The New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF), now in its 14th year of promoting independent, art house, alternate, and South Asian diaspora films either from, about or connected to the Indian subcontinent, has announced the lineup for the festival, to be held May 5-10.
Foremost among the 23 narrative and 11 documentary films--all making their New York premieres--are the opening and closing entries, to be screened at the Skirball Center for Performing Arts, one of several NYIFF venues.
Opening the festival is Anurag Kashyap's Ugly, a sensational tale of corruption, indifference, and systemic violence that begins when a 10-year-old daughter of an aspiring actor disappears. Kashyap, who is a leader of India’s growing indie film movement, closed the 2012 festival with Gangs of Wasseypur; he will participate in a post-screening discussion, to be followed the by the opening night gala.
Closing the festival is renowned actress/filmmaker Aparna Sen’s Goynar Baksho, an adaptation of acclaimed Bengali novelist Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay's famous tale of three generations of women and their changing position in society.
The festival’s “Centerpiece” film is Liar’s Dice, the first film directed by celebrated actress Geethu Mohandas, which was an entrant in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition section at Sundance this year. It follows the journey of a young village woman and her daughter as they search for her missing husband, and stars leading Indian indie film star Nawazuddin Siddiqui.
The festival will also observe the 20th anniversary of British filmmaker Gurinder Chadha’s classic Bhaji on the Beach (about a group of varied women of Indian descent, whose trip from Birmingham to the English beach resort of Blackpool engenders a mutual understanding and solidarity), and is backing it with a retrospective of the Bend It Like Beckham director’s documentaries.
The NYIFF festival is the main event each year of the Indo-American Arts Council (IAAC), the New York-based non-profit resource arts organization that promotes Indian and cross-cultural art forms in North America.
“The 2014 festival features a wide array of films from all over the South Asian diaspora,” noted IAAC executive director Aroon Shivdasani.
“This is exemplified by Utpal Borpujari’s fascinating work highlighting Naga culture [Songs of the Blue Hills], and also through the inclusion of three Bengali films, four films by Pakistani filmmakers, the Sri Lankan film With You, Without You, the film from Nepal Waiting for Mamu and three Marathi films, as well as NYIFF’s first Assamese film As the River Flows.”
Shivdasani further cited Mahesh Pailoor’s Brahmin Bulls, a character study about the reunion of a disillusioned architect and his distant father, with a star-studded cast including Roshan Seth (Gandhi, My Beautiful Laundrette), Sendhil Ramamurthy (Heroes) and Justin Bartha (The Hangover).
Another Festival high point is bound to be Nagesh Kukunoor’s Lakshmi, which had been set to premiere in India on Jan. 17, but was held back due to censorship issues relating to its daring subject matter of child prostitution and human trafficking. Instead the film premiered at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award for best narrative feature.
Shivdasani spoke at the NYIFF launch event Tuesday night at the new SoHo Tiffin Junction restaurant on East 8th Street in Greenwich Village near the New York University campus, where NYIFF festival director Aseem Chhabra also singled out the Marathi fest entry Fandry as “perhaps the best film made in India in 2013.”
Directed by Nagraj Manjule, Fandry received rave reviews in India, winning the grand jury prize at the Mumbai Film Festival last October. It revolves around an Untouchable Dalit boy and his love for a girl from a higher caste.
Chhabra also made note of the music-themed films screening at NYIFF.
The documentary Sound Check examines contemporary Indian music with bands including Advaita, Agam, Indian Ocean and MotherJane. Sama explores the Sufi music tradition throughout India, and the aforementioned Songs of the Blue Hills focuses on the resurgence of the Naga folk song tradition among the Naga people of Northeast India.
And of special appeal for cinephiles is Apu Panchali, an award-winning 2013 Bengali film based on the life of Subir Banerjee, the actor who played the endearing child Apu in Satyajit Ray’s world cinema landmark Pather Panchali (1955)--the first film of his Apu film trilogy.
“The kid never acted again after the first film,” noted Chhabra, “and his life paralleled that of Apu.”
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