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Curtains Up on Indian Muslim 
Film Festival in the Capital

Silvia Radan / 27 February 2009

ABU DHABI - Historical, social, new wave and courtesan movies are the four cinematic genres presented in the Muslim Cultures of the Bombay Cinema, taking place at the Cultural Foundation here from February 26 to March 22.

According to the organisers, this is not just another film festival, packed with Indian blockbusters of romance at superlative that could lead to emotional diabetes.

“These are intellectual films, carefully presented in a well-conceptualised festival,” explained Richard Allen, co-curator of the festival and Professor of cinema studies at New York University, one of the organisers of the event. According to him, the festival serves two purposes.

“Part of the motivation for this festival was to celebrate the Indian cinema, which is one of the most important ones in the world today,” stressed Allen.

The other was to preserve and restore the Bombay Muslim cinema.

As Ira Bhaskar, Professor of cinema studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University and co-curator of the festival pointed out, these four genres reflect what is left of the Bombay Muslim cinema today.

“There is a whole body of work, films inspired by ‘1001 Nights’, Persian and Arab legends, myths and fairytales that have now disappeared, so with this festival we are trying to preserve what is left of Bombay cinema,” revealed Bhaskar, adding that the festival will not stop in Abu Dhabi, but it will make its way to India itself, making stops at various cities on its way.

What is Bombay Muslim cinema?

“I remember growing up as an Indian Muslim in Bombay. I used to go to the cinema a lot and watching an Indian Muslim movie was not an academic experience, it was a personal one,” said Talmiz Ahmad, the Indian ambassador in Abu Dhabi, one of the supporters of the festival.

“After the movie we’d go home and discuss the movie intensely – did we look good or not? As a Muslim minority in India, it was important that the community was portrayed truthfully,” added the ambassador.

The answer to the question that is valid even now was that the Muslim society was portrayed in a stereotypical manner, far from the realities of everyday life. “Back then, the hero of the Indian Muslim cinema was a romantic figure, now he is a blood-thirsty one, because of the things we are looking at – Al Qaida, Taleban, suicide bombers — so the stereotypy continues,” explained Ahmad.

Who is the Indian Muslim society today is one of the key issues that the festival, especially through its new wave films, is trying to reveal.

The genre of films shown may be different but they all follow the same Indian format of storytelling through singing and dancing. Ashutosh Gowariker, one of India’s most celebrated film directors, agreed that there are a lot of genres that Indian cinema hasn’t explored yet. “Whatever happens in the west, we will not lose our music and dancing. I would like to make a song-and-dance James Bond movie and, believe me, it would be a very good one,” stressed Gowariker proudly.

He agreed, though, that Slumdog Millionaire, which won eight Oscars recently, might set in motion a wind of change.

“Slumdog is a film about India, though, not an Indian film. Still, it has many Indians that have been recognised that will help catapult Indian talent to world stage, so now there will be more eyes on India than ever before,” believed Gowariker.


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