GFF Double-Bill: Beyond Bollywood With Allan Hunter!

And ... action! The seventh Glasgow Film Festival kicks off tomorrow, February 17, and runs until February 27 with a packed programme of screenings and events. Among the many elements that comprise GFF 2011 – including retrospectives of Meryl Streep and Ginger Rogers, and a raft of superhero-related movies – there was one strand in particular that jumped out for TATTGOC: Beyond Bollywood, a celebration of Indian cinema sponsored by Mother India.

Everyone at TATTGOC loves Indian food but we're no experts on the nation's cinema – so we reached out to Allan Hunter, co-director of the Glasgow Film Festival, to fill us in on Beyond Bollywood. Despite being incredibly busy with the festival, Allan also took the time to talk to us about some of his curry favourites. Read on to hear his recommendations for both screen and plate, and be sure to check back with the blog tomorrow for an interview with Monir Mohammed of Mother India to hear how his award-winning restaurant got involved.

So, Allan: what made you and your co-director Allison Gardner want to focus on Indian cinema for the GFF this year?
A combination of factors. I had been on holiday to India staying in Delhi, Varanasi and Jaipur, visiting the Taj Mahal, sailing on Mother Ganges at dawn and all the things that first-time tourists do. There was a sense of a growing link between Scotland and India, especially with the Commonwealth Games handover from Delhi to Glasgow for 2014. Also, there was a sense of Indian cinema's greater visibility across the international film festival circuit. Over the past year, Indian productions have enjoyed a fairly high profile at Cannes, Toronto and Venice which was unusual and seemed to suggest that there was something quite interesting happening in Indian cinema and a lot of British audiences have so few opportunities to see Indian films.

Pink Saris, screening Feb 21

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Will the films featured in Beyond Bollywood surprise people who think they have a handle on what Indian cinema is like?
I suppose the traditional image of Indian cinema is the all-singing, all-dancing Bollywood extravaganza with an epic running time, a heightened sense of melodrama and many musical numbers. Nothing wrong with that. But there is also a growing independent production sector in India making films that have stepped away from that Bollywood model to either reflect some of the social and political realities of the country or just to tell different kinds of stories or open your eyes to the less familiar areas of the country so the films could take people by surprise.

Road, Movie, screening Feb 18 and 21
Can you recommend a couple of modern highlights from the strand?
I would recommend Road, Movie which is directed by Dev Benegal and is a real charmer. It's a journey across unfamiliar parts of India as a young man drives a truck to a desert museum gathering up an assortment of companions en route. He discovers that the truck was once a travelling cinema that still works and still contains a treasure trove of films that he shows along the way.

Autograph, screening Feb 22 and 23
I’d also recommend Autograph, from first-time director Srijit Mukherji, which doffs its cap to the cinema of the great Satyajit Ray. It’s a romance in which a jaded film star is forced to contemplate his empty existence, the price of fame and what he really wants out of life ...

A River Called Titash, screening Feb 20
You're also screening some restored classics ... what's the Scorsese connection?
Nobody is more passionate or better informed about movies than Martin Scorsese. His World Cinema Foundation was formed about 18 years ago and helps developing countries to preserve their cinematic treasures. It also supports international archives in the work they do. The Advisory Board is a pretty illustrious group that includes Soulemane Cisse, Guillermo Del Toro, Abbas Kiarostami, Wong Kar Wai ... the list of greats just goes on and on. One of the titles they have supported and which has been restored by the Cineteca di Bologna is the late Ritwik Ghatak's 1970s classic A River Called Titash (Titash Ekti Nadir Naam) and to quote their very helpful blurb "the film captures the songs, speech, rituals and rhythms of a once self-sufficient community and culture swept away by natural catastrophes, modernisation and political conflict". 

Just as TATTGOC has forged a special relationship with Kingfisher lager, so the GFF has attracted various sponsors down the years: is there anyone you would like to thank?
In terms of the Beyond Bollywood strand of the Festival we are enormously grateful to Monir Mohammed and the whole Mother India team who have come on board as a sponsor this year. Mother India was voted Best Restaurant in the Glasgow Restaurant Awards at the end of last year with good cause and they are even offering a special deal to film festival attendees over the period of the GFF with 20% off the a la carte menu except Fridays and Saturdays. We may be forced to eat there the rest of the year just to show how grateful we are.

Obviously our big supporters at Glasgow City Marketing Bureau do amazing things for us and for the life of the city. Visit Scotland have been very encouraging with their support this year. Creative Scotland of course and the incredible team at the GFF who work enormous hours above and beyond the call of duty and are inspirational examples of how much you can achieve with energy, passion and a complete disregard for any desire to sleep or leave work on the same day that you arrived. 

You split your time between Edinburgh and Glasgow – any curryhouse recommendations on either coast to share?
Probably nothing that people are not aware of already. In terms of Edinburgh, then Mother India's Cafe with some dai pullay and chana poori. Khushi's in Broughton Street was always something of an institution, Suruchi opposite the Festival Theatre is incredibly handy and I've eaten a couple of times at Ignite in Morrison Street and really enjoyed it – although did think they were a little stingy with the rice recently. In Glasgow, is it really possible to look beyond Mother India?

And as a globetrotting film journalist, where's the most exotic place you've had a curry?
I suppose it would have to be Delhi. A tiny little back-street restaurant, packed out with regulars, great food, ridiculously cheap prices and an incredibly mouthwatering gobi masala. I’ve also eaten at the incredibly posh Rambagh Palace in Jaipur which is just the most gorgeous, tranquil setting ... and the place where Russell Brand married Katy Perry, I believe.

A common TATTGOC query: rice or naan?
Does it have to be either/or? Can I have both? If I am having a curry it has to be all or nothing so I want the poppadoms with some nice chutney, maybe some vegetable samosa, a nice king prawn palak with the naan and the rice, maybe some raita if I'm eating something spicier and perhaps a mango lassi or a Cobra beer or two – who are not a sponsor of the GFF but it’s never too late if they happen to be reading. Then nothing to eat for the rest of the week to burn off the calories I've just consumed.

And finally: if someone made a Bollywood-inspired production set in Glasgow where the plot was interspersed with people doing the slosh, would you consider it for GFF 2012?
Never say never until you actually see the film. If it was on an epic scale, in George Square, involving a colourful splash of kilts and saris and the GFF team are allowed to appear as extras ... have you pitched this to Creative Scotland as a co-production venture?

Thanks Allan! And check back tomorrow for the interview with Monir Mohammed of Mother India, sponsors of the Beyond Bollywood strand at GFF 2011