In 1953 the first Indian film delegation attended the coveted Venice International Film Festival. Led by Bimal Ray the delegation included Balraj Sahni, Salil Chowdhury, KA Abbas, Chetan Anand, Dev Anand, Raj Kapoor and Nargis. The films that were screened at Venice included Do Bigha Zamin, Aandhiyan, Rahi and Awara. The delegation had received a warm welcome at Venice.
Bimal Ray an introvert spoke only when required. Even the eloquent Chetan Anand and Salil Chowdhury avoided interacting with the media. KA Abbas, Balraj Sahni, Dev Anand and Raj Kapoor did maximum of the interacting and speaking. On special occasions, Nargis also enlightened the August gathering about highlights of Awara and Indian Cinema.
The screening of Do Bigha Zamin received a standing ovation from critics and viewers. The esquire European cine lovers marvelled at Balraj Sahni’s studied and flawless performance. Dev Anand was the heartthrob of the females for his debonair looks, sincere, honest performances in Aandhiyan and Rahi. KA Abbas managed with real difficulty shows of both English and Hindi versions of Rahi. The English version was the Way Farer. Raj Kapoor and Nargis were mobbed by fans, especially from Italy and France.
David Lean who was a delegate renewed his association with Chetan Anand which started with Brief encounters and Neechanagar jointly winning the Grand Prix at Cannes in 1946. David Lean was full of praise for Nimmi’s questioning expressions in Aandhiyan and Kalpana Kantik’s underplaying. In a discussion with an English critic KA Abbas pointed out the drawbacks of Indian cinema. He confessed since our Hindi films were mainly entertainers the box office factor always ruled the roost. Salil Chowdhury did say the song Dharti Kahe Pukar Ke of Do Bigha Zamin he composed was inspired by the Soviet Cultural Revolution of 1917.
An interesting incident took place when Raj Kapoor, Dev Anand and Nargis were taking lunch at a local restaurant An Italian beauty in her 30s walked up to them and said Dev Anand and Nargis formed an attractive pair. To this Raj Kapoor burst into laughter and said “Wah Dev Wah, Tumne Mere Heroine Ko Chura Liya.” Dev Anand Smiled and replied, “Nahi Raju Yeh Mujh Se Nahi Hoga.” Nargis asked the two heroes to be quiet and the three posed for a series of photographs not only for the Italian dame but others too.
Chetan Anand had a difference of opinion with his younger brother Dev Anand. Chetan Anand wanted to eat edit the court scene of Aandhiyan for the international version to be screened in Venice. Dev Anand vehemently protested the act as he genuinely felt his best performance was during the climax at the court. An initially reluctant Chetan Anand later agreed and cut short some of the song, dance sequences. The international media praised Aandhiyan highly and washed out the stigma on Chetan Anand, ”A Pudovkin in hurry” put by the review of Aandhiyan in Baburao Patel’s Film India.
A scene no one could forget that of Bimal Ray speaking about the impact of neo-realism on his work. Intelligently explaining the plight of the landless Indian peasant he went on to give a thought-provoking lecture about his concept and visualization of Do Bigha Zamin. It received encomiums and Raj Kapoor’s explanation of the cinematic nuances of Awara’s dream sequence also received appreciation. KA Abbas pointed out that the socio-political relevance of Mulk Raj Anand’s, Two Leaves And A Bud on which Rahi was based was his source of inspiration for the memorable film.
The Prize Moment of the Indian delegation at Venice was their visit to Sir Charles Chaplin’s Villa at Montreux and an hour’s interaction with the maestro. Sir Charles Chaplin was the father of Sir Charlie Chaplin. The Indian film personalities listened with awe as the Grand Master narrated his experiences of filmmaking. Chetan Anand and K Abbas asked Charles Chaplin about his views on Sergei Eisensfitein. Charles Chaplin replied, “A true friend and a genius.” As they bid goodbye, Raj Kapoor, with tears of joy in his eyes shouted to confess Charles Chaplin was his idol and he modelled himself along his lines.
This year’s Venice International Film Festival will be held in September.