Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Thai directors create waves at Indian film festivals

Back in November and December of last year, Thai filmmakers took India by storm. Pen-ek Ratanaruang had a retrospective at the International Film Festival Kerala. Nonzee Nimibutr was the subject of a retrospective of Goa's International Film Fesival of India. He attended along with actress May Pathavarin Timkul and GTH's Yongyoot Thongkongtoon.

Finally re-emerging in Bangkok from the sub-continent, Lekha Shankar returns with a report that's late, but better late than never.

Story and photos by Lekha J. Shankar in Goa & Trivandrum

While a bunch of top Thai movie stars created waves at India’s top festival, the International Film Festival of India in 2008, it was the turn of some top Thai directors to do the same in 2009.

Nonzee Nimbutr had a retrospective of his films at the IFFI and the movies created waves in the beach-town of Goa.

The 1950s-action drama Dang Bireley's and Young Gangsters was a hit, as were the tender tale of a former Buddhist monk in Muslim southern Thailand in OK Baytong and the spooky historical ghost romance of Nang Nak. Indian audiences, with their penchant for exaggerated Bollywood dramas, loved Queens of Langkasuka, with its fantasy and loud action. But the erotically charged dysfunctional family drama Jan Dara was a definite no-no and sent shockwaves among the old and the young.

However, Jan Dara actress "May" Patrawarin, daughter of Thai theatre icon Patravadi Mejudhon, took the festival by storm, with her easy charm and exuberance. She walked down the red carpet with poise, danced at the beach parties with wild abandon, translated for the team at the press conference, swam, sang and sizzled with spirit.

Also joining the team was Yongyoot Thongkongtoon, whose drama Best of Times, about the romance of an older couple, won many admirers at the festival. Yongyoot, the artistic director of the Bangkok International Film Festival, studied every aspect of the IFFI, and said he was most impressed at the way the state and the central governments collaborated for the country’s biggest film festival.

He also enjoyed watching the new-age Bollywood films, in particular the cult-film Dev D whose DVD he bought immediately after the screening.

The fourth member of the Thai film team in Goa was Benjarat Vittayathep of Pacific Island Films, representing director Thanit Jitnukul’s Samchuk, about high-school boys hooked on drugs and the principal who helps them kick the habit. She combed the shops of Goa but didn’t complete her endless shopping list.

Meanwhile, Pen-ek Ratanaruang hit the Kerala International Film Festival, where a retrospective of his films was held.

Monrak Transistor, with its songs and romantic tale, appealed greatly to the Indian audiences.

But Pen-ek’s weird brand of humor took the movie-mad Keralites by surprise.

They were taken aback when he said publicly that his films never drew such large audiences in his own country!

Asked what he would have become if not a film director, he retorted that he would have become a football player or a magician!

At a Q&A session with veteran journalist Jerry Pinto, the latter had to beg him to be serious. Pen-ek said at the session, that he had been on the festival circuit for 12 years, and often wondered if he was “just a lucky guy”.

When asked what was the most important quality for a "good" film, the director answered seriously, for a change, “a good script”.

Pen-ek said he's been working with the same film crew over his 12 years of making moveis. “They often do things better than me, but I get the credit!”

Pen-ek managed to find time for a short canal ride, which Kerala is famous for, and opted for private parties, over the public events, thanks to a movie-mad female groupie-team who followed him everywhere and made sure he was never bored.

The director found find time to see films and enjoyed wacky ones like The Love Life of a Gentle Coward, which thrilled lively Croatian director Pavo Marinković. He wanted Pen-ek to recommend it to the Bangkok International Film Festival so Marinković could visit Thailand.

Fresh from the Black Nights Film Festival at Talinn, Estonia, where Pen-ek was on the jury, the Thai director could not stop raving over the fun-filled European film event, where the high spirits of the vibrant festival were only matched by the high spirits of the endless bottles at night. He said he was definitely going back to Black Nights.

The Kerala festival set right Pen-ek’s Estonian hangover. But he still looked like he had not been exorcised of Nymph, judging by the many questions he got about that film from the Kerala audiences. They seemed to have been spooked out by the film, but could not fathom who the spook was.

One heard that audiences at other festivals, like Dubai, had the same spooky problem.

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