It was with a degree of surprise that I greeted documentary film-maker Anand Patwardhan on the flight to Patna to attend the Patna Film Festival wherein his film Jai Bhim Comrade on Ambedkar was screened. Given the politically charged situation around the country and the Bihari fascination for all things political, the opening film is a fitting start to the festival titled Cinema of Resistance. Patwardhans other work Ram Ke Naam is also going to be screened at the festival besides some seminal films like M.S. Sathyus Garam Hawa. This in a city which once upon a time was considered an unlikely territory to release an urbane film like Dil Chahta Hai, is nothing short of remarkable.
While film-makers and artistes visiting Bihars capital is not new, but for the longest time, given the morass the state had been stuck in, cultural visits had turned into a trickle. More often than not, actors and directors who hailed from Bihar, the most prominent of them being Shatrughan Sinha, Shekhar Suman, Manoj Bajpayee, Ravi Kishan, Neetu Chandra and Prakash Jha, were the rare frequent fliers headed into the state.
But given the recent spurt of cultural activities in the city, it is evident that Patna has reclaimed at least some of the lost ground. Why, the last couple of years have been witness to some seriously high-powered visits, namely those by Amitabh Bachchan, Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan even if primarily for film promotions.
That cities like Patna, Bhopal, Indore and Lucknow among several others are gradually waking up to the joys of cultural events such as film festivals is good news for everyone concerned. Considering that the audience in such towns had fallen off the film industrys map, such developments suggest a resurgence, aided in a big way by the growth story of such cities. In fact such cities that have long played second fiddle to the more glamorous metros in the entertainment stakes, are fast coming into their own. The new system for television ratings that includes cities both small and big, outside of the metros is now turning out to be a major influencer as far as television programming is concerned. With cinema too, its no different.
Single screens within such cities, so far the main venues for watching films, have upgraded themselves completely and have even thrown in caramel popcorn for good measures! In fact some of them are the principal venues for film festivals and suchlike. Given the exciting growth story of entertainment in small town India, even multiplex chains are fast making their way to these cities. The arrival of multiplexes allows for various kinds of movies, even for the so-called niche cinema to find an audience in these unexpected parts of the city. All this in turn expands the market for the new age Bollywood films, and opens a window to new and different kinds of cinema for the audience, clearly a win-win situation for all.