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Review 2013: What impressed us…

Review 2013: What impressed us…

December 31 2013

ACV reviews the year’s cultural highlights from August 2013 and what’s coming back in 2014…

FILM

WE START with this because our very first lead story was on a film…

www.asianculturevulture.com went live on August 1 this year.

It began with a story about the film, “Ship of Thesus” and an interview with its young India-based director Anand Gandhi.

This film screened at the 2012 London Film Festival and was critically acclaimed, with former long-serving UK “The Guardian” critic Derek Malcom choosing it as one of films to see that year.

We can say with a certain amount of confidence, it is probably like nothing you will have seen before: philosophical but also funny and entertaining, it introduces you to characters you can care about and understand.

The film went on general release in India at that time and did well at the box office.

Directors, such as Anurag Kashyap whose films, “Gangs of Wasseypur” and “Ugly” have premiered in Cannes for the last two years running, declared “Ship of Thesus” a ‘gem’.

We covered the London Indian Film Festival (July 18-25). The people behind it, namely festival director Cary Rajinder Sawhney and film programmer Naman Ramachandran did a super job and were rewarded with packed theatres and a great buzz as Indian filmmakers met fans and discussed their latest work. Actor Irrfan Khan was a special guest, while celebrated veteran auteur Adoor Gopalakrishnan made a rare trip to London.

Lucia”, the first ever crowd funded Kannada language feature won the audience award.

Original and imaginatively shot, it showed that Indian independent cinema is making real strides and can produce films of global feel and sensibilities. Director Pawan Kumar has been approached to make a Hindi version.

There was also a special two-month (August-September) BFI Southbank celebration of the work of Satyajit Ray, one of the greatest filmmakers of the 20th century. The retrospective saw Bollywood icon Sharmila Tagore talk abou her debut with the great director. ACV competition winners Suma Das and Farkhanda Maqbool were among the audience.

Another highlight of the year for us was Ashok Amitraj launching his autobiography in London with the support of the Indian Journalists Association.

Called “Advantage Hollywood”, the book charts his rise from ex-tennis pro to big shot LA producer, responsible for ‘finding’ Jean-Claude Van Damme and handing Clare Danes a lead role in a much-underrated but superbly executed film, titled “Shop Girl” alongside Steve Martin. Amitraj’s “Life of Crime” with Jennifer Aniston and Tim Robbins is expected to hit the UK in 2014 and won rave reviews at Toronto this year.

ACV was also in Cannes in 2013 and while the site was not up and running at the time, we did get a chance to cover the 100 year celebration of Indian cinema there, posting to Twitter and Facebook, with some stories being published in the autumn on the site.

Most noticeably is the one on Irrfan Khan talking exclusively to ACV about his involvement in the much-talked about “The Lunchbox”, which premiered in Cannes.

Directed by Ritesh Batra, it went onto box office success in India in the autumn and has made a real star of Nimrat Kaur, who spoke to us on the French Riviera about her lead role in the film and early acting career.

The Indian feature also showed at the London Film Festival (October 9-20) to packed audiences with one lucky ACV competition winner (Neti Sharma and guest) was among them – and in a first for many years, the Indian made but part European-funded film will go out on more general release here in the UK in April 2014. We’ll keep you posted on that.

Of the Indian films that showed, “Sniffer” with the irrepressible Nawazuddin Siddiqui in top form, charmed us and “Siddharth”, which was conferred with a US award, is a powerful and telling account of child labour and abduction.

Qissa”, which stars Khan, won an award at the Toronto International Film Festival and director Anup Singh spoke to us about the challenges of making such a film.

The radio documentary, “Lights, Camera, Akshun!” made by Mukti Jain Campion uncovered the role of the early Bollywood pioneers who made films in Britain some time before an industry was established in India. Presenter Sanjeev Bhaskar can be seen in “The Kumars* on Sky 1 shortly.

Freelance arts producer and ACV writer Suman Bhuchar who also worked on the documentary gave us an insider’s view of the exploits of Niranjan Pal, Himansu Rai and Devika Rani.

Away from South Asian films (and non-Bollywood), one of the film highlights of the year was “Gravity*”.

Directed by Alfonso Cuaron and starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, its spectacular 3-D version pushed the boundaries of technical cinema, even if the plot was a bit pat.

Beautifully composed though, it also featured British TV “Eastenders” star, Phaldut Sharma singing a famous Raj Kapoor song in it. Perhaps it was “Meera Joota Hai Japani” and a mythical reference to dawn over the Ganges from space that helped the film become one of the biggest hits of Hollywood in India itself.

ART

Without doubt, Dayanita Singh’s, “Go Away Closer” at the South Bank’s Hayward’s Gallery was one of the most thought-provoking and questioning photographic exhibitions surely ever mounted.

Challenging us to see photographs’ wider narrative possibilities, and introducing viewers to the idea of a ‘mobile’ museum, it defies conventional ways of thinking about photography.

Singh was disappointed too that some critics focused too much on her ethnicity and failed to appreciate what she was trying to do in artistic terms, as she told the Radio 4 “Today” programme.

It’s something of a shame, Indo-British-German artist Tino Sehgal, did not win the top Turner Prize this year.

It would have given artists from diverse backgrounds a further fillip and boost. Nevertheless the nominations themselves showed that British art possesses a rich level of diversity, with Lynette Yiadom-Boakye being among the nominees. The winner was Laure Prouvost, who is French but long-settled in Britain.

BOOKS

The most significant publication of the year for us was Sathnam Sanghera’sMarriage Material”.

The award-winning “Times” journalist and author won many plaudits for his first book, “The Boy with the Top Knot”. This was a searing memoir, which laid out his father’s mental illness and his mother’s heroic ability to manage her husband and the wider family.

Switching to fiction has proved no less successful as “Marriage Material has been widely praised and recognised as a novel with much insight and intelligence about British Asian life from the 1960s to contemporary times. The book has been nominated for the Costa First Novel Award, with the winner to be announced on January 6.

Nadeem Aslam was another author who spoke to us about his latest book, “The Blind Man’s Garden”, which was one of the highlights of the Edinburgh International Book Festival (August 10-26). Sensuous and acutely perceptive about the changing political and emotional landscape both in Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is like many good novels, readable on many different levels.

His book has been nominated for the prestigious $50,000 DSC South Asian Literature Prize which is set to be announced at the Jaipur Literary Festival next month.

Very different but original in its own way is Heather Saville Gupta’sBecoming Mrs Kumar”, a novel about an English career woman in Mumbai negotiating the pleasures and pitfalls of romance and love with Indian men there. The mother of two, now married to an Indian man, and based in Mumbai, spoke to ACV about what inspired her to write creatively about her experiences. The story sparked interest from Gurinder Chadha, who took to Twitter via @asianculturevul to contact Gupta about her book.

The South Asian Literature Festival (October 23-November 1) in London saw many varied events and among the highlights was a superbly unpretentious and engaging interview between the Mumbai-based Amish Tripathi, the best-selling author of the “Shiva Trilogy” and co festival director, Bhavit Mehta.

Tripathi expanded on many of the themes in an interview with us, remarkable for his exposition of both liberalism and a certain style of religious thinking.

The appearance of  Jeet Thayil and Amit Chaudhuri at the closing event was another festival highlight, not least for the contrasts in style and delivery.

As part of a weekend of talks at Westminster University before that, the legacy of Attia Hosain took centre stage.

Writer, actor and cooking expert, her son Waris and close relation, the well-known Pakistani novelist, Kamila Shamsie, gave a unique insight into a brilliant woman, who deserves to be better known and more widely recognised for her pioneering achievements here in Britain.

Scientist and journalist Simon Singh devised an xmas competition for us, based on his latest book, “The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets“. Winner Nazira Khanum will receive a signed copy.

THEATRE

Two particular plays stick out and for very good reason we believe.

Firstly, Rani Moorthy’sIf Only Shah Rukh Khan” was both powerful and playful. That’s not always an easy feat, and Moorthy pulled it off, staging successful runs in theatres in Bradford, Manchester and London.

A final Q&A in London gave an indication that Moorthy is not finished with some of the hard-hitting themes behind the play.

Three women share a love of Shah Rukh Khan, one of Bollywood’s most enduring heroes and these women, still caught up in some sense in a teenage-like infatuation with him, hide dark secrets.

Moorthy goes deep but without losing perspective and gives a real voice to Asian women of another generation who all too easily suffer in silence.

Similarly Kali Theatre’s12” giving a voice to 12 women who were murdered in ‘honour crimes’ in the UK was powerful in the way it shone a light on dark corners and allowed these very wronged women to come alive and answer back, suggested our reviewer Priya Shah.

Secondly, for the first time a play that had caused such a stir in the US in 2006 came to Britain.

Wajahat Ali’sThe Domestic Crusaders” was that country’s first post 9/11 Muslim family drama and it enjoyed a run at Tara Arts in South London.

Confounding and challenging obvious stereotypes, it came out of a rich US playwriting tradition, and the Pakistani American family at the centre of it, looked not that different from many others.

Of course 9/11 was a tragedy for all and Ali’s skill was to expose how deep and wounding the scars ran in Muslim American families and how the dialogue – not confrontation – must continue.

The ACV interview with Ali was among the most popular and registered 235 FB likes.

At the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, we caught up with a subtle and at times bruising examination of contemporary British Muslim identity politics in the debut full length production, “Pole Factor“, by Nazish Khan. It looks set to come to London in February.

MUSIC/DANCE

Darbar (September 19-22) was a celebration of Indian classical music at the South Bank in London and saw performances by Jayanthi Kumaresh, one of the great global exponents of the saraswati veena. She wowed both the newcomer and the familiar with an intimate concert high in the Royal Festival Hall. The floor seating arrangement were meant to resemble the nature of Dabar (court) concerts.

American- born Shankar Tucker displayed the contemporary virtuosity of Indian classical sounds, taking to the public space at the Queen Elizabeth concert during the festival and keeping a packed hall enthralled.

Violin player Jyotsna Srikanth brought her own special blend of the classical and modern with a performance at the East London International Arts Festival, a four-day weekend extravaganza, between November 2-10. Also headlining at the fest was well-known Indian rock and fusion band, Indian Ocean.

Mention should be made too of Amina Khayyam whose Kathak adaptation of Lorca’s “Yerma” creatively articulated the voice of women oppressed and rejected in a UK setting.

Later in the year, Shobana Jeyasingh celebrated 25 years of her dance company with a special double bill, comprising “Configurations”, her first piece as a choreographer and “Strange Blooms”, her latest.

In a long interview with ACV, looking back at her career, and projecting forward, she spoke of the myriad cultural influences that inform her work beyond the Bharatanatyam form she was best known for when she started out.

In December, Sama Arts Network staged a concert, “Mystic Voices” after a long interval. Audiences enthusiastically embraced classical vocalists, Ashwini Bhide Deshpande and The Gundecha Brothers with organiser Jay Visvadeva promising more this coming summer.

TELEVISION

Whatever the critics might think of “Citizen Khan”, its xmas special appears to have cemented its place in the BBC1 schedules.

Radha Bedi, a British Asian journalist explored sexual relations and exploitation in India in the aftermath of the Delhi rape case.

Chefs Cyrus Todiwalla and Tony Singh gave an Indian twist to great British dishes, with the beeb’s “The Incredible Spicemen”, but it looked a terribly poorer relation to Rick Stein’s exploration of Indian regional cooking in his six-part series, complete with a kitchen situated in an idyllic Kerala based lagoon.

Director Sudipto Sarkar spoke exclusively to ACV about filming an ad with Bollywood megastar Hrithik Roshan in August for restaurant and banqueting establishment, Chak89 in South London. Sarkar hopes to make a feature soon, much in the style of a short film, The Last Call (see top right in link) he made  (with a screenplay by the editor of www.asianculturevulture.com).

A media blackout prevented any reports of Roshan’s visit to London at the time. It was lifted during Diwali when the ads ran on Britain’s Asian TV channels.

Finally, apologies to those we’ve left out because of space factors – your support and help in our first few months is greatly appreciated and will not be forgotten, even if you are not mentioned here. We had to be highly selective and there were some very tough choices. We look forward to working with you all in 2014! Upwards and onwards in 2014!

Sailesh Ram, editor of www.asianculturevulture.com

Picture©www.asianculturevulture.com: Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013

*On www.asianculturevulture.com facebook: //www.facebook.com/pages/asianculturevulturecom/420743121372137

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture