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TIFF 2023: Awards, reactions and what made a splash in Toronto and Asian award-winners coming to London Film Festival (LFF)

TIFF 2023: Awards, reactions and what made a splash in Toronto and Asian award-winners coming to London Film Festival (LFF)

Several films delighted both audiences and juries…

COLLECTING one of the biggest prizes from the recently concluded Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) was the Indo-Canadian film, ‘Dear Jassi’.

Now on its way to London Film Festival (LFF – October 4-15), Tarsem Singh Dhandwar’s romance set partly in Punjab, India and Canada, was awarded the Platform Prize.

In the words of TIFF (September 7-17), the Platform prize, “honours films with high artistic merit and strong directorial vision”.

The prize comes with Canadian $20,000 (approx. £12,000) and this year’s Platform jury was made up of international icons, Barry Jenkins (‘Moonlight’), Nadine Labaki (‘Capernaum’) and Anthony Shim who won last year’s TIFF Platform for ‘Riceboy Sleeps’.

Yugam Sood & Tarsem SIngh Dhandwar
with the TIFF Platform Award

Dhandwar, who is also known just as Tarsem, first burst on the scene with his music videos and commercials in the 1990s and transitioned to Hollywood making ‘The Cell’, released in 2000, ‘The Fall’ (2006), ‘Immortals’ (2011) and more recently, ‘Self/less’ in 2015. He told TIFF that he felt this was the best movie he has ever made and that people can expect something very different fron his previous films.

Dear Jassi’ garnered glowing reviews and many praised its realism and unflinching portrait of a tragic love set in 1990s Punjab, between Jassi (Pavia Sidhu) and Mithu (Yugam Sood).

Before its world premiere at TIFF, it was described as a ‘Romeo and Juliet’ story and is about a local rickshaw driver (Sood) and a Canadian settled young woman’s attraction towards him, the Jassi (Sidhu) of the film – and to whom Mithu writes letters, when she returns to Canada.

Both actors are relatively unknown, which is in some contrast to Dhandwar’s previous work in Hollywood, where Jennifer Lopez and Ryan Reynolds have starred in different films of his.

The Jury’s Platform statement on ‘Dear Jassi’ read: “The film has the perfect blend of craft, purpose, and faith in its audience, creating a world that is both richly cinematic and steadfastly realistic.

Mithu (Yugam Sood) and Jassi (Pavia Sidhu) in ‘Dear Jassi’

“The young leads, Yugam Sood, and Pavia Sidhu, are by turns breathtaking and, in performances that pull no punches, heartbreaking.”

The trailer to ‘Dear Jassi’ has just been released on Youtube (see link below). It screens at LFF on Sunday (October 8) afternoon – there were tickets available for the larger screen showing at the BFI Southbank, while the smaller theatre showing there on Wednesday (October 11) is shown as sold out. (See LFF page link below)

Amazingly, the film did not have an international distributor at the time of going to press; it is partly produced by T-Series, one of India’s largest entertainment companies and would be expected to release in India too.

Jayant Digambar Somalkar with the
Netpac Award for ‘A Match

Winning the Netpac Award at TIFF this year was Indian film, ‘A Match’. The Netpac recognises films from Asia and consists of a jury made up of Asian critics.

Jayant Digambar Somalkar’s debut feature film impressed jury members, Sung Moon, Haloun Shu and Lalita Krishna.

Their statement on ‘A Match’ reads: “The jury commends the courage of this year’s winner, a first time feature director, for taking a risk and delivering a story in enlightening and entertaining. The director worked with a cast of non-actors that not only resulted in a stellar performance, but achieved a level of authenticity needed to drive home the social message. An impressive portrayal of life in an Indian village, highlighting its oppressive patriarchal customs.”

The engineer-turned filmmaker used many first-time and non professional actors and shot the film in his home village of Dongargaon in Maharashtra. The film is about an impending marriage and a match decided by the parents of Savita (Nandini Chikte).

A bright student born to a family of farmers, they are quick to seize on the idea that she is old enough for marriage and that her BA Sociology studies just increase her marital worth and is only useful in that regard, as she enters her final year of education.

A Match‘ (Savita – Nandini Chikte)

Reviewers talked about the film’s themes of female empowerment, shifting power dynamics, disrupting the patriarchy and the authenticity of village and small town life in that part of India.

Also named in the awards was the Indian film, ‘Kill’ by Nikhil Nagesh Bhat. It was first runner up in the TIFF 2023 People Choice Midnight Madness Award.

Bhat’s film enjoyed a world premiere Midnight screening in Toronto and is a zany caper set on board a train which has been boarded by bandits, or dacoits as they are known in India; and the train also contains Tulika (Tanya Maniktala), who is whisked off to Delhi (from Mumbai) to get married – much to the chagrin of her boyfriend Amrit (Lakshya) who enlists best mate Viresh to embark on a mad rescue mission, armed only with their martial arts know-how.

‘A Kill’

Many said it was like no other Indian action film they had ever seen before, it was described as “violent”, and has a high body count.

Perhaps part of its success rests with Korean action director Se-yeong Oh, who worked on Oscar winner Bong Joon-ho’s ‘Snowpiercer’ (2013) which is a sort of fantasy horror film, also set exclusively and memorably on a train.

The winner of this category was ‘Dicks: The Musical’ by Larry Charles.

Also getting a mention in the People’s Choice Awards at TIFF was ‘Mountain Queen: The Summits of Lhakpa Sherpa’ – directed by Lucy Walker, the documentary profiles the first Nepali woman to summit and descend Mount Everest (‘Sagarmatha’ in Nepali). It was the second runner up in the People’s Choice Documentary awards. The winner was ‘The Magic of Make-Believe’ by director Robert McCallum.

‘Thank You for Coming

Also making a splash at TIFF was another Indian film, ‘Thank You for Coming’ – the Bhumi Pednekar starring film, which also features Bollywood icon, Anil Kapoor who was in Toronto for the film, delighted Bollywood fans – and making a big personal impact also was fellow actor Shehnaaz Gill on her socials.

Directed by Karan Boolani, the film is about 32-year-old Kanika Kapoor (Pednekar) who has been unable to get herself – ahem – over the line – as the title suggests – until one night – which she remembers very little about. A comedy, it is set to release on October 6 in theatres, according to Indian media reports.

Director-writer Pakistani American Minhal Baig won the TIFF Next Wave Award – read our interview with her and know more about her film, ‘We Grown Now’ here.

Dear Jassi’ isn’t the only South Asian themed film that enjoyed its world premiere at TIFF and is coming to London – Deepa Mehta’s ‘I am Sirat’, and James Krishna Floyd & Sally El Hosaini’s co-directed ‘Unicorns’ also premeried in Toronto. Fawzia Mirza’s ‘The Queen of My Dreams’ is another. See our TIFF preview for the South Asian themed films we highlighted prior to the festival here – and you can read about Unicorns and some of the British Asian films coming to LFF here.

We expect to carry a full preview of what’s coming at LFF this week (commencing September 25) – and it will include our interview in Venice with director-writer Moin Hussain and lead actor Faraz Ayub who appears in Film4 production, ‘Sky Peals’. It gets its UK premiere at LFF.

Director-writer Pakistani American Minhal Baig won the TIFF Next Wave Award – read our interview with her and know more about the film, ‘We Grown Nowhere.

All pictures courtesy of TIFF/Getty© – awards pictures

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture