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Rediff.com  » Movies » Indian Lunchbox wows west, and other gems from Telluride

Indian Lunchbox wows west, and other gems from Telluride

September 03, 2013 18:07 IST

Irrfan in The LunchboxIndia scored at the recently-concluded Telluride Film Festival, reports Aseem Chhabra.

Something amazing happened at Telluride to a little film from India.

Debutant filmmaker Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox won the Rails d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

Since then it has traveled to some other festivals in Europe. And Sony Pictures Classic has picked up the film for the United States market.

I was delighted to learn that the film was playing at the Telluride festival -- the first North American screening before it heads to Toronto this week. 

The big surprise was how well the Telluride audience connected with the film. Initially, the festival programmers had planned four screenings of film.

But the positive work of mouth led the programmers to schedule three more screenings of The Lunchbox, including a sold-out show at the new 650-seat The Werner Herzog Theatre. 

The Lunchbox is a sweet, delicate film with very warm performances by Irrfan Khan, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Nimrit Kaur.

A mistake by one of Mumbai's dabbawallahs (who carry lunchboxes for Maximum City’s office-goers), a switch in the lunchboxes and joyful friendship or perhaps a romance starts between two people who have never met.

***

Madhabi Mukherjee and Anil Chatterjee in MahanagarIn the early 1980s, Salman Rushdie went to visit Satyajit Ray on the sets of Ghare Baire. And there he watched Ray direct his actors. 

“He would enact all the roles,” Rushdie said last week, speaking before an audience of nearly 200 people -- including filmmaker Alexander Payne, whose new film Nebraska is already creating early Oscar buzz here -- at the Telluride Film Festival who had come to watch the author present the restored print of another Ray classic, Mahanagar.

"He would mark the space where the actors had to stand, leap from position to position -- and mind you he was 6 feet 5, he was a big  guy -- play every part, fully in character and then tell his actors ‘Do it like  that.’ And the actors would nod and say yes.”

The Mahanagar screening was part of the festival’s 40th anniversary plan where they, asked some of the previous guest directors -- including writers Rushdie, Michael Ondaatje and Dom Delillo -- to present their favourite classics. 

Rushdie, who was introduced as a “certified film fanatic,” said Ray is generally known as a filmmaker who represents rural India, an impression based on his Apu Trilogy.

“But he was also a master of wonderful urban stories,” Rushdie said. 

Rushdie referred Madhabi Mukherjee as Ray’s muse and mentioned the other films the two worked on -- Charulata and Kapurush.  “Also, as some will say, they became very close,” Rushdie said laughing, adding that maybe it was just a rumour. 

The screening of the restored print from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and  Science was held at the festival's Chuck Jones Cinema, located in the Mountain  Village, Telluride’s sister ski town.

***

Robert RedfordRobert Redford is full of stories. In career spanning over 50 years, he has acted with a wide range of actors and filmmakers, in addition to directing some really important films.

This year, the Telluride Film Festival honored Redford for his acting career, plus showed the actor’s newest film, J C Chandor’s All Is Lost.

After we watched several clips from Redford’s films, the actor sat down to narrate stories from his career.

One such story was about the classic film Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid.  According to Redford, the studio was reluctant to cast him -- then still an unknown actor -- given that Paul Newman, who was a big star at the time, was already attached to the project. Also the original title of the film was supposed to be Sundance Kid And Butch Cassidy.

Redford wanted to play Butch Cassidy’s role, but Newman was also vying for that role. Finally, Newman was given the role of Cassidy and since he was the star, and the film’s title was changed to reflect actors’ hierarchy.

“But I developed a personal connection with Paul that carried over to The Sting,” Redford said.

And then there was the time when Mike Nichols offered Redford the lead role for The Graduate. Redford said no to the offer since he did not think he was suited for the role.

“I am glad Dustin (Hoffman) played that role,” Redford said.

Aseem Chhabra in Telluride