With as many as 52 films — full length features as well as well as short films — slated to be screened for movie buffs in this quaint hill station near Mumbai, the debut edition of the Lonavla International Film Festival India (LIFFI), which gets underway here from Thursday, is poised to bring some industry veterans on a common platform to share insights on filmmaking.

In its first edition, LIFFI will felicitate veteran filmmaker Govind Nihalani with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contribution to Indian cinema. While a retrospective of Nihalani’s films will also be held at the event, the award will be presented to the “Aakrosh” and “Ardh Satya” maker by Chief Guest Shyam Benegal during the opening ceremony on Thursday.

Dolly Thakore, Naseeruddin Shah, Deepa Sahi, Tanishhtha Chatterjee, Ketan Mehta, Sudhir Mishra, Vivek Agnihotri, Pavan Malhotra and Rajit Kapur are some of the other celebrities likely to attend the event, where films from Mumbai, Pune, Odisha, Assam, Punjab, Chennai, Kerala, Arunachal Pradesh, Australia, Iran and the US will be showcased.

A total of 28 feature films and 24 short films are on the slate, with 13 first-time directors in the feature film category and seven first-timers in the short film category at LIFFI, which will conclude on September 5.

Brett Lee starrer “UnIndian” and Pankaj Kapur’s much talked about drama “Toba Tek Singh” apart from “Highway Ek Selfie Aarpar” (Marathi), Assamese filmmaker Partha Borgohain’s “1962: My Country Land” (which was screened at Cannes), “Buddha In A Traffic Jam”, “Rough Book” and “Rang Rasiya” are some of the titles to be showcased at the event.

Riju Bajaj, festival director, says it is during his stay in Lonavla since the past five years that he realised the picturesque destination is fast emerging as a compact smart city in its own way. And it is his way to not just boost tourism in the area, but also to develop a film viewing culture.

“Having advantages of being in between Mumbai and Pune it enjoys access from the airports and railway stations of both the cities. Lonavla is among the best and busiest holiday destinations in Maharashtra and gets maximum footfall of tourists on weekends. These very tourists are in fact the art lovers and film buffs and the best audience,” Bajaj told IANS.

Bajaj found business partners in Madhav Todi — owner of the festival’s venue Triose Plaza here — and Anamika Sharma stepping in as co-founders for LIFFI. They will also introduce a Khemchand Prakash Trophy for Best Music, while a restored version of the Guru Dutt classic “Pyaasa” will also be showcased for film buffs here.

That apart, question and answer sessions with filmmakers promise to satiate the audience’s hunger to know more about cinema.

For starters, the event is at “an experimentation level to test the potential of film festival in Lonavla”, said Bajaj.

“LIFFI plans to host more elaborate and longer duration of the festival by inviting more number of films from across the globe and increase the number of days and screens in the subsequent years. LIFFI also intends to grow its reach in other cities as well by launching its ‘Branch Festival’ and plans to host masterclasses, contests, and film training short course classes and help in raising funds for film writing and production etc. in the subsequent years depending upon the positive response received from the film fraternity and local people of Lonavla,” Bajaj said of the future plans of the fest.

(The writer’s trip is at the invitation of LIFFI organisers. Radhika Bhirani can be contacted at [email protected])

By Radhika Bhirani