I’ve tried hard not to rant about Osian, but there’s only so much justifiable restraint.
The last day of the film festival was undoubtedly the worst example of the organisers’ lack of foresight, and inability to manage crowded venues.
I can understand the first-day chaos of people arriving with cell phones and handbags, without any cars to leave their stuff in. But I do not understand why a small counter could not be set up, the next day, where people could deposit their phones, with a paper-token system. Almost every other shop-keeper in Delhi can run such a system (for bags) very effectively. Osian didn’t. Result? Continued arguments at the entrance gate. Show after show, day after day.
One show scheduled for yesterday were cancelled, or substituted with other films that no one wanted to watch, and no explanations were forthcoming about why.
And during the last few shows, yesterday, there were near-riots at two at Siri Fort. Since it was the last day of the festival, and it was a Sunday, and some of the best films were being screened, huge crowds turned up. But the biggest auditorium was cordoned off for preparations for the ‘closing ceremony’. Mind you, there wasn’t anything much happening inside so hall 1 could have been used. The only ‘preparations’ one could see were some awful fake palm trees put up on stage and garlands of tuberoses stringing the stage. Which is so irrelevant to a film festival. People come here to watch films, and not silly plastic trees, thank you!
In any case, the crowds swelled by afternoon to unmanageable proportions. Siri Fort 2 and 3 (where Sandip Ray’s Nishijapon and Santosh Sivan’s Navarasa, respectively, were to be screened) were so packed that there was scarcely room to stand. There were mini-mobs outside, wanting to be let in, screaming and demanding and begging and cajoling. The organisers were nowhere to be seen.
For the first half hour or so, there were no explanations about when, and whether, the ever-lengthening queues waiting outside would be allowed in. One handicapped woman kept banging on the locked doors, begging to be let in, but the guards did not answer, nor asked her to go and sit down somewhere, because this was going to take some time to sort out.
Part of the problem was that those who had been watching the earlier films had not left their seats at all. They just stayed inside, which ensured that nobody else could enter.
The other example of idiocy was that, although there was plenty of space in the balconies, where people could have stood, at least, the doors were not opened, despite repeated requests.
Finally, one of the organisers turned up and asked the crowd to wait five minutes and disappeared. Five minutes turned to half and hour and still no sign of the door opening up.
By now, people were trying to smash the glass doors leading to hall 2.
Finally, the cops turned up and one senior sardarji cop tried to dispel the crowds. He got yelled at, and yelled a lot, in his turn - "What the &*** is going on... This is not my job, damn you… it’s just a bloody movie!"
It was a bloody good movie, apparently, because the crowds refused to move. Finally, the organisers were found, and the door opened, but there was not half an inch of space in the hall.
Watching the movie was impossible, under the circumstances and people began to stamp in and stamp out, fuming. The same organiser-lady stomped in and began shouting at people. "I’ve had enough!… shut UP!!… I SWEAR we will NOT screen anything and cancel all shows if the audience doe not BEHAVE!! I will NOT have this sort of misbehaviour. You are SHOUTING at the organisers. You are abusing us. We will NOT screen anything… SHUT UPPP!!"
[At this point, a lot of people murmured things about their dignity being more important that the damn movie and stepped out. While I wasn’t particularly enjoying the scene, I stuck around because I felt it was my job to see a public mess unravel to it’s bitter end.]
Finally the cops were summoned and the hall was emptied "for security reasons".
Which was true enough because a stampede was all set to happen, and all exits were blocked so that, in case of an emergency, no one would have been able to escape.
Afterwards, the bouncers set afloat a rumour that the screening would not be held in hall 1, which was larger and could have accommodated everyone.
Half the potential audience settled down in hall 1, only to learn that they'd been lied. When they tried to return to the smaller halls, they were shoved away, and told it was too late now. Insults, abuses and such like things happened. Not to me, but they happened...
Meanwhile, Aruna Vasudeva was nowhere to be seen, and Mr Neville Tulli was very visible, pacing across the stage in Hall 1, fussing with his hair, while people waited for three long hours, staring at fake coconut trees!
I can’t think of a worse way to end a ten-day long festival that was so jam-packed with potential - multiple screenings, 120+ movies, panel discussions, seminars, even a campus-talent category… no one had to time to absorb even a fraction of the whole, even if you lived at the venue from 10 am to 11 pm.
Comparisons might be odious, (though not as odious as insulting and pushing your audiences), but I can’t help comparing this to MAMI (the Mumbai Academy of Moving Images) film festival, held each year in Bombay.
I suggest Osian’s organisers borrow a leaf or two from the MAMI organisers’ book.
I’ve attended three years of MAMI and although there are issues of space (keep in mind that Bombay’s population is larger than Delhi’s, and it is the nation’s filmi capital, so it has filmi junta, and filmi wannabes and filmophiles of all kinds milling about the multiple venues on a much larger scale. Bombay, in general, has space constraints and yet, never, ever have I witnessed a mini-riot in the making, at festivals.
After screenings, the theatres would be compulsorily emptied, and before screenings, everybody had to queue up, even those who have just finished watching the previous movie in the same hall.
When changes in schedule happen, notices are pasted on the doors of the halls and near the food stalls.
In fact, MAMI’s shifting venue to a larger multiplex (IMAX, Wadala), though seemingly inconvenient at first, was a good move. The organisers also arranged a bus service from the nearest railway station, at regular intervals coinciding with screening time-slots. This ensures that those who don’t have their cars or bikes can still make it to the venue, on time.
One could not walk in and out of the halls at will. Which was a damn good idea - at Osian, one ended up being distracted every three seconds, with someone getting up, leaving, or arriving late.
In Bombay, they allowed food inside the halls, so one could amuse oneself with caramel popcorn if one has made the mistake of choosing a very bad film. They also kept a suitable time lag between screenings, just like a regular commercial screening, so that theatre staff could clean up any leftover popcorn or empty cola cans.
And they were smart enough not to have hundred-odd films so that one ends up being miserable that one saw only one-fifth of what one could have seen. Films were rotated in various halls, on various days, so you had a good chance of catching more than half, and attending the press conferences, which happened between screenings and not simultaneously, unlike Osian where one was torn between watching the films and listening to filmmakers.
So there!! Phew!! Okay, I’m done ranting... but I still maintain that Delhi's Osain could learn crowd-management from Bombay's MAMI, and for God's sake, don't ever yell at your audience to 'SHUT UPP!!'
P.S . - All that near-rioting and one young man grumbles, "How can they treat us like this? We're not some ordinary paan-waalas, you know?"
P.P.S - All that near-rioting and one good-humoured girl tells her friend "You're wearing golden kolhapuris...? No wonder they won't let us in!"
PPPS - The last time I witnessed something similar was in Ajmer, where they had to padlock the iron sliding-screens, during a Govinda-starrer. Santosh Sivan ought to be flatterred. Near-rioting, and he didn't even need Govinda or an audience comprised of paan-waalas!