The theme of this year's Fantastic Fest is Dishoom Reigns, the wild and wonderful world of Indian genre cinema, so it should be no surprise to our regular readers that I am crazy excited for this event. For those of you who may not know me, I've covered Indian cinema here for a little over six years, and for the last four years I have been a programming consultant to Fantastic Fest to try to bring a little bit more of India's glorious madness to the biggest genre film festival in the USA.
This year is a special one for me. About 10 months ago I was contacted by head programmer Evrim Ersoy to inquire as to whether I thought we could put together a solid Indian program for the 2016 edition of Fantastic Fest. At that point it was just a thought, but for me, it was a huge opening to bring the things I love to the people I cherish in an unprecedented way. It took a little bit of negotiating, but within a couple of months, I was given the green light and the hunt was on for the finest (and wildest) Indian cinema I could find. Little did I know that it would be almost a full time job.
One of the aspects of this sidebar that I am most proud of is the broad spectrum of Indian film that we are covering this year. Many well educated people incorrectly classify any film out of India as Bollywood, when that term only really describes mainstream Hindi language films. There are hundreds of languages spoken in India and dozens of those language groups have their own autonomous film industries. This year we are able to represent four different language groups at the festival, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, and Malayalam, over the course of our six films. We are truly showing you a wide range of what India has to offer.
India is the number one film producing nation in the world with nearly 2,000 films cranked out in over a dozen languages every year. Even so, film preservation is almost completely non-existent, meaning that finding older films that we might be able to show was going to be a challenge. What preservation and archiving efforts do exist are almost entirely dedicated to the arthouse side of Indian cinema, so the hundreds and thousands of action films, horror films, and other genre films that the country cranks out every year are frequently lost to the ravages of time.
I asked all of my contacts on the far side of the world if there was any hope of finding what I was looking for and the answer was almost always a resounding "no." The amazing B-movie action films of Mithun Chakraborthy in the '80s only existed on DVD and VCD now, the crazy Telugu action films of that era starring Chiranjeevi were largely lost except for dodgy unsubtitled YouTube prints, the awesome gangster films of Rajinikanth and Kamal Hassan from the early '80s were all but extinct. Finding 35mm prints of these films was probably going to be impossible. But, I wasn't ready to give up, and together with Evrim Ersoy, I began the hunt for the greatest films India had to offer and we struck gold.
SEE! One Man Take On A Hundred In A 400 Year Old Grudge Match!
Back in 2013 when I started helping out at Fantastic Fest, it was mostly because of a single film, SS Rajamouli's insane housefly revenge film Eega. That movie was too amazing to allow it to languish in obscurity, I needed to make sure my people saw it, and they did. Eega was a huge crowd favorite at Fantastic Fest 2013, which made my first 2016 pick a no-brainer. SS Rajamouli's 2009 epic, Magadheera.
Magadheera is an amazing film that is jam-packed with everything that makes India's Tollywood film industry great. It has a handsome star in Ram Charan, a fetching love interest in Kajal Agarwal, great action, amazing song and dance numbers, and crazy violence that will get your fist pumping and your tears flowing at the same time. It's the perfect storm of what India's masala film formula work so well. There is a place for everything and everything is firmly in its place.
SS Rajamouli is by far the greatest mainstream film director in Tollywood, and his films are the first to break out of that region of India onto the world stage. By the time he made Magadheera, he was already eight years into a fruitful career that had landed him six consecutive box office hits, an unmatched number. He is the only director in Andhra Pradesh to never make a flop, a fact that my Hyderabadi friends made sure to impress upon me when I visited the set of his latest film over the summer.
Magadheera is a superb film that earns every minute of its run time and will be unlike anything a newcomer has experienced in a cinema. From beginning to end, it is a joy to be a part of this four-hundred year epic of love, loss, revenge, and dismemberment.