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Art and courage celebrated in London Asian Film Festival

Art and courage celebrated in London Asian Film Festival

May 31 2014

  • London Asian film festival starts tomorrow (June 1)
  • Two leading directors in attendance
  • Special tribute to Bollywood icon Yash Chopra
  • Celebration too of ‘genius’ of Rituparno Ghosh

AN ECLECTIC selection of films, two masterclasses with leading Indian directors and individual tributes to iconic Bollywood director Yash Chopra and art fave Rituparno Ghosh, make up this year’s London Asian Film Festival (LAFF).

It all starts on Sunday (June 1) with a European premiere of “Lakshmi”, a real-life tale turned feature film of a 14-year-old girl abducted from Andhra Pradesh, and sold into prostitution before escaping and testifying against her captors.

“Even though it is hard-hitting, it has the feel-good factor,” Dr Pushpinder Chowdhry, founder of LAFF told www.asianculturevulture.com. “It shows how she got away and the story is uplifting. It is also about courage – about people who have managed to get away and how difficult it is to do that.”

The film, made by director Nagesh Kukunoor, also has a new urgency about it considering the recent rape and murder of two girls in Uttar Pradesh.

Kukunoor, whose films straddle the Bollywood-independent sector in India, burst onto the scene with “Hyderabad Blues” (1998), a tale about an American university educated Indian coming back for an arranged marriage. Its natural comedy and quiet direction went down well.

Another of Kukunoor’s India box office smashes was “Iqbal” (2005), about a deaf and mute youngster who loves cricket and recruits a former star, battling alcoholism, to help him.

The US-trained chemical engineer turned filmmaker will participate in an eagerly anticipated Q&A after “Lakshmi“.  The film is supported by charities, Oxfam and Asian Circle.

“He wrote the script, directed and (acted) produced it and he is going to talk about what made him take on a subject like this. It’s very skilfully directed,” added Dr Chowdhry.

There will be a chance for students and film buffs to quiz Kukunoor more deeply on Wednesday (June 4) at Watermans in Brentford following the screenings of the eight short films in competition.

One of the undoubted highlights of the festival will be the “Remembering Yash Chopra” evening at BAFTA in Piccadilly, London, next Saturday (June 7).

Chopra, often referred to as the king of Bollywood romance and who died in 2012, will be remembered by his wife Pam in discussion with academic and UK Bollywood Professor Rachel Dwyer, who has also written a biography of one of India’s most successful and prolific moviemakers.

Chowdhry said: “It is from the woman beside the man who made great films – it will be a personal and intimate portrait. She is a very talented person in her own right.”

A playback singer and film costume designer, she will give a very special perspective one of the giants of Bollywood movies.

On the same bill will be star actor Anupam Kher (best known to non-Bollywood audiences as the father of Jess in the hit film, “Bend it Like Beckham” (2002).

“He is going to be talking about Yashji in a professional context,” explained Chowdhry.

The evening will also include a specially commissioned short film looking at the artistry of Yash Raj.

Called “The Masterstroke”, it examines the way Chopra used music in his films and how it was inspired by the nine essential emotions as laid down by ancient Indian scriptures.

“It’s looking at Bollywood with a very different eye, analysing it in a more artistic way as opposed to just entertainment.

“A lot of people have talked about this great man but what we’re doing is putting him at the centre and letting his wife talk about hum and looking very analytically at his artistic side.”

A second director in the Indian independent sector will also appear at LAFF on Friday (June 13) at the University of Westminster.

Ashim Ahluwalia, whose film was selected for the prestigious Un Certain Regard category in Cannes 2012, will share his experiences of making “Miss Lovely”, which charts the fates of two brothers making soft porn and horror films in Mumbai in the 1970s and 1980s.

Ahluwalia will appear as part of two-day academic conference hosted by the University of Westminster, entitled “Moving On – South Asian Screen Cultures in a Broader Frame”.

One of the centrepieces of the whole festival is the tribute to the late Rituparno Ghosh, widely regarded as the cinematic heir to the legendary Satyajit Ray. Ghosh died last year at the age of 49.

A fellow Bengali, he too like Ray, was also deeply influenced by the great polymath and Nobel prize-winner Rabindranath Tagore.

Ghosh’s films are greatly appreciated for their artistic sensibilities and intellectual dimensions.

On the opening night (June 1), LAFF will screen “Chitrangada“, written, directed and starring Ghosh himself, at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in The Mall.

The story based on the tale of the same from the Hindu epic, “Mahabharata”, chronicles the hurdles and obstacles Ghosh himself sometimes faced when tackling social conventions, and issues of gender identity and sexuality in his own personal life.

Close friend and film collaborator Sangeeta Datta will present the film and will talk about Ghosh’s legacy and influence.

The festival will also screen “Jeevan Smriti”, a tribute to Tagore, part documentary, part drama and a poignant reminder that Ghosh himself has a place among the great Indian artists of the last century and the early part of this one.

On the last day, LAFF will screen “The Last Lear”, which features none other than the Big B, himself, Amitabh Bachchan, and other Bollywood stars, Preity Zinta and Arjun Ramphal.

Two Pakistani films get a screening – “Tamanna” – an intriguing thriller type drama centred in the dying embers of the once thriving film industry there known as Lollywood – shows next Sunday (June 8) at the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn. The film’s producers will be on hand for a Q&A after the screening.

The other is “Good Moring Karachi” which encapsulates the pressures and tensions of relationships as a young career orientated woman seeks to carve out a career and establish a fulfilling and equal balance in her personal life.

“Women are becoming stronger and it’s a little bit threatening to the opposite sex in India, it forces you to think,” said Chowdry in response to a question about the representation of women in South Asian films. “With women there are forced choices – either a career or family, men don’t have to choose.”

The challenges and issues facing (young) women will also be discussed at two separate events at LAFF.

Next Monday (June 9) sees the screening of “Honeycombe Lodge” a story about women taking shelter from violence and injustice at a refuge of that name.

On the Tuesday, at the Harrow Campus of the University of Westminster, there will be a chance to watch the BBC documentary, “India – A Dangerous Place to Be a Woman” and “The Paradox of Freedom” which looks at the work and experiences of Nadia Mansoor, a stand-up comic of Pakistani origin born in the UK and then raised in the US.

“What we’re doing is putting the two together and looking at the position of women,” said Dr Chowdhry.

Overall, the festival in all its programming sought to highlight the connections and relationships between Britain and India, which have now lasted 400 years.

“It’s our shared heritage, it’s 400 years since the first British person has gone to India. We want to show there is a shared heritage and how learnt from each other.”

LAFF is now in its 16th year and remains one of the leading platforms for South Asian films in Europe.

#LAFF14

Picture: A scene from the opening film ‘Lakshmi’

LAFF Selected highlights at a glance

  • Sunday, June 1 2.30pm – “Lakshmi”, Tricycle Theatre, 269 Kilburn High Road, London NW6 7JR
  • Sunday, June 1 5.45pm “Chitrangada”, ICA, The Mall, London SW1Y 5AH
  • Wednesday, June 4 8.30pm – Short films and masterclass with Nagesh Kukunoor, Watermans, 40 High St, Brentford, West London TW8 0DS
  • Saturday, June 7 7.30pm – “Remembering Yash Chopra with Pam Yash Chopra and Professor Rachel Dwyer and Anupam Kher” and “The Masterstroke”, Bafta,195 Piccadilly, London W1J 9LN
  • Sunday, June 8 3pm “Tamanna”, Tricycle Theatre.
  • Monday, June 9 6pm – “Honeycomb LodgeBirkbeck University, 43 Gordon Square, London WC1H 0PD
  • Tuesday, June 10 – 6pm  “India A Dangerous Place to Be a Woman” and “The Paradox of Freedom” with Nadia Manzoor, University of Westminster (Harrow Campus) with snacks, University of Westminster, Watford Road, Harrow HA1 3TP
  • Wednesday, June 11 6.30pm “Jeevan Smriti”, Nehru Centre, 8 South Audley St, London W1K 1HF
  • Friday, June 13 4.15pm – University of Westminster conference and screening of “Miss Lovely” and masterclass with Ashim Ahluwalia, University of Westminster, Marylebone Campus, 35 Marylebone Road, London NW15LS.
  • Friday, June 13 8.30pm – “The Last Lear”, Waterman’s Brentford.
  • Saturday, June 14 6pm – “Good Morning Karachi” (includes canapés and drinks), Mayfair Hotel, Stratton St, London W1J 8LT

For full listings, ticket prices and booking, please go to www.tonguesonfire.com

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture