It was a rather refreshing sight to see a tiny touristy heaven—wont to western backpackers sharing narrow, cobbled street space with Tibetan Buddhist monks—turn filmi. Banners and posters dotted every nook and corner of the landscape as much as the colourful prayer flags blowing Om mani padme hum to early wintry winds. Mediapersons jostled for space with local craftsmen and souvenir sellers, hobnobbing with the huge crowd of filmmakers, critics and movie aficionados that had flocked in from around the world only to get a taste of the best of global indie cinema.
For four days—from October 24 to 27—Mcleodganj, the seat of the Tibetan government in exile and home to the Dalai Lama, turned into a veritable platform for movie lovers as it played host to the second edition of the Dharamshala International Film Festival (DIFF). On offer was a bouquet of over 30 contemporary works that included feature films, documentaries and short movies.
When this correspondent visited the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA)—one of the two venues for the festival—a group of students swarmed the tiny auditorium, leaving barely any room for movement. For the youngsters, though, comfort seemed to be the last priority, as they put their heart and soul into the movie. When Jabya, a Dalit teen and protagonist of Marathi film, Fandry, laments his stunning poverty that prevents him from expressing his feelings to his long-cherished love, Shalu, the students nodded in silent appreciation. Apart from the age factor, the young audience found an immediate connect, albeit remotely, to Jabya’s predicament—that of a missed opportunity, in their case, a platform to watch good cinema in the absence of a movie theatre in Mcleodganj.
“What set the festival apart this year was the reserved seating arrangement for about 100 students from the Dharamshala Institute of Education and Training. Last year, the invitations were limited and it was, primarily, a paid-ticket system,” said Prabhu S Singh, 29, an IT professional, who worked as a box-office volunteer during the festival.
Outside the auditorium, the atmosphere bore resemblance to a mini fair. Stalls selling food items and souvenirs surrounded the open-air courtyard of the TIPA, with some NGOs displaying just about anything from dolls to handicraft items and woollen shawls made by their members. Young nuns sold carrot cakes and apple pies, and in the background, melodic Tibetan songs and prayer hymns provided company to visitors. “It’s the perfect