Posted: 05/03/2006

 

Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles – April 19-23, 2006

by Dianne Lawrence




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For the fourth straight year the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles has once again successfully impressed Hollywood movie lovers with a showcase of a variety of 32 well-selected films from 13 countries. The festival, presented at the Arclight Theater on Sunset Blvd., included 3 world premiers, 10 US Premieres and 30 filmmakers from all over the world.

L.A. is a major recipient of Eastern culture. The Indian community here is large, active and influential in spurring an interest in Indian culture and especially filmmaking. As a result, this years Festival has seen a 25% increase in attendance with many of the films packed full.

“This year’s festival has been an overwhelming triumph,” said festival director Christina Marouda. “Over the past five days, we have shared Indian stories with the Hollywood community and the Los Angeles cinemagoers and given them a taste of what the latest fare from Indian independent and mainstream filmmakers have to offer. It has been a great success on all levels.”

The opening night Gala presented WATER, the third film in a trilogy by Deepa Mehta, the first two being Fire and Earth. At the Gala Reception, a Lifetime Achievement award was presented to Ravi Shankar in co-partnership with the prestigious LA Philharmonic. Naseeruddin Shah, one of India’s most celebrated actors, was also honored with the premier of his latest film PARZANIA directed by Rahul Dholakia and showcasing his past work with THE CHURNING (Manthan) and MONSOON WEDDING.

The Grand Jury Prize for Best Feature went to DOMBIVLI-FAST directed by Nishikant Kamat. The successful stage actor Sandeep Kulkarni plays Madhav Apte, a family man clinging to the edge of lower middle class repetition effectively illustrated in the opening scenes. He is struggling to hold on to his integrity while living an uneventful but decent suburban life. His wife (played effectively by Shilpa Tulaskar) keeps skewering his complacency and inability to rise above his station, constantly pushing him to take some kind of stand yet it’s all he can do to maintain his cool in the midst of soul numbing routine and the little corruptions that keep erupting around him. His slacker son wants him to pay for extra classes like all the other parents. Madhav sees this as blackmail by a teacher who isn’t doing his job and by a son who won’t do his homework, so he refuses. His young daughter is denied entry into a school she is eminently qualified for, because he can’t afford the “donation”. At the bank, where he works as a loan officer, his co-worker wants him to lie to cover up an absence. When Madhav politely refuses a loan because the applicant can’t come up with the proper papers, the applicant slyly offers a kick back. Madhav loudly proclaims his outrage raising office attention. The applicant complains to the manager that it was Madhav who requested a kick back and he is sympathetically ushered into the manager’s office for consolation leaving Madhav fuming. While cooling his heels outside he is offered the final blow. While paying for some snacks at a small stand outside the office the vendor tries to extract an added $2 for “cooling” the soda. After all, the fridge costs the vendor money in electricity! Madhav tries to reason the vendor out of this absurd request but when the vendor refuses to back down, Madhav grabs a cricket bat from a bystander and proceeds to, as they say, lose it. He smashes the stand, turns around and for the rest of the film continues on a rampage throughout the city in turn scolding and “correcting” the endless injustices and corruptions around him. His family watch in horror as his antics becoming more violent are caught on video and blasted across the news. Somehow able to stay one step ahead of the law, there is one moment when his fog of rage clears long enough for him to question himself. He has brought a suffering street boy to the hospital for emergency assistance when he sees an old woman refused help and told to go somewhere else. He takes out a gun he has picked up along the way, scattering everyone in the waiting room. He waves it at the doctor insisting that he help the old woman. The doctor obliges but the old woman refuses the help and angrily berates Madhav for threatening the Doctor who is like a God to her. He escapes as the police flood the building but he can’t escape forever.

Sandeep Kulkarni plays the enraged everyman to perfection. The crowd wonders if he is insane or a human Hanuman, part monkey part God who assists the forces of good by fighting evil. Is he having a nervous breakdown or is he driven mad by doing the Gods’ bidding and manifesting divine justice? A culture of corruption has become a way of life. We are disgusted when the politician is caught with a lie on his or her lips or a hand in someone else’s pocket but we don’t hesitate to fudge the truth if it expedites what we want. Is a little lie as corrupt as a big one? Does a commitment to integrity stand a chance in neighborhood or office politics? What kind of noise must be made to bring attention to the problem? Is violence the only way? Nishikant Kamat’s effective direction and script (written with the assistance of Bal and Sanjay Pawar) illuminates all the right questions around this timely issue and has successfully tapped into a cultural issue that knows no borders.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed Dombivli-Fast my vote for best film would have gone to DREAMING LHASA the first dramatic feature co-directed by the husband and wife team of Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam who are known for their documentaries. She is Indian and produced it, he Tibetan and wrote it. Richard Gere was also a supporter of this film.

When over 100,000 Tibetans fled their country during the Chinese take-over many migrated into India and settled in the town of Dharamsala where the Dalai Lama lives today in exile. Forty-five years have passed and still Tibetans who speak out, are rewarded with imprisonment and torture while the hope of a free Tibet fades with the exiled elders. Today the town is filled with young people whose ears listen to the stories of the past and whose eyes are turned to the dreams of a new culture while the old people’s memories keep them rooted in their past with thin threads of hope. Young filmmakers are starting to come back to explore this vulnerable moment in Tibetan history.

Dreaming Lhasa is inspired by a true incident in the life of the producer Tenzing’s father, Lhamo Tesering. He had served as a key liaison between the guerilla freedom fighters and the CIA who trained, armed and funded them from the late fifties into the 60’s. Lhamo was eventually arrested and spent nearly 7 years in prison. Someone he had worked with in the movement had vanished altogether. This film is an exploration of the complex cultural identities challenging modern Tibetans and a musing on what might have happened to the vanished freedom fighter.

Tenzin Chokyi Gyatso plays Karma a young American woman of Tibetan descent. She comes to Dharamsala to document the Tibetan nuns and monks who have been imprisoned and tortured in China for simply protesting.

Tenzin Jigme plays Jigme her young Tibetan assistant with a taste for rock n’ roll and American women. When Dhondup an ex monk, played by the amazing Jampa Kalsang, shows up asking for Karma’s help, Jigme warns her about those calculating Tibetan monks! Dhondup had been imprisoned for many years and has recently escaped Tibet. Hearing about Karma’s project he wonders if she can help him. Before his mother died she handed him a small ornate silver prayer container surrounding a picture of the Dalai Lama. She gave Dhondop the name of its owner and directed him to return the container. With this little information he barely knows where to start and wonders if the American might have some connections or know how. Karma responds to Dhondup’s quiet maturity and strange romantic quest and against Jigme’s jealous warning, agrees to assist. They end up traveling from town to town following the thinnest of clues as each step brings them closer to the story of the freedom fighters, the CIA’s involvement and the truth about their elusive quarry. Even though he must go back to his wife their adventure also brings them to an inevitable moment of fleeting tenderness. (I have seen this theme of an impossible affair between an American woman and someone from a different caste before) They eventually find their man providing a compelling twist that one didn’t see coming but was obvious once it happened.

A beautifully crafted story, the plight of the Tibetans and the current issue of identity unfolds with gentleness and a sweet sadness. What happens when ones ancient culture is slowly eradicated before ones eyes? When one’s identity has been targeted for elimination by a power that uses the tools of patience, fear and pain? The Dalai Lama will die one day and China holds all the cards. Neither America nor the world seem interested in the freedom or democracy of a country whose main focus is the spiritual life. Especially when the oppressors are business partners. This film shines a light on a story that must not die a quiet death.

THE MARRIED WOMAN (PARINEETA)

What’s an Indian Film Festival without a rousing Bollywood drama? Although Parineeta, directed by Pradeep Sarkar has all the trappings of standard Bollywood fare… glamorous estates, beautiful people, famous actors, bewitching newcomers, it somehow doesn’t fully deliver all the things one wants in a great Bollywood film. Based on Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyaya’s famous Devdas, the carefree son of the wealthy neighbor has grown up with the adopted daughter of his less fortunate neighbor. They fall in love when they become adults and the father of the son schemes to separate them. Of course the circumstance surrounding this basic theme has its own twist but the real difference in this Bollywood offering is the happy ending. The actors all do a fine job especially in the eventual blossoming and realization of love between Lolita (played with consummate charm by newcomer Vidya Balan) and Shekhar (played by one of my favorites, the handsome Saif Ali Khan). Sanjay Dutt as Girish, the attractive, mature, wealthy visitor who rescues Lolita’s adopted family from disaster, is an effective romantic distraction from our lead man. Things look pretty beautiful and opulent, there are some nice songs and the music is sweeping and grand but there are one too many scenes with leaves blowing through the frame, a little too much story and not enough dancing. I do recognize that this may have come from the intention to bring some gravity to Bollywood but I’m not sure that gravity is the answer to Bollywoods shortcomings. In my book great dialogue would be. But the big joy of Bollywood for me is the music, singing and dancing. The one big dance number occurs onstage in the Follies Bergere, a Parisian style café. Of course there is nothing wrong with fusion choreography but this dance steps a little too far to the west. The dance scene where Girish participates in a puja celebration is fun and lively but the smiling happiness of the wedding dance sequence seemed forced, given the circumstance perhaps it was intentional. I did enjoy the happy ending.

JURY AWARDS

GRAND JURY PRIZE BEST FEATURE

DOMBIVLI-FAST Directed by Nishikant Kamat

GRAND JURY PRIZE BEST DOCUMENTARY

BOMBAY CALLING Directed by Ben Addelman, Samir Mallal

HONORARY MENTION: RUNAWAY GROOMS Directed by Ali Kazimi

GRAND JURY PRIZE BEST DOCUMENTARY BEST SHORT

GRINDING MACHINE (GIRNI) Directed by Umesh Kulkarni

AUDIENCE CHOICE AWARDS

BEST FEATURE

BELLY FULL OF DREAMS Directed by Prakash Kovelamudi

BEST DOCUMENTARY

RUNAWAY GROOMS Directed by Ali Kazimi

BEST SHORT

LUCKY Directed by Avie Luthra

Dianne Lawrence is a writer and painter in the Los Angeles area. Check out her site here.



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