New York is home to one of the largest population of South Asian immigrants in the world. There are neighborhoods in the city where curry is definitely in the air, saris are on decorous display and the polyglot of languages from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh clash in a poetic dirge. Aside from the immigrant populations, the interest in food, music, dance, film and culture in general from this part or the world has its strong adherents in the general population. Almost every week, a raga singer, a traditional dancer, a Bollywood extravaganza or some other cultural avatar can be found in the city’s halls and theaters. That makes the arrival of the 12th annual New York Indian Film Festival a cause for celebration.
Opening on Wednesday, May 23, the Festival is bringing a tangy array of film premieres, special events, glittering receptions and parallel cultural programs for New York audiences to dive into. The Opening Night Red Carpet Gala features the premiere screening of CHITTAGONG by director Bedbrata Pain at Manhattan’s glitzy Paris Theater, followed by a gala benefit dinner at the Jumeirah Essex House Ballroom on Central Park South. CHITTAGONG is set in the turbulence of the 1930s British Indian Raj. It is the true story of a 14 year old boy, Jhunku, and of his journey to find where he belongs. For the first time in Indian history, the British army is defeated by a ragtag army of schoolboys and their teacher, Masterda. Called a traitor by his peers, and let down by a man he trusts, Jhunku impulsively joins the movement. As his world is turned upside down, Jhunku is forced to confront his self-doubts. As the leaders of the movement are progressively caught or killed, Jhunku battles against seemingly insurmountable odds to win a victory of his own.
Most films in the Festival will screen from May 23 to 27 at the Tribeca Cinema in lower Manhattan. The Centerpiece Film CHITRANGADA by director Rituparno Ghosh is a world premiere. In the film, Ghosh faces the camera again in the role of a choreographer who plans to stage the dance drama Chitrangada on the occasion of Rabindranath’s 150th birth anniversary. The Closing Night Red Carpet Gala will feature the local premiere of GANGS OF WASSEYPUR by director Anurag Kashyap, which will screen at New York University’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts in Greenwich Village, followed by an awards ceremony and after party sponsored by Wells Fargo. GANGS OF WASSEYPUR will come to New York directly from the Cannes Film Festival, where it makes its international debut in the prestigious Directors Fortnight section. In the film, set in the months of the end of colonial rule, several generations are effected in a revenge saga that has its roots in the activities of Shahid Khan, who loots the British trains. Eventually outcast, Shahid becomes a worker at Ramadhir Singh’s colliery, only to spur a revenge battle that passes on to generations. Staying true to its real life influences, the film explores this revenge saga through the socio-political dynamic in the Bihar province, which is overwhelmed by a coal and scrap trade mafia of Wasseypur.
Other Festival Highlights Include a screening of the Oscar-winning documentary SAVING FACE from Pakistan; award-winning films from South Africa, Australia, and Sri Lanka; regional films in the Tamil, Bengali, and Marathi languages; the controversial Kashmiri film INSHALLAH FOOTBALL; and special tributes to Indian greats Dev Anand and Shyam Benegal.
Many celebrities from the Indian film industry and related fields, who are treated as demi-gods by their people, will be in attendance, including Kareena Kapoor, Madhur Bhandarkar, Anurag Kashyap, Rituparno Ghosh, Salman Rushdie, Mira Nair, Madhur Jaffrey, Suketu Mehta, Omi Vaidya, Kiran Desai, Shyam & Nira Benegal, Suneil Anand, Rajit Kapoor, Padma Lakshmi, Poorna Jaganathan, Bedobrata Pain, Bornilla Chatterjee, Samrat Chakraborti, Aasif Mandvi, Sarita Chaudhuri, Junaid Ahmed, Aishwarya, Zaheda Mohamed, Vatri Maran, Sujay Dahake, Ashwin Kumar, Vikram Gandhi, Omi Vaidya, Dev Benegal and Tanishtha Chatterjee will sizzle on the red carpet. With an industry that makes Hollywood look small by comparison, this is an opportunity to discover new films, embrace legendary talents and deepen one’s appreciation of South Asian culture.
NYIFF was born in the aftermath of 9/11 in response to Mayor Giuliani’s call to New Yorkers to help rebuild a limping city. The First Annual film Festival opened its doors with Oscar winning producer Ismail Merchant and closed with New York’s favorite Indian filmmaker Mira Nair. The Festival is the brainchild of The Indo-American Arts Council, a not-for-profit arts organization passionately dedicated to showcasing, building awareness, and celebrating artists of Indian origin in the performing, visual and literary arts. Annual festivals of art, dance, play writing and film are scheduled through the year, with several special events and book launches. For further information and to read about all the films included in this year’s event, please visit: www.iaac.us.