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BY VIVEK MENEZES

The most valuable players in the annual International Film Festival of India game don’t ever get to watch a movie.
These guys – and yes, they are all guys – know the details of each film (for the record, there are 247 in 73 languages from 73 different countries), every seat across nine venues, and all the nuances of scheduling 249 separate screenings, but you will rarely see them anywhere outside their windowless offices in the hidden innards of the Maquinez Palace headquarters of the Entertainment Society of Goa.
Meet 31-year-old Arjun Narvekar, who heads the 80-strong IT team dedicated to IFFI, and is passionate about the positive benefits of technological systems. “Automation helps to smooth out the potential impacts of human behaviours and biases,” he says. The more that the festival has moved its vital tasks of registration and ticketing online, and into the digital sphere, the more seamless its user experience has become.
Narvekar is an old hand in a festival that reinvents itself each year, quite often with new leadership. A six-year veteran of hosting the event, he has the long view and vital experience that comes from addressing the festival requirements on repeated occasions. Though none of his team gets to actually sit through any movies at IFFI, they have compiled extensive data sets that illustrate and explain the moods, needs and desires of delegates, and they work hard to develop detailed strategies to deliver the desired results to the greatest degree of satisfaction possible.
“We are always trying to improve,” says Narvekar, pointing to the new addition of nine hand-held scanners that have made queues move much faster this edition, In addition, he is happy that at least 2600 delegates have been utilizing the festival mobile application to handle their booking, in just the first year of its implication. “What we find is that it does take time for cinemagoers to adjust to new policies. But this one is progressing very fast, and to our satisfaction,” he said.
IFFI 2021 has felt bursting at the seams at various times, with dauntingly huge crowds who have ventured out despite the pandemic conditions. “It’s true that we did not really expect so many to register and attend,” says Narvekar. All indications were that there would be few more delegates than the last edition – which was also held during the pandemic – but this turnout has been significantly exceeded all projections: 4166 delegates registered, from 24 states and 12 different countries, and there were an additional 389 media passes, and over 1000 official invitees.
The additional demand has been handled deftly, after a few initial hiccups and anxieties. As we move to the end of IFFI 2021, everyone agrees that the overall tech management has been solid, with some places that can be further improved.
Narvekar and team have been listening to feedback, and have a variety of ideas. For instance, taking into account specific concerns from senior citizens, they hope to reserve some seats to be released on the mornings of screenings, so that elderly delegates don’t have to stay up past midnight. It’s that attention to detail that makes the difference, and we will see the results in 2022.

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