Aseem Chhabra attends an unusual medley of movies and literature in Chandigarh.
Last fortnight, as thousands of people -- including Robert De Niro -- gathered in Goa for the Think2013 event organised by Tehelka, a smaller group showed up in Chandigarh for the city's second literary festival.
The Chandigarh Literature Festival was smaller in scale to some of the bigger such events in other parts of India, but it was still packed with celebrities -- writers, filmmakers, critics and even a handful of film journalists.
Chandigarh is a beautiful city -- well planned, clean and with a deep sense of culture (even though people usually find it easy to make jokes at the expense of Punjabis and all things related to Punjab and Chandigarh).
It is a wealthy city -- something one can easily see from the number of luxury imported cars on the streets.
But one thing that has been missing from the city’s cultural landscape is the access to well known writers. And the Adab Foundation made up for that by bringing 13 authors to the Taj Chandigarh (the CLF venue) to discuss their books -- names like Kiran Nagarkar (Cuckold), Jerry Pinto (Em and the Big Hoom), Siddharth Chowdhury (Patna Roughcut and Day Scholar), Shamsur Rahman Faruqi (The Mirror of Beauty) and Meenal Baghel (Death in Mumbai). And there were well known critics -- Deepanjana Pal, Trisha Gupta and Pinto himself who talked to Nagarkar and Chowdhury.
There were dramatic readings of some of the books, prior to the conversations between the authors and the critics. And in some cases -- such as the session on Baghel’s Death in Mumbai, on the murder of television executive Neeraj Grover, there were a theatrical enactment of scenes inspired by the book.
I hear one of the highlights of the Jaipur Literary Festival is that it brings school and college students to the events, giving them a chance to hear well known authors and thereby encourage reading books.
I noticed something quite similar at CLF. There were many students and teachers attending the day sessions and from the questions it was clear how engaged they were with the conversations.
To add the glamour quotient, the festival organisers showed three films in the evenings and brought the directors to talk to film critics about their work. And to go with the spirit of the festival, two of the films were based on literary works.
So Deepa Mehta (who lives in Toronto) was at CLF to talk about her latest film Midnight’s Children and her collaboration with author Salman Rushdie (who not only wrote the screenplay, but also lends his voice as a narrator of the film).
Director Ajay Behl brought his recent indie BA Pass to talk about the film and its source -- New York-based author Mohan Sikka’s short story, The Railway Aunty.
And to add to the delight of the festival attendees, Behl was accompanied by his lead, Shilpa Shukla (Chak De! India) who plays the role of a middle-class housewife in BA Pass, who seduces a young 18-year-old and then trains him to become a gigolo in Delhi.
Mehta spoke about giving Rushdie free rein on taking his iconic book and paring it down to a slightly over two hour-long length that would work in the film format. Rushdie’s first draft was nearly 300 pages long. And that translates to a 300-minute long film.
"I asked him if he wanted to make a sequel to Midnight’s Children," Mehta said, laughing.
And on Saturday evening director Raj Kumar Gupta (Aamir, No One Killed Jessica) spoke about his recent film Ghanchakkar and bringing an actor like Emraan Hashmi out of his comfort zone of the thrillers that he often works on. Gupta also spoke about writing the quirky script. “I generally think that if I find the situations funny, I hope the audience will react similarly,” he said.
Chandigarh is already experiencing a slight winter chill, but it was lovely sitting under a shamiana to watch the films at night, followed by dinners in the back garden at the Taj Chandigarh.
By the end of the weekend, we were all ready to head back to our homes.
This much was clear from the long-weekend -- surely the CLF has a lot to learn from the older literary events in other parts of India, but it brought the right dose of culture and intellectual stimulation to Chandigarh.