INDIA. Azamgarh: It is often in small towns that one discovers what true love for art and culture really is. Perhaps, there is no better way to experience this than watching a movie or a live theatre performance at Azamgarh’s Sharda Talkies—a dilapidated theatre renovated and brought to life by a young team of theatre and cinema enthusiasts—that serves as the venue to the 3rd Azamgarh International Film Festival. Over the years, Azamgarh has produced cultural icons such Rahul Sankrityayan and Kaifi Azmi, among others, but for some reason the place hasn’t reaped the kind of benefits that one would expect.
Now, in the recent years, the place has been in the news owing to a few film projects but it is mainly because of the efforts made by Abhishek Pandit and his team at Sutradhar that Azamgarh is witnessing a cultural renaissance of sorts. Pandit’s exploits over the last decade-and-a-half have been instrumental in bringing Azamgarh back in the reckoning. Today, Sutradhar is hosting three annual festivals in Azamgarh: Theatre Festival, which is in its 16th year; Film Festival, which is in its 3rd year, and Literature Festival, which is in its debut year.
The 3rd Azamgarh International Film Festival, which was held at Azamgarh’s Sharda Talkies from 26th to 28th February, screened a wide array of films including Tauquir Ahmed’s Bangladesh film “Phagun Hawa”, Pablo César’s Indo-Argentinean film “Thinking of Him”, Yogendra Choubey’s Chhattisgarhi film “Ganje Ki Kali”, along with Hindi such as Baba Azmi’s “Mee Raqsam”, and Avinash Das’ “Anarkali of Aarah”. The festival also featured master classes and panel discussions.
What makes Azamgarh International Film Festival different from other film festival is the absence of any major corporate involvement. All those involved, right from the organizers to the curators to the participants, are the people who genuinely love cinema. “I think it is paramount that good cinema reaches the right set of audiences. Now, in its third year, Azamgarh International Film Festival endeavors to promote good cinema regardless of whether it is made regionally or internationally,” asserts Ajit Rai, noted art critic and festival director of Azamgarh International Film Festival.
A major attraction at the 2021 Azamgarh International Film Festival was a short film competition section comprising a four-member jury comprising Imteyaz Hussein, Prof. Mohan Das, Murtaza Ali Khan, and Dr. Munna K. Pandey. The segment featured shorts such as Divya Dutta starrer “Zuni”, Sanjeeta Bhattacharya starrer “Jama: The Muddled Thoughts of Ekanta Patel”, Alok Pandey starrer “KKKK… Kiran”, and Vivek Singh starrer “Raat Ka Suraj”, among others. The Malayalam-Tamil short film “Karuvarayin Kanavugal”, directed by Sarath Sunthar, revolving around the theme of female feticide was adjudicated as the best film by the jury.
The three-day festival came to an end with the screening of Satish Kaushik’s “Kagaaz” which was also shot in Azamgarh. The film, starring Pankaj Tripath, Monal Gajjar, and Amar Upadhyay, is based on life and struggle of Lal Bihari Mritak—a farmer hailing from a small village in Azamgarh, who was declared dead on official papers.