I was chatting with Rafique Baghdadi over a round of Johnny Walker Black Labels last December in Goa. We were at the International Film Festival of India and the Chief Minister was hosting a massive dinner. A celebrated film critic and a National Award winner, I asked him if he ever entertained the thought of making his own film.
"You don't have to be a chef to appreciate good food" he said.
It was sort of an irony then that people have told me that Mr. Baghdadi is well-known in the Bombay Press Club for inventing the legendary "Rafique Baghdadi Bhindi"- a dish of crispy and spicy Okra (or "Lady's Fingers as it popularly known in India). For decades journalists and cinephiles alike gathered to devour this exotic delicacy while Mr. Baghdadi screened legendary films week after week. What else does one need?
This years competition section at the Biennale features one of the most impressive line-ups in recent times. Darren Aronofsky's jury will have a tough time deciding between some of the best films of this year- David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method, Tomas Alfredson's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, George Clooney's The Ides of March, Roman Polanski's Carnage, Sion Sono's Himizu, Johnny To's Life Without Principle and Marjane Satrapi's Chicken with Plums are just a few from the line-up. But the most intriguing part of the festival competition is the mysterious "Surprise film" slot. This year it was revealed to be the Chinese film "People Mountain People Sea". Back in 2006, Jia Zhangke's Still Life was the surprise film and it took home the big prize. We're all on the edge of our seats for the Golden Lion reveal on September 10th.
Setting the tone for the fourth edition of our little magazine is Adrian Martin's "Euphoria and Liberating Laughter", his very personal revisiting of watching the films of Sergio Leone as a child in Australia. No one understands Leone more than Dr. Martin. One great piece follows another - Rafique Baghdadi was kind enough to let us re-publish his interview with Kumar Shahani from the 1980s. In this rare conversation, we find the great director revealing some of his most personal views- about his mentors, about his study of the epic form and about the nature of filmmaking in the country. It was Anuj who found it in Mr. Baghdadi's book Talking Films in some dark corner of a government library. We promptly smuggled it out of there.
Following in the 'personal' tone of this issue is my article on The Tree of Life, the only film in recent times that managed to move me to the brink of an elusive tear being shed. Also in this issue are: a piece on Kusturica's Underground by Kaz Rahman and a director profile on Joon-Ho Bong by Anuj Malhotra. Rounding off the issue is an interview I had done last year with cinematographer Martin Ruhe soon after the release of Anton Corbijn's The American. He is expected to lense Corbijn's upcoming project A Most Wanted Man, an adaptation of the John LeCarré's thriller.