Posted: 04/19/2005


Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles – April 20-24, 2005

by Dianne Lawrence

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From Wednesday April 20 to Sunday April 28 Los Angeles and the Arclight Cinema is host to the Indian Film Festival. Much like India’s ancient, fascinating and opulent culture, this festival offers us a sumptuous feast of over thirty films with everything from documentaries like Litigating Disaster which revisits the haunting tragedy of the disastrous gas leak that occurred in the Union Carbide pesticide factory in Bhopal, to Empty Canvas (Shunyo é Bukey), about an artist who falls in love with the physical embodiment of the ideal Indian beauty and gets more than he bargained for.

On Saturday at Noon they have the children’s program with Raju & I about a young privileged child who decides to walk home from school only to discover the harsh

reality of the lives of the less privileged and Tora’s Love about a small girl who teaches her elders a lesson in compassion.

Starting at 2 on Saturday are a series of 9 shorts with great subjects like The Friend about a princess who learns the true meaning of friendship from a frog, or Mulit a musical extravaganza that channels the glory of 70’s Bollywood with a dazzling tale of a local hairdresser who invents the infamous mullet. I’m not missing Don’t Search the Gardens (Baagon Na Jaa) where singer Shubha Mudgal beautifully interprets the lyrics of medieval poet Kabir in a music video that urges us to look within to find a love that transcends all barriers.

There are seminars, musical and dance performances, Q&A’s, one-on-ones between filmmakers and Industry professionals, tributes, awards!!

If you love Indian culture this is an opportunity to immerse yourself in her.

I highly recommend it!

For more info, visit the official site here.

If you take a look at today’s fashions and the explosion of Bollywood websites it’s clear that Indian culture is invading America. This important Film Festival is one of its critical stepping stones and mustn’t be missed if you profess an ounce of curiousity about India. The festival showcased 30 films including 11 US Premieres and 5 World Premieres with many of the filmmakers and actors in attendance. As one Indian ex-pat who has been here for thirty years exclaimed ” I feel as if I’ve revisited my past and been updated on the present.”

My only regret is that I didn’t have the stamina to see everything. Out of what I was able to see, here are a few of my favorites:

Amal, directed by Richie Mehta, starring Rupinder Nagra with Dr. Shiva, Manjit Bumrah, Hans Sachdev, suggests the story of the Greek cynic Diogenes who traveled the countryside looking for an honest man. Amal, played by the engaging and talented Rupinder Nagra, is a modest autorickshaw driver who meets his Diogenes. Amal is eventually left to deal with the surprising consequence of his honest behavior. Mehta’s simply constructed story and able direction pulls the viewer into the story and cleverly leaves us wondering what we would have done in the same situation. This film won the Jury Award for Best Short.

Maya—The Indian Princess is an animated film directed by Kavita Ramchandran. We watch little Maya’s spunky efforts to turn herself into an Indian princess by creating a sari with the household sheets and towels. Her mother finally rescues her to the audible “aaaahs!” of the audience. The voices of Parminder Nagra and Diya Bhallar are important contributors to the sweetness and charm of this offering.

Viva Liberty! directed by Dishad Husain and starring Riz Meedin with Bill Hope, Anthony Oseyemi and Samantha Coughlan is a wickedly funny, dark comedy about a hapless British muslim, who is about to fulfill his dream of having the perfect American vacation. But before he steps onto American soil, he is arrested as a “suspected” terrorist and sent to a Guantanomo like facility. Dishad creates a sharply critical satire of naïve American can do whatever it takes spirit and the simplistic mind set of the Men in Charge.

Mulit directed by Ivan Zacharias and starring Raja Vaid with Richa Pallod, Vijay Raaz, Anupam Shyam and Kiran Pande is the hilarious spoof of all things Bollywood. Originally commissioned as part of a short film series for Absolut Vodka, we are given the Indian version of the creation of the infamous Mullit hairdo. And of course we get generous helpings of the classic Bollywood devices of forbidden love, jealous rivals and head shaking dance numbers. Really, really funny.

Don’t Search the Gardens directed by Abhijeet Chatterjee is a music video featuring the stunning voice of Schuba Mudgai and based on a poem by the medieval poet Kabir. The background story about a muslim boy and the neighborhood teacher he forms a bond with, seem out of synch with the haunting music and beautiful voice of the singer.

Elephant Boy, written, directed and co-produced by Rene’ Mohandas was my favorite for best short. Rajesh Kumar stars as a young beggar boy with a deformed leg and huge balloon like feet. He is part of a group of abandoned children overseen by a cruel Beggar Master played by Nawas Udin. His best friend and beggar partner is Nisha, a young girl, effectively played by Sangeeta Gopal Vagela. Through their teasing and affection it is clear that even in these dark streets tenderness is alive. Together they use pity for Rajesh’s deformity to maximize beggar efficiency. When a Scottish woman takes pity on Rajesh and gives him a 50 pound note, a crack of hope opens the harsh reality of their lives and they allow themselves to dream of escaping. But when they return claiming to have made no money to the Beggar Master, things get worse. The rest of the story follows the two as we are swept along the river of their sad destiny. The film ends with Rajesh pulling himself up the side of a sacred mountain. His undaunted belief in the mercy of the divine, as battered as it might be by his experience, is allowed expression in the modest offering he makes at the small alter on top. The film becomes even more poignant when we learn that the deformities of the actor are not only genuine but that Rajesh is also a real beggar boy discovered by the filmmakers. And most astonishingly, he had made that exact trip up the mountain to the altar, praying for someone to come along and see his worth. Shortly after, the filmmakers appeared in his life with the scene up the mountain already part of their script. They have set up a fund that will allow him to go to school and have a place to live.

Hari Om. After being initiated into Indian Films with the sublime Devdas and infectious Kal Ho Na Ho I drifted into and fell in love with Indian films all the way back to the 30’s., From the captivating to the trivial, 95% use the Indian cinematic obsession with “Love that cannot be” as the central axis around which all elements swirl. As much as I swoon over the soul of this culture, there is skepticism in the western eye that seems awkward in the middle of the Indian romantic sensibility. I am never moved to the tears that the actors would have me shed. With Hari Om I think we have found a director who is capable of rendering tender the western heart without sacrificing Indian soul. Written and directed by the extraordinarily talented Ganapathy Bharat, Hari Om is his first feature film marking the debut of a world class director and storyteller. It still contains the traditional theme of two people who cannot end up happily ever after but he uses the fascination with India to seduce our heroine into opening up her heart to a most unlikely suitor and ours to the both of them.

Isa, (played by the enchanting and enchanted Camille Natta) and her very serious and sophisticated lover Benoit, (played with effective condescension by Jean-Marie Lamour) are traveling from Paris to Jaipur Navalgarh. With little patience for the confusion, noise and smells of India he is anxious to sell his precious stones to the Raj and get the hell back to Paris. Isa on the other hand is lured by the culture. Leaving Benoit to his business she sets out to explore the city. Hari Om, played by Vijay Raaz, (we fell in love with him in Monsoon Wedding) is the hardworking owner of a tricked out autorickshaw and is in deep trouble with the local toughs who have cheated him at cards and are demanding their due. He is grateful for the distraction and money of the beautiful Parisian who wants to be shown the city. Vijay becomes Isa’s guide for the day. When she misses her train and her lover, fate throws her back into Hari’s path. They spend the next few days traveling through the countryside and small towns on a road trip that weaves back and forth between Isa’s need to meet up with her lover, then avoid him, Benoit’s effort to find her, Hari’s efforts to escape the long arm of the toughs and the directors desire to reveal some of India’s intoxicating enchantment. Isa has a moment with an aged man (the remarkable actor A.K. Hangal) in an old house converted into a hotel. He tells a story that frames what is to come… the dissolution of the cultural and economic wall between Isa and Hari as the road trip reveals that soulful connection rooted in lifetimes past.

I was moved to tears in this marvelous and captivating film, which should do miracles for India’s tourism. I believe his next film is about the Taj Mahal. I Can’t Wait.

Ganges, River to Heaven
Directed by Gayle Ferraro

In this fascinating documentary, director Gayle Ferraro explores one of the oldest and most interesting relationships in the world, between that of the Hindus and their sacred river the Ganges. The Ganges runs 1,560 miles from the Himalayas down to the Bay of Bengal and according to the Hindus, by washing in it, drinking from it or spreading ones ashes over it, one is cleansed of all Karma and sins. This means that instead of getting stuck in Limbo and driving your living relatives crazy, you are given a direct ticket to heaven. Understandably, people from all over India make pilgrimages to the River to drink, bathe, pray, make offerings and cremate the dead. The film effectively documents four families who have brought their aging parents from all over India, (by car, carts, trains, whatever it takes) to a free hospice in Varanasi, one of the prime cities for the dying. Through Ferraro’s interviews with the monks who take care of the place and perform the daily chants and prayers, the family members who gather round the elder in a gentle, loving death watch and the local proprietors who service the community with all the paraphernalia needed to do a proper burial, the relationship of the Hindus to death and the Ganges is gently revealed. A relationship that is as troublesome as it is sacred. If you’ve died from leprosy or chicken pox you cannot be cremated. Instead you’re body is brought to the middle of the river and simply…dumped. Floating bodies are not an unusual site for the people cleansing themselves near the shore and drinking its water. Although even educated Hindus are convinced of the spiritually purifying power of the Ganges, Indian officials are taking the slow death of the river seriously and large funds have been committed to help deal with the pollution pouring into it from Varanasi.

This film is informative, interesting and an unadorned look at all the aspects of the dying and dead with the River Ganges. I recommend it to anyone who has an interest, passing or passionate, with Indian culture.

Page 3

Page 3 directed by Madhur Bhandarkar is the story of corruption in glamorous places. Madhavi our heroine, is a hard working female reporter assigned to cover social events for the gossip slinging Page 3. Like gossip rags throughout the world, Page 3 decrees who is on their way up, on their way out or firmly entrenched. This gives the serious minded Madhavi, played effectively by Konkona Sen Sharma, the enviable position of being a very welcome member of the family at every important party of the season. We are given a whirlwind tour through India’s high society gods and goddess’s that had real gossip columns trying to guess who the roles were modeled after. Success in her field is not enough for our intrepid reporter and she wants in on the serious assignments. When she gets her break, it nearly breaks her as she discovers the ugly truths lurking just under the surface of the vapid glamour.

Bhandarkar successfully weaves themes into the storyline that aren’t typical for Indian films. There’s the relationship between Madhavi and her ambitious roommate Pearl (played with spunky appeal by Sandhya Mridul). Pearl, an airline hostess addicted to truth telling and bottom lining is annoying because she’s usually right. She knows the only way out of her dreary routine is marrying up and when she succeeds we are actually happy for her. The standard heartfelt scene that reveals the vulnerable softness and caring at the core of her tough as nails exterior, helps. Its somewhat clichéd but it works. Then there’s the aspiring young actress, Gayatri, played with the right portions of susceptibility and ambition, by Tara Sharma. Her character provides the often made point that small town talented beauties everywhere rarely escape becoming prey when ambition brings them within range of the jaded power of big city players. Atul Kulkarni effectively plays the serious journalist Madhavi wants to become but provides little else but support at the right moments. Her supportive tough boss played with gruff affection by Boman Irani is faced with his own moral dilemma when push turns to shove. Of course there are all the characters in the Page 3 pantheon, the pathetic businessman looking to boost his visibility and becoming foolishly addicted to publicity, the ignored wives of the famous, the ignored husbands of the famous, and the handsome and smooth power players who conceal real soul ugliness. Madhavi roams through this soul destroying landscape digging herself in deeper and deeper driven by her relentless need to be true to her moral center and to prove her worthiness as a serious journalist. The ending provides a creepy surprise and ties up all the issues very neatly.

Its deals with real issues in an entertaining way and introduces a welcome shift in pop Indian filmmaking.

The Indian Film Festival Of
Los Angeles Winners

Jury Awards
Audience Awards
Children’s Storyboard Contest Winners
Jury Awards:

Dramatic Feature Competition Grand Jury Prize
Black Friday directed by Anurag Kashyap
Jurors: Mira Advani-Honeycutt, Peggy Rajski and Cheng-Sim Lim

“This year’s winner displayed original storytelling, innovative cinematic technique and boldness of vision in tackling a complicated social issue. It told a story with multiple and conflicting points of view and did it without ever being judgmental. The film commands admiration from us as filmgoers and human beings. This years award goes to Black Friday.”

Documentary Competition Grand Jury Prize
Whose Children Are These? Directed by Theresa Thanjan
Jurors: Noel de Souza, Parminder Nagra, and Vinay Lal

Shorts Competition Grand Jury Prize
Amal Directed by Richie Mehta
Jurors: Gotham Chopra, Paul Wolansky and Catherine Park

Audience Awards

Best Feature Film
Hari Om, Directed by Bhartbala

Best Documentary Film
The New Heroes: India, Directed by Carl Byker and Mitch Wilson

Best Short Film
Raju And I, Directed by Gayatri Rao

Children’s Storyboard Contest Winners
For the 2nd annual IFFLA Storyboard contest, California youths between the ages of 8 and 17 were asked to create a series of drawings based on an Indian Folk tale. The winners of each group (8-12 and 13-17) were awarded a cash prize, assorted DVD’s and a weeklong filmmaking workshop from the New York Film Academy.

8—12 category
Winner—Andy Yu, Fullerton, 8 yrs.
Runner-up—Andrew Liou, Fullerton, 8 yrs.

13—17 category
Winner—Annie Goodman, Studio City, 15 yrs.
Runner-up—Jessica Na, Los Angeles, 14 yrs.

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

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