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London Indian Film Festival 2014: Reviews

London Indian Film Festival 2014: Reviews

August 1 2014

REVIEWS from the films in London Indian Film Festival 2014 and don’t be offended! Not for those of a delicate disposition. From the most recently seen and in order of screening…

“Hemalkasa” – Doctor likes animals and discards vestiges of contemporary life, including outer garments; life in the country suits him and loving wife and dedicated followers, after initial suspicion of tribals who think he is the witch doctor! Bonds develop; the couple make a difference out in the sticks. Brave, sentimental, with two great central performances but perhaps a little earnest. Will it get a wide release? Mmmm…
ACV rating: 2.5 (out of five)

'An American in Madras'
“An American in Madras” – Documentary about pioneering Tamil filmmaker Ellis R Dungan who landed in Madras (as it was then) in 1935. Brought professionalism and Dolly (as in camera and not a person) to rumbustious South Indians (as stereotypically depicted by those ‘Aryans’ up north). Fascinating study of a filmmaker who ended up making wildlife movies (not a euphemism) and returned to the US because his wife detested the natives and feared Dungan would become Dungaragan.
ACV rating: ***

'Anima State'
“Anima State” – Pakistan is a mess, sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s sad, and something really should be done about it. Bit like this film really. It definitely has its moments though – and producer Atif Ghani (“Ill Manors” 2012) should have imposed a little more discipline and structure to director Hammad Khan’s (“Slackistan” 2012) delicious, mischievous and at times, tad too self-referential, self-indulgent journey through the tortured minds of Pakistanis, seemingly on the verge of a very nervous, collective and halting (sub-continental style) breakdown.
Bit too derivative of French New Wave too, but Khan is pushing boundaries – complete with teasing prostitute who almost steals our hero’s pants and ‘unveils’ him in the most daring fashion, of all. The audience loved it.
Khan and Ghani deserve praise and credit for making “Anima State“, bursting with ideas as it is – but “Slackistan” from accounts was more cogent and considered. Khan is an exciting and thrilling cinematic voice and may yet make something far more than the sum of his parts. Watch him.
ACV rating: **

'Kanyaka Talkies' (Virgin Talkies)
Kanyaka Talkies” (Virgin Talkies) – Beautifully composed, well-acted and actually about something, it is not like the usual guff that comes out in Malayalam in Kerala (or so we are told). Porn is big business and the state is regarded as the country’s San Fernando Valley.
They just don’t have their own Sasha Grey or Sunny Leone (yet… or so we are told). Christianity is big too. There’s a clash (largely off screen, but one enterprising mobile phone seller does come off worse), between the new ways of the world and the old – and so out goes a soft porn theatre and in comes a highly strung priest and his rather quaint congregation. He tunes into the wrong frequency and mayhem ensues.
Murali Gopy as the priest is a revelation and his talent deserves a wide audience. The film is a watchable expression of doubt, art and conjecture. Porn isn’t just screwing up teenagers in the West. Limp ending though.
ACV rating: ***

Apur Panchali
“Apur Panchali” – That Kaushik Ganguly’s film is lovingly made is no surprise. It’s the story of Arko, a young film studies student out to locate Subir Banerjee, the child actor who played Apu in Satyajit Ray’s “Pather Panchali“. Catnip for cinephiles, Ganguly gives us three perspectives to work from: the present day, black and white flashbacks to the actor’s adolescence, and less necessarily, generous clips from Ray’s debut, starring the real Banerjee as a child.
The strand exploring Arko’s attempts to get an elderly Banerjee (a sympathetically embittered Ardhendu Banerjee) to own up to his past (he denies starring in the film) is filled with pathos, the pain of a life unfulfilled. It’s a big enough story on its own, without scenes from Ray’s own film, which seem edited in to steal some of that film’s towering reputation (it also prevents this one from standing on its own).
Though prone to over-sentimentality, this is still worth viewing for anyone touched by Ray’s debut, or interested in the fates of child stars. It’s not quite the meta-masterpiece it wants to be, but it does have some striking visuals, most notably an aerial shot of a baby’s burial circled by black umbrellas, which recalls “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” (1964).
ACV rating:***
(Sunil Chauhan)

'Sulemani Keeda' (Writers)
“Sulemani Keeda” (Writers) Sharp, funny and totally tuned to the modern India of i-phones, McDonald’s and casual couplings, Amit V Masurkar’s film is a riotous examination of the writing life and its unfortunate victims. At least to begin with.
In this case, Dulal and Mainak are trying to make it in Bollywood. The first 30 minutes is as good anything on the big screen from anywhere – getting dumped while…you know what…opportunistically hitting on a hottie in a bookshop and making up stuff to impress her; and meeting an absurd actor-director who dangles the possibility of making a film of their script, so long as the pair think ‘out of the box’ and make it in a style inspired by the late iconic Russian director, Andrei Tarkovsky (“Solaris“, 1972). He also demands they have balls (and quite literally shows them his…).
There are cameos from Bollywood director Mahesh Bhatt and star Amrita Rao. This part is peopled by great lines and memorable characters but once the set-up is in place, the film moves at a different, less comic pace. It still has one more unforgettable scene – perhaps one of the funniest and most bizarre marriage proposals you will ever see. It’s quite fun and but for a middle that is ever so slightly repetitive and obvious, this would be grand. It’s set to screen on Channel 4 in late September. Masurkar is another one to watch.
ACV rating *****for first 30, then *** overall

Hank (Andrew Pastides) and Asha (Mahira Kakkar)
“Hank and Asha” Sweet and gentle – both lead characters Hank (Andrew Pastides) and Asha (Mahira Kakkar) are people you can actually imagine befriending (wink, wink). Something of a rumination on relationships built in the virtual world, the romance and comedy is deftly handled by husband and wife writing and producing team, James E Duff and Julia Morrison (still married) – and the cultural tensions are beautifully observed. Duff directed, while Morrison edited. Almost at the end of its year-long festival run, it is now available on DVD and offers something to anyone who has found themselves falling for someone they have met online. Do Hank and Asha do the deed? You will have to see it…
ACV rating: ***** (we did sponsor it!)

“Sold” – Despite its rather unflinching subject matter – child trafficking and prostitution, this is an upbeat film with a good heart and passion and commitment at its core.
Jeffrey Brown in his first directorial outing keeps it all moving well and fairly briskly. Anderson is fetching in a white sari, rather reminiscent of Mother Teresa. The film is largely set in the slums of Kolkata but her role is by no means large, though some may argue, pivotal. David Arquette is another American who seemingly has a halo above them. Sorry. There are Indians too who come to the rescue of the girl in question, Lakshmi, and in that sense, there are others who battle against the odds to help her. This is a huge and real global problem and the filmmakers are keen to address the issue and raise funds for its eradication. On that level everyone should support them and this film has an enduring and powerful message, if you can sit through the early, excruciating and horrific scenes of a child (about 10) being raped – not graphically depicted of course, but by inference.
Still hugely unpleasant and nauseous but utterly necessary for the telling of this tale. What makes “Sold” is the tenderness of Lakshmi (Niyar Saikia) and Brown films a rounded character, capable of good and bad – a child who has grown up too fast but still has her wits about her despite the very cruel life foisted upon her…
ACV rating: ***

Main Picture: Hemalkasa

• A review of “Million Dollar Arm” will appear before its UK release on August 29.

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture


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