New York City prides itself as being the “capital of the world”, as it has attracted immigrants from all over the globe and set up individual communities within the city’s urban grid. For the past few decades, the communities of South Asia, particularly India and Pakisatan, have become vibrant parts of the city’s mosaic, producing in their midst the finest curry dishes, sari shops and music concerts this side of Delhi and Peshawar.
This past weekend, New York opened up its gates to an influx of Indian cinema under the title of the Mahindra Indo-American Arts Council (MIAAC) Film Festival, sponsored by the Indo-American Arts Council. The ambitious program of film premieres, seminars and chic parties focuses on both Indian-origin filmmakers living and working in the US, but also on a new generation of Indian filmmakers whose creative output represents a new chapter in Indian cinema beyond the conventions (and stylistic cliches) of Bollywood.
Although last year’s Oscar winner SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE could not really be classified an Indian film, the success of the film and its showcasing of Indian acting, musical and technical talents has created a groundswell of interest in the ver-growing Indian contemporary film scene. This flowering was evident in some of the films showcased at this year’s Festival.
The Festival opened on November 11 with the premiere screening of TODAY’S SPECIAL, a New York-based comedy directed by David Kaplan and written by and starring Comedy Central star Aasif Mandvi accompanied by renowned Indian actors Naseerudin Shah and Madhur Jaffrey. Santosh Sivan’s TAHAAN, set in the disputed territory of Kashmir, was screened as the Festival Centerpiece. The film tells the moving tale of a little boy and his pet donkey in militant Kashmir. It has won accolades at international film festivals and had its New York Premiere at the Festival.
The Festival’s closing night film, held last evening at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center, was ANTAHEEN–THE ENDLESS WAIT, starring two film luminaries discovered by Satyajit Ray – Sharmila Tagore and Aparna Sen – both of whom attended the special event screening, which also included the announcement of several film awards. Set in modern day Kolkatta, the film crisscrosses between the loves, passions and relationships of these two actresses. The program featured a mix of genres ranginig from short films to documentaries to dramatic features. Music, a key element in Bollywood cinema, also was prominently featured in many of the Festival offerings, albeit with a less kitchy tone than those found in the typical Bollywood spectacle.
Among the highlights of a jam-packed festival were several directorial debuts. FOR REAL, written and directed by Sona Jain, tells the story of a six-year-old girl whose idyllic life in New Delhi is irretrievably changed when her mother leaves and upon her return, the young girl believes her to be an imposter. LIFE GOES ON, a world premiere written and directed by Sangeeta Datta, focuses on the effect of a mother’s death on her husband and children living in London. TWO PAISE FOR SUNSHINE, FOUR ANNAS FOR RAIN, written and directed by Deepti Naval, the acclaimed actress in films such as Mirch Masala (1985) and Firaaq (2008) who makes an impressive directorial debut. Set in the teeming metropolis of Mumbai, the story brings together a struggling gay lyricist, an aging prostitute (Bollywood star Manisha Koirala in a career-defining role) and her 12-year-old son.
Two programs of note that attracted capacity crowds this weekend were AN EVENING WITH MIRA NAIR, a screening of the celebrated director’s short films, in conjunction with the new DVD release of her celebrated film MONSOON WEDDING (2001). CONTEMPORARY BENGALI CINEMA showcased the growing influence of Kolkata and the state of Bengal in the mix of contemporary Indian cinema. The Festival is highlighting five features and one documentary in this survey, including the latest works from such noted directors as Buddhadeb Dasgupta (THE WINDOW) and Rituparno Ghosh (AFTER WORDS); and newer talent Suman Mukhopadhyay (FOUR CHAPTERS), Sangeeta Datta (LIFE GOES ON) and Aniruddha Roy Chowdhury (THE ENDLESS WAIT).
The Festival also provided various networking possibilities for visiting Indian filmmakers and industry to mingle with their American counterparts, along with fascinating seminar programs that explored the range of themes, genres and challenges facing the Indian film community.
As an intensive on the new directions and concerns of contemporary Indian cinema, an industry that is defining itself beyond the Bollywood model, the MIAAC Indian Film Festival was a groundswell of information, inspiration and cinematic delights.
For more information on the Festival’s many highlights, visit: www.miaacfilmfest.org