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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak jokes about aloo gobi and ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ as 25th edition of UK Asian Film Festival gets underway (pictures and review)

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak jokes about aloo gobi and  ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ as 25th edition of UK Asian Film Festival gets underway (pictures and review)

‘Sanaa’ is opening film by writer-director Sudhanshu Saria and starring Radhika Madan (main picture)…

RISHI SUNAK paid tribute to the UK Asian Film Festival shortly before the screening of its Opening Gala Film, ‘Sanaa’.

The festival which was created as a women’s orientated film festival promoting women in film and women-centred features celebrates 25 years and is the oldest film festival of its type in the UK.

Sunak said that he valued filmmaking and said it helped to bring us all closer together.
“Anyone can make aloo gobi but no one can bend it like Beckham”.

The quotation comes from Gurinder Chadha’s 2002 global smash hit film ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ and is an iconic quote which encapsulates ‘Jess’ (played by Parminder Nagra) the lead character’s desire to play football – despite the objections of her mother (Shaheen Khan).

As well as the prime minister paying tribute to British and Indian filmmakers, co-founder and festival director, Dr Pushpinder Chowdhry MBE, thanked the audience gathered at the BFI Southbank for supporting the festival through the years.

This year’s opening gala film was ‘Sanaa’ by Sudhanshu Saria, starring Radhika Madan. It is a film which revolves around one’s woman’s decision to have an abortion. (You can read the review below).

After the screening, Saria and Madan were quizzed by Smita Tharoor, a prominent Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) consultant who specialises in storytelling.

Earlier Madan and Saria and other personalities walked the red carpet (see picture gallery below).

The 11-day festival is now underway and among the features being screened for the first time – in Europe – is the British film, ‘Footprints on Water’ by debutant filmmaker Nathalia Syam.

There are also talks by celebrated film couple, Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi and filmmaker Alankrita Shrivastava, who made the hit and controversial ‘Liptstick Under My Burkha’ which screened at the festival.

Gallery from Red Carpet (BFI Southbank, London) – click on pictures and use cursor to control gallery and captions

Challenging anti-patriarchy film is beautiful, thoughtful and brilliant on many levels, but tone was uneven in small sections…

Sanaa (Radhika Madan) in ‘Sanaa’

CHOICE is a wonderful thing – and the people who enjoy it most usually are those with the disposable cash to fulfil their wants and desires.
Sanaa (Radhika Madan), the lead character, in this film, seemingly has it all: brains, beauty, and a top level financial job.
She seems set for a life abroad too, as she puts the finishing touches to a big money deal which will take her to Berlin, for a few years at least.
It’s a great set up by writer-director Sudhanshu Saria who returns to the big screen since his critically acclaimed ‘Loev’ (2015 and now available on Netflix).
Madan plays Sanaa with an icy coolness – and it is recognisable and most people in popular parlance, would just call her straight up, a bitch.
It isn’t as simple as that and one of the many things Saria is challenging is those idiotic labels and tropes and the patriarchy at the centre of it all. That way the film is on another level and though it looks like a commercial film, its hard-hitting themes put it long way off – though it might (still) not be quite arty enough for others.
It’s like none of the characters in this film are happy – and indeed Sanaa rarely smiles.
Her situation gets more complex when she discovers she is pregnant. India legalised abortion in 1971 and it is not a political hot potato in India as it is in the US – how much of that is to do with the abominable practice of ‘unofficial’ (it is illegal) female feticide is a question to ask, perhaps.
Sanaa is single but has been seeing her boss Sheel (Sohum Shah) in an intense workplace affair. Yes, he is married, though childless.
As Sanaa tells a female doctor who has befriended her in their gym class, getting pregnant was not in her life plan and she has no desire to settle down or even keep the baby.
As you might expect, she isn’t consulting anyone else – knows what she wants and that is that.
It’s the living with that decision that forms the core subject of this film.
Saria and Madan herself worked on the script and finessing the character and we get a well-rounded, very believable, high functioning dynamic, honest, blunt-speaking woman – attractive at one level.
She isn’t ‘nice’ and isn’t asking, thank you. Some will find that difficult and it isn’t easy to sympathise with a character you don’t really like (much or at all).
Nevertheless, you want to commend all for not choosing that option. This is her truth and we must accept that.
Of course, none of this is easy – and Saria brings Sheel and Sanaa’s mother into the picture a bit later and in an order that was hard to fathom.
Bhatt, Radha in this, was a leading actor in the 1990s before moving into directing and producing since the turn of this century and has not appeared in too many films recently.
She has real presence in this and seems both poorly used and underused.
There is an excruciating scene where she quizzes her daughter about her choice to abort. It is riven with echoes of the past and the choices Radha made – she divorced her husband and raised Sanaa herself and what a fantastic job she has done in many ways.
This two-hander was more like a play and the dialogue was stilted and uneven – often less is more but there were too many questions and the awkwardness is not supposed to be the audience’s.
It was perhaps the only one really jarring scene – though Sanaa being wooed by her layabout but creative next door male neighbour was another scene that didn’t work (in the end) and didn’t go anywhere – entertaining though it might have been and indicative of Sanaa’s mental state that she could even be entertained by a guy like that (normally).
The female self-pleasure scene was bold and realistic and tastefully done – if a little uncomfortable knowing Sanaa’s fragile mental state.
Despite the criticisms, there is a lot to admire about this film – the cinematography, production and acting are of a high order and the film is gorgeous in some aspects – the final scene with two characters enjoying a reconciliation of sorts is sumptuous and makes ample use of the Mumbai beach sunlight – and metaphorically at least, Sanaa and the sun are, finally, smiling.
ACV rating: *** (out of five)

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture