Weeklong Indian Cinema Festival Underway

Phnom Penh’s Bollywood fans rejoice: the first-ever Indian Cinema Week launches this weekend in the city.

The five-day film festival, which starts Saturday, will feature 15 Indian cinema classics—all subtitled in English—screened at the Chaktomuk conference hall. The Cambodian Film Commission (CFC) and Bophana Center are co-hosting the free event in conjunction with the Embassy of India in Cambodia.

India’s ambassador, Dinesh Patnaik, said the event aims to bolster the presence of Indian cinema in Cambodia, where he said a robust demand for Indian film screenings gone largely unmet.

“There have been many people asking to see more Indian cinema [in Phnom Penh],” he said. “We hope this will give them the opportunity to do so.”

Cedric Alloy, executive director of the CFC, said Indian cinema has long enjoyed relative popularity in Cambodia—and even influenced Cambodian filmmaking during its “golden age” in the 1960s.

But Indian films today rarely make it from household television sets to the growing number of big screens in the country.

“Indian [films] have been, and still are, popular on TV,” Mr. Alloy said. “But the habit of going to the theater to watch Indian films has to be rebuilt.”

According to Mr. Patnaik, that’s because most Indian film distributors don’t see Cambodia’s “theater market” as large enough to warrant their attention—so opportunities to watch Bollywood movies in theaters are few and far between.

But it wasn’t always that way. Indian film distributers used to do business in Phnom Penh back in the days of traditional movie halls, according to Mr. Alloy.

Re-building efforts started with last year’s Cambodian International Film Festival (CIFF), where Indian movies commanded significant screen time at the behest of the Indian Embassy.

The CIFF’s focus on Indian cinema was well received by viewers, according to Mr. Alloy. And that inspired the CFC, Bophana Center and the Indian Embassy to create a brand-new film event dedicated solely to Indian cinema.

Mr. Patnaik said turnout for next week’s event will determine whether the Indian Embassy will push for greater circulation of Indian films here in the future. If it’s successful, he said, the plan is to make Indian Cinema Week an annual affair—with future screenings offering subtitles in Khmer.

The festival’s organizers also hope the film festival will grab the attention of Indian movie producers, and inspire them to shoot future films on-site in Cambodia.

Mr. Patnaik said it’s all part of the Indian Embassy’s continued efforts to hone cultural ties between the two countries.

“The point is to bring great cinema to people all across the world,” said. “And there’s a market for it here.”

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