November 26 2014
New York, US
Six-day film South Asian film extravaganza in New York ends with an underside tale and awards ceremony…
By Naresh Kumar
THERE was a real high as the curtain came down for the last time at South Asian International Film Festival (SAIFF) in New York with the screening of the Pakistani comedy thriller, “Na Maloom Afraad”.
It was a great way to end six days of films showcasing the best of South Asian and challenging Bollywood cinema. This was the best of the lot that I saw.
The SAIFF Grand Jury also conferred awards on features and shorts that screened in competition at the festival with “Titli” winning best film, “Dukhtar” best director for Afia Nathanial, as well as an audience feature award. “True Love Story” won in the short section, and “Veil” an audience winner in the short category.
But first, “Na Maloom Afraad” – meaning ‘Unknown Persons’, right from the outset it was something that appealed and was right up my Karachi street.
What a ride it was, man. Written and directed by Nabeel Qureshi, a first time director, it had energy, wit and soul.
Sure, it wasn’t perfect and there were stretches where it threatened to lose its momentum but all in all, it was the best Pakistani movie I have ever seen. The plot, direction, cinematography, dialogue and cast were phenomenal.
The storyline did have a few hiccups and it was rough around the edges and the ending was a bit of a let down.
It could have been edited a bit more ruthlessly, some scenes dragged and were really unnecessary and the film meandered at times, leaving the viewer unstirred. Too many characters appeared and then vanished, never to be seen again.
But still the splapstick humour comes through and the acting is well pitched.
The street scenes were superb and gave you what felt like an authentic slice of life on the Karachi streets: the food dhabas, the media houses, the ordinary folks of a chaotic city thought to be home to some 15 million people and the sheer political madness of a place that always seemed on the edge and ready to erupt at any given moment…but equally liable to collapse into laughter and forgetting.
It all reminded me of the Bollywood film “Hera Pheri” (2000), starring Akshay Kumar Paresh Rawal and Sunil Shetty.
There were also shades of “Delhi Belly” (2011), where new gen Bollywood star Imran Khan leads a similarly desperate and gormless trio who have to grow up and learn fast.
One thing is a constant both in this film and in Bollywood generally: the villains’ sidekicks will always be idiotic and stupid and give the game away.
The main boss tries his best to be menacing and dangerous, but his henchmen will always undermine his best efforts.
Overall, this is a very cheeky, funny, entertaining romp through the Karachi streets.
ACV Rating: **** (out of five)
While “Titli” walked away with the grand jury prize, describing the crime caper set in Mumbai as “stunning”. It focuses on a young man’s attempt to escape the life of crime his family are addicted to.
The runner up in this category was “Killa” which featured at Berlin and Mumbai film festivals.
Joya Dass SAIFF’s new executive director said it was a ‘gem’ of a film and beautifully cast.
Nathanial was presented with the best director award for “Dukhtar“.
This honour crime film set in Gilgit in Pakistan, is shot with great style and flair, and is all the more impressive by the fact that it is Nathanial’s debut feature. It was a clear fave for all.
“From a festival attendance standpoint, Afia Nathaniel’s ‘Dukhtar’ was the clear winner.” said Dass. “We had a sold out house and a roaring response to her directorial debut.”
The SAIFF Grand Jury prize short film went to Gitanjali Rao’s “True Love Story” which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. An animated short, it chronicles how a 17-year-old orphaned boy uses Bollywood to woo the girl of his dreams.
The audience award for short film went to “Veil” by director Sreemoyee Bhattacharya.
The award presentations were made at the end of the screening at of “Na Maloom Afraad” on Sunday (November 23) at the SVA Theater in New York following a plush dinner and entertainment spot by recording artist Ashni Dave at the plush Carlton Hotel in New York the night before.
On the jury this year were a number of leading industry executives: Richard Lorber, CEO Lorber Media, Kelly Edwards, VP talent development HBO, David Wilentz, manager production Film Movement, Isil Bagdadi, co-founder Cavu Pictures and Bill Strauss, founder BGP Film.
The main sponsors of SAIFF 2014, now in its sixth year, were HBO, America’s most successful premium television company, well-known for ground-breaking creative content.
Related links from SAIFF 2014