When the Toronto film festival board was preparing for its second annual fundraising gala after the spectacular success of last year’s James Bond-themed event, there was one proposal no one could refuse. Filmmaker Deepa Mehta, a member of the festival board, put forth the idea that the event presented an ideal opportunity to celebrate 100 years of Indian cinema. “It was my idea to celebrate the centenary of Indian cinema at the Toronto festival’s annual gala,” explained the Toronto-based Mehta at the programme held in the city’s Four Seasons Centre for Performing Arts earlier this week. Soon, the festival board christened Mehta as the director of the event.
The director, whose last film Midnight’s Children, based on Salman Rushdie’s novel on the Partition of India, world-premiered at the Toronto festival in 2012, then sat down to shape a theme that was close to her heart. “It is said many times over that you can take an Indian out of India, but you can never take India out of an Indian,” joked the director of the acclaimed trilogy, Fire, Earth and Water. “It is also about bringing India and Canada together,” she added.
One of the first elements of the theme Mehta created was a list of films, her own Top 20, to represent Indian cinema from 1913 to 2013. “I listed films from Garam Hawa to Devdas and Mughal-e-Azam to Dev.D,” said Mehta, who linked Indian cinema with the country’s famed culinary culture for the gala dinner. Mehta also chose her actors in Midnight’s Children, Anita Majumdar (who plays Emerald) and Zaib Shaikh (Nadir), as co-hosts of the gala.
The newly expanded team sat at Mehta’s home in Toronto, in her kitchen, to be precise, selecting clips suitable for the occasion from her Top 20 list, over hot samosas and tea. The 20-film list, which began with Raja Harischandra, included Ritwik Ghatak’s Ajantrik, Satyajit Ray’s Apur Sansar and Mrinal Sen’s Bhuvan Shome. There are also two films of Mani Ratnam (Bombay and Nayakan). Among the celebrities who attended the gala, which set a $25,000 price for a 10-member table, were Freida Pinto and Tisca Chopra.