The South Asian International Film Festival, celebrating its 10th anniversary from December 3-8, focuses on films from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Indian Diaspora. It presented this year 9 feature films and 5 shorts, including 6 Indian co-productions and 2 films from Pakistan. HBO is the principal sponsor of the festival which is considered to be the largest US film festival with productions from that region. The current edition programmed several outstanding films including but not restricted to the opening film Monsoon Shootout, the centerpiece Good Morning Karachi and the closing film The Good Road which all premiered in New York. The remainder had not been shown in the US or New York. Three films in the program were world premieres, the Pakistani indie feature Anima State by Hammad Khan, and from India the feature Ankhon Dekhi by Rajat Kapoor and the documentary First Sight by Jaya Dass.
Directed by Amit Kumar, Monsoon Shootout received much acclaim in Cannes and other fests with its three divergent story lines prompted by the different choices a young detective has to make when he is charged with killing a violent gangster. The Pakistani film Good Morning Karachi by Sabiha Sumar is a coming of age story of a young woman in Karachi aspiring to be a model. She is caught up in the conflict between traditional and modern values as articulated by her family and fiancée and reflected in their views of the role of women. The feature is staged in Karachi with its coexistent contradictions of conservative life styles, the fashion industry and the impact of modernizing changes.
The Indian film The Good Road by Gyan Correa is an outstanding regional production and India’s Oscar contender. This independent production runs counter the widely shared stereotypes of films produced in India and has common people in its center focusing; weaving story lines around two children and a truck driver. State highway 378 on a border of a desert serves as the back bone for the film. A boy is separated from his upscale parents who do not notice he is gone and is taken care of by a truck driver and his mechanic He develops an emotional rapport with them after some initial conflicts and eventually becomes closer to them than to his parents. A nine year old girl hitch hiking to join her grandmother is left stranded on the highway and rounds up in a road side brothel. She makes friends with the young prostitutes working there but refuses to join in their work. The truck driver is pressured by his gangster boss to get rid of the boy since the truck is supposed to be destroyed in an insurance scam. Yet he refuses to abide on moral grounds. Gyan Correa offers an extraordinary portrait of the people making a living around the state highway based on several years he spent exploring the road and actually living with truck drivers. Virtually all elements of the story correspond to the director’s experience and much of the authenticity of the feature derives from Correa’s use of individuals without acting experience. The truck driver who is most impressive in his role never acted before or ever watched a film.
Though overshadowed by Bollywood, India’s small independent film sector delivers creative, pace setting productions as evidenced by the program of the 2013 South Asian International Film Festival.