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August 1 2014

Europe’s largest platform for independent Indian cinema continues to evolve, surprise and stimulate…

THIS year the London Indian Film Festival celebrated its fifth anniversary – and, it has to be said, in some style too.

Hollywood icon Gillian Anderson rolled up on the red carpet for the opening gala film of the seven-day festival, which ran from July 10-17. Anderson, the star of “The Fall” and the iconic supernatural late 1990s and early 2000 TV series, “The X-files” is part of the cast of “Sold”, a hard-hitting exploration of child trafficking and child prostitution in India, not without its appropriate tender moments.

The gala opening attracted a raft of celebrities from Anderson herself and the film’s US-based director Jeffrey D. Brown and producer Jane Charles and “Sold” actors Hollywood-based Seirah Royin and UK’s Neerja Naik to many stars of stage and screen from Liverpool-born Bollywood sensation, Amy Jackson, to “Eastenders” soap star, Nitin Ganatra. (See our gallery page here).

Closing the gala was no less a grand affair, though perhaps more Indian in theme and tone.

Nana Patekar, a much respected veteran of many a Bollywood movie, graced the red carpet for “Hemalkasa” along with the dashing and elegant figure of Samruddhi Porey, the film’s debutant director.

A lawyer by profession, she has made several award-winning short films and “Hemalkasa” represented a labour of love and made for a particularly poignant and inspiring passion project for her.

Hugely affected by the doctor and social campaigner Dr Prakash Baba Amte, she has made a biopic of one of the world’s most remarkable figures.

It is also something of a touching love story with wife Mandakini, herself a doctor, being central to the project of delivering health care and basic education to a group of tribals deep in the Maharashtra jungles, plagued not only by natural dangers, but the sometimes oppressive or alluring pull of Maoist insurgents.

There was a mid-festival gala screening for “Million Dollar Arm“, a Disney made charmer, featuring Jon Hamm, from the hit “Mad Men” TV series, and Madhur Mittal of “Slumdog Millionaire” fame. Memorably post-screening host BBCLondon94.9FM presenter Sunny Grewal challenged Mittal to a baseball throw across the theatre. The film comes out in the UK on August 29.

All the films in the festival – 17 at a count – sought to show a different side of filmmaking to the traditional Bollywood fare with which the subcontinent is normally associated, or lent on contemporary issues affecting the Asian community in the West.

Festival director Cary Sawhney and his team deserve much credit for bringing such films to London and showcasing film talent and imagination that would not normally get a look in here in London – and this year’s masterclass and screen talk offered another dimension on the Bollywood machine and its breakout figures.

Santosh Sivan, director and cinematographer presented a masterclass at the BFI

Santosh Sivan presented at masterclass at the British Film Institute (BFI) Southbank on the second days of the festival. A cinematographer and director, Sivan shot to the attention of John Malkovich and the western filmmaking community with “The Terrorist” in 1998, securing global distribution on the Hollywood star’s recommendation.

Before that, Sivan was an established Bollywood player, often working with one of the industry’s real auteurs, Mani Ratnam.

Both emerged from the south Indian filmmaking community, whose films do not always conform to Bollywood norms and Sivan himself has worked with Gurinder Chadha, unquestionably one of the most successful British independent filmmakers of her generation.

If there was a such a term as ‘Bollywood maverick’ – it might be applied to Farhan Akhtar.

Lyricist, singer, actor, screenwriter and director, Akhtar definitely represents a new breed of talent – still making Bollywood type movies but with more intelligence and care.

His screen talk was a chance for all to hear from an artist (you can’t say that of all in Bollywood) still very much developing and growing and with an unmistakable ear and eye for something beyond the tried and trusted formulae that permeates Bollywood.

One of Bollywood's most versatile talents talked to Nick James, editor of 'Sight & Sound' about his contribution to a new aesthetic

Of the actual films themselves, we have to declare an interest – sponsored the screening of “Hank and Asha”.

The film’s editor and co-writer and co-producer Julia Morrison joined us for two out of three Q&As following the screenings at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London.

A sweet romance between a young New York filmmaker and an Indian film student in Prague, it offered an insightful and fascinating perspective on affairs of the heart begun in cyberspace. It was funny, poignant and good-natured and the audiences were suitably charmed and impressed (as we were).

The Festival audience award went to “Sold” with “Hemalkasa” also picking up a special award. One filmmaker we are sure to be hearing more about is Shubhashish Bhutiani, whose film “Kush” took the Satyajit Short Ray short film award, presented at the festival.

Most of the films we saw were the subject of immediate comment and reflection on Twitter and postings on Facebook and Google +.

So, unlike last year, when the site was not quite in existence, but came to pass verdict on each film individually later (see film archives) – this year, we will review here and in one final hoorah for the London Indian Film Festival 2014.

The short – and be warned – largely off-beat reviews are HERE. Enjoy!

Other related links

  • Interview with Mahira Kakkar lead in ‘Hank and Asha’
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Written by Asian Culture Vulture