The 2008 Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles
by Dianne Lawrence
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Between April 22-27, the 2008 Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles returned to the Arclight Hollywood for another successful 6th annual event. This year’s festival saw an increase of more than 6,500 filmgoers and over 60 filmmakers attending the screening of their films. The 2008 IFFLA lineup showcased 21 features (16 narrative and 5 documentary) and 12 shorts for a total of 33 films representing 8 countries. I missed the award winning films but the feature films I did catch left me happily confirming my love for Indian films. The general L.A. audience is woefully uninformed about this fantastic source of pure movie viewing pleasure and Los Angeles film lovers are the poorer for it. But all is not lost if you are willing to take a small trip to one of the several Naz 8 theaters and the clever programmers at the Culver Plaza theater in Culver City have begun to include at least one Hindi film in their weekly lineups.
Of the shorts, I preferred Rewind (Director: Atul Taishete) and The Lost Rainbow (Director: Dhiraj Meshram). In Rewind a group of thieves gathered round a table covered in cash have decided to play Russian roulette, winner take all. The story unfolds as we watch the incident played in reverse. A man has fallen over in a chair but the movie starts as he rises up from the floor, the dropped gun jumping back into his hand, the bullet returning from his head into the gun and the trigger finger uncocking the trigger. As the narrator recounts the circumstance that led to the game, the unusual reverse ballet hauntingly captures the psychological tension with each click of the gun. The Lost Rainbow explores a childhood event that severs the relationship between two scrappy brothers and the incident in adulthood of amends and forgiveness that brings them back together. The boy’s summer visit to their grandmother’s village provides an affectionate look at rural Indian culture. A charming tale well told.
The Bollywood By Night feature showcased 3 exciting Bollywood films, Khoya Khoya Chand, an expertly realized and entertaining recreation of the 1950’s Bollywood film industry, Johnny Gaddaar an engrossing film noir crime thriller and Bobby, a classic 1973 Bollywood film that was India’s second top grossing film of the 70’s. These films aren’t precious art house fare but fill the screen with successful blockbuster aspirations.
Khoya Khoya Chand, directed by Sudhir Mishra takes us behind the scenes of 1950’s Bollywood filmmaking with the look and feel of the era captured to perfection by Mishra and the cinematographer Sachin Kumar Krishan. I would like to give a shout out to the great work of the set designer and costumer but for some strange reason these credits are left out. Soha Ali Khan stars as Nikhat, a talented young actress with Bollywood lights in her eyes. Tired of the demands of his current leading lady and lover, the powerful leading man Prem Kumar (played with pencil thin mustachioed arrogance by Rajat Kapoor Shiney) plucks Nikhat from obscurity and makes her the center of his stage and eye. As her star rises she also catches the eye of the sensitive and talented writer Zafar (Shiney Ahuja) who offers her tender shelter from the predatory grip of her leading man. Of course it all ends in disaster. Like the best of Bollywood films the movie is a feast for the eyes and ears served up on a well-told story. It has a tender love for and intelligent tongue in cheek nod to the sensibilities of the time and its expertly realized mind meld with the look of American film making of the 50’s makes it perfect fare for a western audience. It also has some of the riskiest sex scenes I’ve ever seen in an Indian film, but still… no kissing.
The mindmeld continues with Johnny Goddaar (translated, Johnny the traitor) a terrific crime thriller that pays an impressive tribute to the film noir genre and to James Hadley Chase, the British crime author. In Chase’s novels one knew who the killer was and he was often someone committing a crime that led unwittingly to murder. The effort to cover his tracks leads him into deeper holes until he is forced to deal with the consequences of his botched efforts.
Director and producer, Sriram Raghavan stays true to the master in this hip hop jazzy rendition of a crime gone wild. Neil Mukesh plays our anti-hero Vikram with an affecting blend of innocent confusion and deadly intent. Part of a team of five thieves who partner to pull off a heist, Vikram decides he needs the money more than they do and schemes to grab all of it. But he isn’t dealing with amateurs and finds himself in an unexpected life and death struggle with the first of his victims. He wins only to find himself struggling to take off the noose that’s tightening around his neck as his efforts to cover his tracks with each of his unfortunate partners slowly pushes the chair out from underneath him. Once again this is a first rate crime thriller with entertaining twists and turns, worthy of decent American distribution and better than ¾ of the current fare being offered in our local theaters. The director said he really loved the Talented Mr. Ripley but I found this movie much more entertaining.
Who knew the hippy, disco, psychedelic culture of the west had made its way into the Bollywood film culture and the hearts and minds of teenagers in 1970’s India? Bobby, directed by the esteemed Raj Kapoor is a giddy blend of the West’s freewheeling 60’s cry for freedom and the staunch traditionalism of Indian culture. It was the top grossing film of 1973 and the second top grossing film of the Ô70’s. Raz Nath (Rishis Kapoor) is the emotionally neglected son of a wealthy but overly strict father and his beautiful society wife. At a party celebrating his return from boarding school he catches a glimpse of Bobby (Dimple Kapadia) the granddaughter of his old governess who has come to leave a gift. With a nod to Romeo and Juliet, it’s love at first site as the film chronicles their effort to stay together despite the animosity it rouses in her fisherman father and Raz’s overbearing dad. It’s a kaleidoscope of imagery and characters from psychedelia, mod culture and India. In one scene while Raz is talking on the phone we notice a statue of Shiva, a figurine of Lassie and a Peace Poster behind him. Stakes and drama run high as the two na•ve but committed lovers try to escape their families with nothing but their determination, love and a fantastic bike the Rajdoot GTS 175. (It was nicknamed the Bobby after the movie). The harrowing ending ends happily, an unusual event in Bollywood.
They say that India, one of the oldest living cultures is rarely changed by invading cultures but rather absorbs the offender. In these three films we witness the truth of this as imagery and themes from the west are seamlessly celebrated in Indian fashion in these three enormously entertaining films.
BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE: AMAL
SPECIAL MENTION: FROZEN
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: THE GLOW OF WHITE WOMEN
SPECIAL MENTION: SHOT IN BOMBAY
SHORT: MIDNIGHT LOST AND FOUND
NARRATIVE: LOINS OF PUNJAB PRESENTS
DOCUMENTARY: SUPER 30
SHORT: QUAMAR – WORKING TO LIVE
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