closing of the festival saw the world premiere of the film Kachru Mazha Bapa/My Father’s Name was Garbage directed by Mukesh Jadhav; the creative producer of the film Natalie Millar Jadhav presented the film, which is based on true story of the Bansode family, spanning the years 1927 to 2001. It is the story not just of one man, but of a generation who have transformed India.

Both Ritesh Shah and Vipin Sharma was appreciative of the effort and the scale of the work that was undertaken at RMIT. They were supportive of Dr Vikrant Kishore’s endeavor and promised to support the event in the best possible manner. Professor Ambrish Sharma pointed out that, while combination of a film festival and conference is a masterstroke, yet, he felt that they both should be organized on different days, thus focusing on Cinema conference for a day or two, and later organize a film festival.

The Film Conference Festival team was led by Dr Vikrant Kishore (Leader, Indian Cinema and Culture Research Cluster, CPC, RMIT) and Dr Antonio Castillo (Director, Centre for Communication, Politics and Culture, RMIT), and supported by Dr Parichay Patra. Many students who worked for the event as volunteers/interns were – Maria Vermeend, Mary McPherson, Padmapriya Padmalochanan, Athena Chueh, Mingzi Gao, Xinyi Wang, Zhang, Wang and Prachi Daga.

Dr. Vikrant Kishore states, “we will try to organise this event annually, to open new avenues of collaboration, discussion and societal engagement… maybe, we will focus more on South Asian Cinema. I am glad that we were able to screen so many quality films... hopefully, next year, with much better support and organisation skills, we will be able to organise the conference and the film festival in a much bigger scale.”

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