Raja Chhinal passed away on Sunday morning, at a very young age. Raja was a friend of the Locarno Film Festival, and of auteur cinema. He was a friend of auteur cinema from India, his homeland. He was a friend of a filmmaking universe that conveys a land made up of lands, languages, religions, cultures and sensitivities. He put all his passion into those stories, those languages, and the language of cinema.
Raja Chhinal was one of many professionals who operate within a quieter part of filmmaking, the one that doesn't end up on the screene, but rather behind it. You don't necessarily read their names, but they make sure you can read those of the filmmakers. Working for many years at NFDC cinemas of India, Raja was the smiling face of the revolution imagined by Nina Lath Gupta: to shine a new spotlight on Indian auteur cinema. Specifically, the independent variety that went invisible at the turn of the century. Over a brief period of time, Nina and Raja created Film Bazaar, a market event that quickly became an essential bridge to India and South Asia. Film Bazaar, which Raja ran, reignited contacts and mutual observation between local filmmakers and industry professionals from the West. These were essentials relationships in order to exist in an international context, with the other end featuring, in recent years, the Locarno Film Festival and Open Doors. Raja was one of the key voices during the Open Doors dialogues, the hand that spun the web of auteur cinema, one edition and Bazaar after the other. He was a person and professional who best summed up what the Locarno Film Festival is and what it strives towards.
"Raja was a well-liked professional - says Paolo Bertolin, Open Doors Artistic Consultant - He had a wonderful gift: serenity. Everyone recognizes how he dealt with each issue with a smile, serenity and politeness. He was kind and generous, who handled obstacles with competence and kindness. He was loved, appreciated and admired. Many viewed him as a gentle accomplice."
He was certainly an accomplice of Indiana cinema, in all its forms. Recently, he was working with the filmmakers from the "seven sisters", the seven regions of North-East India bordering China, making its way in between Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. Raja was there, lending his ear to the voices of very small films and his smile to those willing to discover these voices. He was home, in Assam, Manipur and Nagaland. Farewell, Raja.