Sydney: The spotlight is on acclaimed Indian actress Vidya Balan at the ongoing 2011 Indian Film Festival (IFF): Bollywood and Beyond, which is screening a special retrospective of acclaimed Indian actress Vidya Balan`s finest films from "Parineeta" to "Ishqiya".
Over over 30 films will be screened at the fest, including 15 Australian premiers. The 10-day festival, which is screened in Sydney (March 9-19), Melbourne (March 11-20), Adelaide (March 22-29) and Auckland (March 24 to April 3), kicked off this week at Hoyts Cinema Paris in the Entertainment Quarter, next to the Sydney Cricket Ground, with the Vidya starrer "No one killed Jessica" and British producer Leslee Udwin`s "West is West".
Since making a dream debut in "Parineeta", Vidya has mesmerised audiences with her powerful performances.
"The most exciting thing as an actor is to do diverse roles. A film has to be engaging and entertaining as for me cinema is ultimately about hope," said the 33-year-old, who is looking forward to the June release of Sujoy Ghosh`s thriller "Kahani" in which she plays a six-month pregnant woman, and Milan Luthria`s "The Dirty Picture", based on the life of Silk Smitha, south Indian cinema`s ultimate sex symbol.
For Vidya, who has travelled the world, Australia`s Gold Coast, known for its sunny surfing beaches, is the favourite locale to shoot. "I had the most chilled out time in Surfer`s Paradise. I also enjoy shooting in Toronto, which has a lovely energy with cultural activities all around," she told IANS, recalling the time she had while shooting for "Heyy Babyy" in Sydney.
She feels the more independent voices Indian cinema embraces, the more universal appeal it will have.
Director Raj Kumar Gupta, on his first visit to Australia, told IANS: "It is a privilege to have `No one killed Jessica` as the opening film of this festival. The landscape of cinema is changing and how the audience receive the film, connect with the emotions and identify with this journey is important for me."
Australians and Indians have been coming with friends, partners and spouses to the festival, which is showcasing a sizzling mixture of comedy, romance, action and drama - from hardcore blockbuster "Dabangg" and the critically acclaimed "No One Killed Jessica", to "West Is West".
Rituparno Ghosh`s Bengali film "Abohomaan" and Ananth Mahadevan`s Marathi film "Mee Sindhutai Sapkal" too is a part of the bouquet.
As festival director Mitu Bhowmick Lange told IANS: "This year we`ve made a conscious effort to bring you films that eloquently express a new sophistication in contemporary Indian cinema; a hugely exciting seismic, cultural shift that must be shared. The aim is to showcase just how absolutely versatile and unique is our film industry. We have ventured beyond Bollywood to include some of the finest regional films."
The credit for bringing Indian films into mainstream cinemas in Australia goes to Mind Blowing Films, which has also been promoting Australian locations to Indian film producers and directors.
The festival director called on the Diaspora to ditch pirated two dollar DVDs sold at South Asian spice stores and support filmmakers by watching their works on the big screen.
Audiences also warmed to "West Is West", a sequel to Udwin`s much loved "East Is East", which opens in India next month (April).
Udwin, who now lives in Copenhagen, told IANS: "I always knew there was going to be a sequel. People recognise that this film is about their story. It is a crowd pleasing film with a heart and spirit, which makes the audience cry and laugh. It is where comedy and tragedy fit in the same frame, an absolute reflection of life. In fact, I feel there is a trilogy in `East Is East`."
Also screening is the winner of the Western Union Short Film Competition, "Mumbaikar Ganesh" by Indian director Collin John D`Cunha.
"Acknowledgment of `Mumbaikar Ganesh` means a lot to me as I am able to share my work with family and friends in Australia through this festival," said Kush Badhwar, the cinematographer who was born and brought up in Sydney and is now working in Mumbai.
The festival closes with producer-actress Juhi Chawla and director Onir`s "I Am", an innovative film that explores the issues of homosexuality, prostitution and child abuse.