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LFF 2022 – South Asian film content reviews: Crows Are White, The Cloud Messenger, Declaration, Faraaz

LFF 2022 – South Asian film content reviews: Crows Are White, The Cloud Messenger, Declaration, Faraaz

Notes and links too to ‘All That Breathes’ and ‘Joyland

Seeking Buddhist Enlightenment, uncovering modern Muslim dilemmas

Director: Ahsen Nadeem
97 minutes
Crows Are White – Ahsen Nadeem’s (pictured right) documentary film is witty, engaging and just a little eccentric – a bit like himself really. He flies off from the US in search of spiritual wisdom of sorts and focuses on a community of isolated Buddhist monks in Northern Japan. The curiosity is real and genuine – one there is focused on not speaking for years and walking the length of a marathon at night, daily. Nadeem wants to interrogate him, but his attempts to do so stumble and he ends up befriending another younger much more junior monk who prefers playing video games, eats fast food, speaks good English and is really doing the monastic life to please his elderly grandparents and whose grandfather is a senior figure in that community.
The heart of the documentary is Nadeem’s own inner conflict – he realises that by examining this spirituality, he is evading his own and the tensions therein.
Raised as a traditional Muslim, he is in a serious relationship with a non-Muslim woman (in fact, has married her) and pretends to his folks that he is an ‘observant Muslim’. Since moving to the US from Ireland – where his folks still live and where he spent his teenage years – he has lived the ‘double life’ (his own description from the press notes). Charming, entertaining, and thoughtful, there’s a real journey here, both material and spiritual. Watch it. Acv rating: **** (out of five).

*We have an interview with Nadeem and will run when there is a significant development on his documentary – it is currently seeking distribution and may feature in another UK film festival soon.

Love in the time of Shiva and modern teenage heartache…

Director: Rahat Mahajan
152 mins
The Cloud Messenger (Mehgdoot) – Rahat Mahajan’s (pictured right) first feature is visually very arresting and atmospheric. Set in an elite Indian public school – from what the British left behind – in the Himalayas, this is a love story of sorts. Schoolboy JV (Ritwik Tyagi) finds himself strangely drawn to the pretty but withdrawn Tarini (Ahalya Shetty); while the two fall into an uncertain teenage romance, deeper forces seem to be at work in the mountains. Angry gods, a spurned lover and unfulfilled desires echo through the unforgiving landscape and past scars remain unhealed. Mahajan channels all this through very ancient forms of Indian dance and storytelling – Kuttiyattam, Theyyam and the better known Kathakali. All related and from Kerala, in Southern India, they form an intriguing narrative all of their own, replete with legend, myth and ideas of reincarnation. This is not a happy state of affairs – good performances, an interesting storyline, captivating dance sequences and gorgeous cinematography give it weight and intensity. ACV rating: *** ½

We also have an interview with Mahajan and will run where there is a significant development. It is also seeking distribution and is currently continuing its global festival run.

Modern Indian workplace drama is sign of welcome realism…

Modern Indian workplace drama is sign of welcome realism…
Director: Mahesh Narayanan
107 mins
Declaration (Ariyippu) – Mahesh Narayanan’s drama feels like a documentary in places – it goes right into the heart of a factory making medical latex gloves during the pandemic. Set in Delhi, Narayanan focuses on a couple, Hareesh (Kunchacko Boban) and Reshmi (Diyva Prabhu) who are keen to emigrate abroad – they don’t see any future for themselves and have left their native Kerala to take up this work. Essentially, an explicit video shot inside the factory has leaked onto the internet and puts the couple in the frame. There is a lot factory chatter and tensions between the two threaten their marriage. A powerful sub-plot is also what is going on inside the factory too. Narayanan’s film is gritty and believable – though the way the video makes its way onto the internet didn’t seem to be clear and has associated plot issues. Nevertheless – underpinned by fine performances especially from Boban, this a multi-layered film with depth and nuance – this is also very much a migrant tale – there are several languages heard, the couple’s native Malayalam, Hindi is how they communicate at work and there is a sprinkling of English and Tamil with friends and co-workers. It may be a bit too earnest and self-regarding for some, but Narayanan, an experienced and popular director, shows courage and skill in even attempting this type of film and more please. ACV rating: ***

Video interview with Mahesh Narayanan (at UK Asian Film Festival/LFF reception)

Slick and watchable but central character is the wrong one…?

Director: Hansal Mehta
110 mins
Hansal Mehta’s latest film has none of the subtlety or depth of his previous (‘Aligarh’ LFF 2016). While the intentions are indeed, noble – wanting to celebrate the remarkable courage of the real Faraaz Ayaaz Hossain, who stood up to the terrorists who stormed the upmarket Holey Artisan Bakery in Dhaka in 2016, and lost his life for doing so, Mehta’s film feels more oddly weighted towards the terror gang who murdered more than a dozen foreigners, many of whom were Italian or Japanese. Perhaps, the camera will always lean towards a study of why certain individuals carry out such heinous acts. Mehta is a fine filmmaker and this is a consummate production in many ways, but the emphasis seems oddly skewed. Aditya Rawal as the gang leader, Nibras is superb and very compelling. If you like action thrillers and watch it as this (only), it is okay. ACV rating: ** ½

International Festival Award favourite is perceptive and worth seeing

‘All that Breathes’
94 minutes
Director: Shaunak Sen
We saw this remotely at its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January of this year and interviewed director Sen. See above. We’ve written a fair bit about this film before it came to LFF. This film was also at the Cannes Film Festival and has won awards in Sundance, Cannes and now London. You should watch it. It is out on release in the UK now. Insightful and educational. ACV rating: ***** Our most recent interview with Sen:

About love and desire in its many guises and with a Pakistani director of subtle gifts…

126 minutes
Director: Saim Sadiq
It had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May this year and we covered that – see above – with Sadiq introducing the film to the world – suffice to say, you need to see it. Exceptional. Our review from Cannes:

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture