New Delhi: Critically acclaimed film "Ilo Ilo" opened a festival of films from Singapore here to mark the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between India and Singapore besides commemorating the 50th birthday of the island country.
Through simple and yet powerful tales directed by a young wave of Singapore filmmakers, the three-day festival, which began last evening with the tagline "Stories from the heartland" offers a glimpse into the daily life, culture and history of that country.
At last evening's opening ceremony, the High Commissioner of Singapore to India Lim Thuan Kuan pointed to vibrant film culture in Singapore whose cinema attendance per capita is amongst the highest in the world.
C S Rajan, Director, Directorate of Film Festivals added that the festival was an excellent opportunity for cultural exchange between India and Singapore.
Film director Sun Koh, who introduced the festival talked about how the films showcase Singapore's multiculturalism, where different races such as Chinese, Indians and Malays have to learn to live together in harmony.
"The movie Ilo Ilo explores themes of change and migration - in the form of domestic helpers and migrant workers. The maid in the film comes from Philippines to provide for her family back home. This is not a unique phenomenon to Singapore. In India too, I guess (it happens), so you might connect to it" Koh said.
Chen's film, a heartwarming story of an ill-behaved kid and the special relationship he develops with his Filipino maid in the backdrop of the 1997 Asian financial crisis, found critical acclaim, including at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. The film, Koh, said deals with issues that Singaporeans regularly face.
"We wouldn't even think of filming it. When the idea of the movie was first discussed, it was considered trivial, too middle-class, no tragedy etc...It gives me goose bumps every time I see it," Koh said.
"Singapore has never seen war and stuff like that. But we see and live stories like that in Ilo Ilo, these are the kind of stories we should be telling because we know it so well," she said.
The early film period through the 1930s to the 1980s reflects multicultural roots of modern Singapore. Influences varied widely from dramatic Indian cinematic style, Malay bangsawan opera and British acting and documentary traditions.
"Lots of Singaporeans won't admit this... We are still searching for the Singaporean identity" said Koh in response to an audience question. She also referred to the mishmash Singlish language that Singaporeans share which she said was a "big unifier, a big connection".
"We share certain obsessions like food, and certain customs like the informal way we relate with each other, to strangers, calling them 'Uncle' or 'Auntie'," said Koh whose The Secret Heaven (2002), won the Silver Hugo at the Chicago International Film in 2003.
"We copy each other's culture. I like so many Indian and Malay things. I have some Indian friends who are more Chinese than me!" she said. Singaporean films, she said, were still exploring domestic stories.
"We are poking to see where we hurt." "We progressed so quickly that we don't know what we lost. So, a lot of films explore the theme of loss," she said. Koh's short film, 'Singapore Panda' also in the festival explores the themes of immigration, globalisation in today's Singapore, and the difficult but fulfilling integration of immigrants into the country's social and cultural landscape.
Elaborating on her film, she said, "It wouldn't have been possible if I had not been to Sweden. I never understood what it felt like to be an alien until I went there. It made me realise what our older generation must have felt when they first came to Singapore, and what people from outside in Singapore today feel." "It made me understand Singaporeans better," she said.
Maenwhile the festival that culminates on August 16 is accompanied by a photography exhibition featuring candid photographs that reveal fascinating facets of Singaporean culture and society.
Fascinating images of Chinese opera performers in colourful make-up and over the top costumes, people mourning the death of the founding father Lee Kuan Yew and of ordinary hard-working Singaporeans that inspire Singapore ahead are on display.