Amid excesses like musical tributes to Superstar Rajinikanth for his birthday and raging cyber wars between fans of Thala Ajith and Illayathalapathy VIjay, there are a group of people who have been quietly but surely making the most of the cinema the city has to offer. With a constant stream of award-winning foreign films being screened in the city nearly every month – besides the recently concluded Chennai International Film Festival (CIFF) – Chennai seems to have a niche audience for art-house and indie films.
Aarti Krishnakumar, a freelance writer, is one of them. The 34-year-old, who has been watching foreign films for nearly a decade, says there is a growing audience for parallel and art films from countries you normally don’t see films from. “There are two types of fans though – the 50-plus crowd who are really knowledgeable about the movies they’re watching and the student crowd which is just discovering these films,” she says.
Aarti watched a whopping 14 films this season of CIFF. Her favourite out of the 14? Japan’s Like Father Like Son and Denmark’s The Hunt. She, like so many other movie buffs in the city, is a member of the Indo Cine Appreciation Foundation (ICAF). E Thangaraj, general secretary of ICAF says, “A lot of our members are from the film industry who want to watch these films to learn from them. But there is one set of audience in our member rolls, who come purely for the films. They come again and again for every foreign film we screen in our film festivals.”
Incidentally, said film festivals are actually quite a number. Each year, the ICAF aims at holding at least 20 film festivals, with a minimum of five films being screened each time. “The members come from all manner of professions – engineers, teachers, bank employees, retired people. Students make up a big chunk too,” says Thangaraj.
Testament to that fact are Abhishek Saha, a media student and Venkatadri, a Chartered Accountancy student. Abhishek has been brought up on a steady diet of Satyajit Ray, Rituparno Ghosh and Mrinal Sen. Venkatadri, on the other hand, is a hardcore Tamil film fan, who is in the middle of watching three back-to-back films when we call. This is the first time he has been to CIFF and he is a convert for good. “I’ll be making more efforts to watch international films. I was completely blown away,” says the Kamal Haasan fan. “We don’t usually have access to films like these. And the variety film festivals like these have is mind boggling,” adds Abhishek, who loves Iranian films.