Reel Buddhism

by SUMAN TARAFDAR, Source: Financial Express (India), July 23, 2006, The Buddhist Channel, Aug 3, 2006

A special section in the 8th Osian’s Cinefan brings together some of the oldest films on the ‘Middle Path’

New Delhi, India -- Even as most religions across the globe lose their sheen, getting embroiled and linked with definitely non-religious ideas and activities, Buddhism manages to maintain a certain charm, a mystique that continues to attract people.

While the West has been enamoured of various forms of Buddhism for a while now, the 8th Osian’s Cinefan festival in Delhi primarily showcased a dozen odd-films, largely from Asia in a section called ‘The Middle Path’.

Of these, two were made in the past year — Sudipto Sen’s The Last Monk and the joint Bhutan-US production, Milarepa by Neten Chokling. “It feels great to be part of a section that has names like Bernardo Bertolucci and Conrad Rooks,” gushes Sen. Both Bertolucci and Rooks’ films, Little Buddha (1993) and the Shashi Kapoor-Simi Garewal-starrer Siddhartha (1972) were included in the package, giving fans a rare opportunity to see these cult films on big screen.

“This is the 2,550th birth anniversary of the Buddha, which makes it very relevant,” says Latika Padgaonkar, in charge of programming at the festival. “Even as the government plans a number of activities around the theme, this was also an opportunity for us to get these films together,” she adds.

Adoor Gopalakrishnan, on the jury of the Asian Competition section, agreed that having a special section on Buddhist film made a lot of sense. “Besides the anniversary, the films are also about the interpretations of the ways of living,” he says.

But what is it that makes Buddhism so acceptable to be included as a separate section for a film festival, whereas any such attempt for other contemporary religions would have raised many eyebrows in different quarters.

Aditya Bhattacharya, whose film Dubai Returned was screened at the festival, feels this is because Buddhism is perceived as a rather “fringe’ non-threatening religion”. Says he:

“One of the toughest tasks before festival organisers today is to create relevant sections, and Buddhism fits the bill wonderfully.”

Mita Vashisht, a member of the jury in 2005 and attending Cinefan as audience this year, too is ecstatic about the overall package of films in this edition, especially the section on Buddhism. “There is something fundamental about Buddhism, and Asia is the right place to be showing these films,” she says.

Mysticism is another element that attracted a filmmaker like Sen. “Sexuality beyond physicality is what we show in our film,” he says. Sen shot on location in Ladakh.

The films in the festival include various other classics as well, including the vintage 1925 Franz Osten film, The Light of Asia. “It was a fascinating experience to see one of oldest surviving Indian films,” Mukta Sharma, a film student, said after the screening.

Agrees Sunil Kwatra, a film editor, who is looking forward to rounding-off his treat with Siddhartha’s screening today. This is one section the audience are sure to miss in future editions of the festival.