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Busan fest opens in South Korea; ‘Zubaan’ a rags-to-riches in South Korea

busanBUSAN, South Korea, Oct 1, (Agencies): Asia’s largest film festival has opened its doors in South Korea. Taiwan’s Hou Hsiao-hsien and other legendary Asian filmmakers are among those celebrating the Busan International Film Festival’s 20th year. Movie stars including Jeon Do-yeon, the winner of the 2007 Cannes Best Actress award, Korean heartthrob Jung Woo-sung, and Chinese actress Tang Wei were among those who impressed crowds along the red carpet Thursday.

A packed audience, many wearing raingear, filled the Busan Cinema Center for the opening ceremony despite heavy wind warnings triggered by Typhoon Dujuan. The festival begins with an Indian coming-of-age musical drama, “Zubaan,” directed by Mozez Singh. After screening about 300 movies from 75 countries, the festival closes on Oct 10 with Chinese drama “Mountain Cry” by Larry Yang. At Thursday’s press conference for Busan opening night film “Zubaan” producer Shaan Vyas described the film as “mainstream Bollywood with songs, but without the cliches.” That sums up the philosophy of the team behind the film. Tyro director Mozez Singh tried for years to write a script that would please all, but decided in the end to tell his story his way. It was the same for the lead actors. Lead actress Sarah Jane Dias has done her fair share of cliched Bollywood but has come into her own this year with Toronto selection “Angry Indian Goddesses” and “Zubaan.” Similarly, Raaghav Chanana, one of the male leads, has made his mark in recent times with “Zubaan” and indie festival favorite “M Cream.” The other male lead Vicky Kaushal has had a dream feature debut year.

Besides “Zubaan,” his “Masaan” (also in Busan’s A Window on Asian Cinema strand) bowed at Cannes where it won the FIPRESCI Prize and the Avenir Prize in Un Certain Regard. The assembled world press at the “Zubaan” press conference certainly appreciated the film’s non-dramatic spin on Bollywood and this turned into full blown applause when Dias sang a number from the film.

“The Talented Mr Slumdog Millionaire” might have made a more informative if less catchy title for “Zubaan,” an uneven but engrossing drama about a young Punjabi bumpkin whose big-city ambitions lead him down many a dark alley en route to the more upbeat land of self-discovery. Aragsto- riches fable, a part-time song-and-dance musical and a juicy portrait of one royally screwed-up family, Mozez Singh’s feature directing debut retains a vivid sense of craftsmanship even when its unabashedly derivative narrative elements refuse to cohere. Though its morally complex antihero never fully comes into focus, this is a well-acted, broadly accessible entertainment that could achieve modest international arthouse exposure, with some limited crossover potential, following its opening- night premiere at the Busan Film Festival.

The opening sequence of a young boy named Dilsher (Harmehroz Singh) wandering through a Sikh temple — where he’s greeted in song by a man whose identity will emerge in due course — sets a mood of dreamlike euphoria for a picture that will quickly settle into a more downbeat groove. A runty kid who lives with his impoverished family in the dusty village of Gurdaspur, Dilsher is mercilessly bullied by the other boys for his pronounced stutter, and quickly learns a thing or two about defending himself. He also receives some lifealtering advice from a tough-minded adult onlooker named Gurcharand Sikand (Manish Chaudhari), who teaches him that the only person he’ll ever be able to rely on in life is himself. Stars from Asia and beyond gathered in South Korea’s second largest city on Thursday for a Bollywood-flavoured launch of the 20th Busan International Film Festival. The event styles itself as the most influential of its kind in a region enjoying stellar growth in box-office receipts and increasing clout in the global movie market.

BIFF’s founding mission was to celebrate the global reach of cinema and champion the cause of the industry in Asia, and Thursday’s opening ceremony at the sprawling Busan Cinema Centre was aimed at reflecting its success in reaching those goals. Among the international guests attending the October 1-10 event are Hollywood veteran Harvey Keitel, British actress Tilda Swinton and France’s Sophie Marceau.

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