Uccasaim, Goa: Seeing the disorganization of the Goa international film festival, this writer was struck by the wasted opportunities to consolidate and advance India’s soft power, which trails the United States, but gives competition to Europe. Soft power is something India has over China, to whose cinema the Goa festival this time was dedicated, and Indian soft power is a powerful magnet for South Asian talent, and India a recognized place of arrival.

Film festivals all over the world build their reputations on the powerful movies they showcase. For example, Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, one of the finest films ever made, was pre-eminently screened at Cannes. Its scriptwriter remembers one evening on a terrace restaurant overlooking the Mediterranean when the greats of cinema, including the legendary Sergio Leone, congregated to discuss Taxi Driver, with the conversation scaling exalted heights.

Cannes or the Berlin or other renowned festivals did not happen by a stroke of luck. They rode, naturally, on the tremendous buoyancy of classical European cinema. That is missing in the films coming out of Bombay, which has imposed its awfulness on Bengali and other regional cinema. After Satyajit Ray, India has not produced an auteur. Cinema is an expensive medium. This makes it even more dependent on public opinion and market forces, not to speak of the constraints to be politically correct. The last of the watchable Hindi films were made in the 1970s and 1980s and mostly with state funding. That has dried up because of mismanagement of institutions such as the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC). Whether it is NFDC or another institution, it alone can finance cinema that compares to the best of the world. Until India returns to producing world-class cinema, an important component of soft power will remain under-utilized. But, meanwhile, there is no reason not to demand and obtain impeccable curation and organization of international film festivals.

For all of Goa’s natural charm and beauty, it is not the place permanently to station the international film festival. Goa does not have the draw of Delhi or Bombay, either of the places naturally made to host international film festivals. Delhi would be still more appropriate because it is intellectually cosmopolitan unlike most Indian cities. But the international film festival’s problem is only partly derived from location. The film festival’s bureaucracy is pathetic. It has no understanding of outstanding cinema and displays the worst features of officialdom.

The Goa film festival cannot be said to be curated at all. The films that have been featured are, for the most part, mediocre. This writer could catch one good Turkish film but it is not The Third Man or Brief Encounter, The End of the Affair or The Reader, which may be watched again and again. The prize money is more than decent. If Indian film festivals still cannot attract the best of the world, the blame must go to the festival bureaucracy. Indian film festivals are taken lightly, and by no other more than Indian film people. For instance, a well-known Bengali film director took a “master-class” in scriptwriting. He came without preparation. He practically insulted the audience by asking what he was supposed to lecture on. At Cannes, he would have been punished for arrogance.

The tragedy is that the entire infrastructure is in place; the INOX theatres of Panjim are first-class. The lounge for film directors, etc, leaves little scope for complains. The facilities for the viewing public outside is bad though. The food was unhygienic on the days this writer attended. While beer flowed (Kingfisher got a prime spot; but why?), there was scarcity of drinking water; the toilets were best avoided. The media came to blows with the organizers over a pornographic film. Is this any way to run an international film festival?

Countries like China envy India’s soft power, and we are squandering our special gifts. Why?