Anubhav Sinha explained the rationale behind his recent ''socially relevant'' films as a guest speaker at the 26th edition of Kolkata International Film Festival on Saturday. Image Credit: Supplied

Kolkata: It took some courage on part of the organisers of the Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF) to host their 26th edition in the middle of the country still fighting the pandemic - but the cinema-loving city is slowly waking up to it. Shah Rukh Khan, brand ambassador of the event, inaugurated the third oldest festival of the country in a virtual keynote address on Friday evening.

The inauguration ceremony of KIFF had, over the years, been a somewhat over-the-top affair with Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal assembling the usual line-up of SRK, Amitabh Bachchan and his wife as their guests of honour while the leading members of the regional film industry usually played the second fiddle. Thanks to the safety protocols due to COVID-19 this time, the frills were dispensed with but the halls will accommodate 50% capacity audience to have their fill.

If the big time film festivals had often faced a dilemma of trying to give the same weightage to the serious cinema vis-a-vis the commercial fare, KIFF tried to kill two birds in one stone when they selected Anubhav Sinha, a successful Bollywood director, to address the Satyajit Ray Memorial Lecture on the topic of ‘social responsibility of mainstream cinema.’

Sinha, whose work shows a major shift from the mindless capers like ‘Dus’ or ‘Ra One’ earlier to the likes of a sequence of interesting projects like Mulk (2018), Article 15 (2019) or Thappad (2020) chose to explain his own philosophy behind such films at Sishir Mancha on Saturday. ‘‘Not every filmmaker has to make issue-based or socially responsible films. There is a thin line between an issue-based film and being an activist. My attempt now is to bring the discussion to the table.

‘‘I don’t think I have the answers. But if my attempt ends up starting a discussion, I think I have done my job,’’ said the articulate filmmaker who is also extremely active on social media.

If 2020 had been a year which left the Indian cinema poorer beyond words, the KIFF has decided to celebrate their lives of the legends by exhibiting their work over the course of the festival till January 15. The inaugural film was Satyajit Ray’s classic Apur Sansar, the third film of the Apu trilogy featuring Soumitra Chatterjee, while other films of Chatterjee, Irrfan Khan, Rishi Kapoor, Tapas Pal, Santu Mukherjee, Basu Chatterjee, danseuse Amala Shankar and two global names: Argentina’s Fernando Solanas and South Korean Kim Ki-Duk will also be shown.

“It is true this time we are holding it on a smaller scale, but we are still holding the festival nevertheless. Many others have not been able to muster the courage... But Bengal is the cultural capital,” the state’s Chief Minister said during the inuguration.

An exhibition to pay tributes to the memory of Pandit Ravi Shankar, Hemanta Mukhopadhyay, Bhanu Bandopadhyay, Italian New Wave master Frederico Fellini and Fenchman Eric Rohmer was inaugurated by Prasenjit Chatterjee, the most enduring star of the regional injustry at the Nandan Complex.