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Year in Review 2015: Film, Books and Theatre

Year in Review 2015: Film, Books and Theatre

December 31 2015

We take a look back at the year that was 2015…

IT’S BEEN a year of incredible growth and expansion for us as we entered our second year.

We made the shortlist again in the Asian Media Awards.

Among our top highlights is our coverage of the Jaipur Literature Festival and the Cannes Film Festival.

We were in Jaipur in January for what is now routinely billed as the biggest free literature festival in the world.

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The scale is immense – some sessions there draw as many as 5,000 people.

It was like that when British Nobel Laureate Sir VS Naipaul addressed just an audience.

There was a sense of occasion and it was a thrilling experience to hear a great writer practically forgive anyone for saying a bad word about him. He charmed the thousands gathered and left them feeling like a true son of the soil had returned to the fold. You can read about that here.

Jaipur was also the first time we deployed video interviews in a dedicated way and it was great to capture four British Asian writers on camera at the world’s largest free literary festival.

Farrukh Dhondy, the London-based writer and critic, was the inquisitor at the keynote session with Naipaul on the Saturday of the Festival. He spoke to us about a remarkable opening day session when Naipaul made a surprise visit to the stage as four very well-known writers discussed the legacy of his breakthrough novel, “A House for Mr Biswas” (1961).
Here’s our video interview with Dhondy.

There were also video interviews with Anita Anand, Kamila Shamsie, and Romesh Gunasekera.

Look out for our coverage on Jaipur Literature Festival 2016, later next month!

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FILM

For the first time, we also had a video team in Cannes.

While we’ve covered the festival before in 2014 – getting interviews with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Sonam Kapoor was a massive step forward and has seen our tube channel grow considerably.

Presenter Attika Choudhary and cameraman/editor Michael Tsim worked tirelessly (no parties for them!) to secure interviews and get as much as they could in the can in the five days we were there.

As well as the above interviews, there were onscreen chats with India indie icon Nandita Das and emerging director Gurvinder Singh, whose Punjabi language film, “Chauthi Koot” was the first to grace on an official Cannes list. It screened in the highly influential Un Certain Regard slate. Also appearing in that section was “Masaan”, which went onto collect two awards. Its later screening towards the end of the fest meant we missed it. We also were not able to cover the glory of “Dheepan”, which won the top Palme d’Or award.

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Made with Sri Lankan actors with very little screen experience, director Jacques Audiard produced an emotionally engaging, and intense tale of two refugees adapting and surviving on a tough, deprived outer Parisian estate. London also makes a fleeting and controversial appearance. It was also very prescient as the Syrian refugee situation deepened and brought tales of tragedy and desperation right into European living rooms, like never before.

We got a chance to speak to the stars of “Dheepan“, Anthonythasan Jesuthasan and Kalieaswari Srinivasan when they were in London for the UK premiere at the London Film Festival. That interview is here.

In the New Year when the film is released in the UK, we will publish our interview with director Audiard. In it he talks about the way the French have handled the integration, immigration and asylum for refugees. It is provocative and insightful and following the horrific events in Paris in November – just a month later – revealing and instructive.

Elsewhere, it was good to see a British Asian film hit the big screen.

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Amar, Akbar and Tony” was a likeable slice of British Asian life and told a story that needs more telling – the non-white experience of growing up, belonging or not, and trying to negotiate all life’s challenges and maintain a sense of identity and pride in your roots. Well done for Atul Malhotra and his team (including music producer Rishi Rich) for getting it made and distributed.

The films at this year’s London Indian Film Festival were all of a generally decent standard. The audience prize went to a Goa jazz-inspired musical, “Nachom-ia Kumpasar” (‘Let’s Dance to the Rhythm’).

Our highlight was not just the British Film Institute (BFI) masterclass devoted to Tamil and Bollywood film directing icon, Mani Ratnam, but we got the chance to interview him and star Manisha Koirala when they attended a special charity event commemorating the 20th anniversary of “Bombay” at the Grange Hotel St Paul’s. The video from that evening is here. Our LIFF news wrap and reviews are here.

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From the Bollywood content, there are four films that stick out.

Firstly and in May, was the Amitabh Bachchan, Deepika Padukone and Irrfan Khan film, “Piku”.

Khan spoke to us from India about the film directed by Shoojit Sircar and his personal reasons for doing it.

It is not like anything else in Bollywood – there is no music and there is a healthy dose of realism and good parts of it are comic, if a little gross at times. The bowel jokes do go on just a little. However, Padukone is terrific and both Khan and Bachchan provide mirthful entertainment as genuine sparring partners. All in all, it’s a sign of more intelligent, mature, well-rounded Bollywood. And Khan provides some contextual analysis.

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Later in the year, the “Dilwale” bandwagon rolled into town.

There’s always a palpable sense of excitement when Shah Rukh Khan, India’s biggest film star, comes to London to promote a film. That he was in tow with no1 screen partner Kajol only heightened the escalating frisson among the Asian media.

A lively press conference with younger stars Varun Dhawan and Kriti Sanon and SRK and Kajol as the main act, didn’t disappoint. Read about it here.

We interviewed Kajol and discovered that her actor husband Ajay Devgan’s sense of romance helped her to make ‘Dilwale’ – more literally than you think.

Dilwale” is not a remake of the 1995 classic that first – and now immortally – paired SRK and Kajol together.

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jeyange” was the subject of a special screening at the BFI.

It was chosen as part of the BFI’s Love Season, which was celebrating films of a romantic disposition. Mani Ratnam’s “Bombay”, “Dil Se” and “O Kadhal Kanmani” also featured. Reviews coming.

To top it all – SRK and Kajol, as ‘Raj’ and ‘Simran’ were voted no1 screen couple of all time in a BFI online poll. So, many generations to come will continue to be inculcated into the cult that is DDLJ (as it is popularly known) and you can always see it at one Mumbai theatre where it has now be screened more than 1,000 times.

On the heels of “Dilwale” and almost clamouring for as much attention was Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s epic “Bajirao Mastani”.

It’s a beautiful film, probably showcasing a Bollywood that has not yet properly exploited the historical riches under its feet.

Some would argue the most expensive and one of the most successful films ever made in India has already done the country’s more ancient history proud on the big screen.

Bahubali” hit these shores and stunned everyone who went to see it.

A Telugu language film in its original, the historical epic did good business both in India and abroad, crossing the 100 Crore (£10m) mark – a sign of a hit in India.

It did so without any stars and by word of mouth and the film will help open up more South Indian films to wider markets in India and further afield.

BOOKS

WHILE the Jaipur Literature Festival was especially thrilling for us to cover, there were other moments of inspiration on the books front.

Among the earliest and always good value in itself is the Asia House Festival of Literature

The culture and business institute, this year, had a special focus on women and looked at how they were changing traditional societies in both India and China.

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In a pre-festival talk, novelist Anuradha Roy, launched her latest book, “Sleeping on Jupiter”.
Its unsettling and taboo-busting themes were powerful reminders that women’s stories are often supressed by those who hold power. The significance, quiet challenge and power of “Sleeping on Jupiter” garnered two impressive award nominations. The novel appeared on both the Man Booker and DSC South Asian Literature longlists.

A little after the festival, Asia House supported Amitav Ghosh’s launch of his latest work, “Flood of Fire”.
The Indian author was in expansive mood and spoke with great wisdom and clarity on several issues of global significance and was jovial enough to entertain a debate about his cooking prowess and his writing habits. It’s here

Perhaps one of the most significant book events of the year was the launch of Meera Syal’s novel, “House of Hidden Mothers”. Tackling the surrogate mother trade in India, our resident Syal expert, Tasha Mathur, was hugely impressed, saying the novel touched on many themes women would instantly recognise and respond to, and the wait of 16 years since Syal’s last novel, was well worth it. Her interview with Syal is here.
We were able to catch up with novelist Romesh Gunasekera at the Asian Achievers Award where he picked up the Arts, Media and Culture award for “Noontide Toll”, which was nominated for the DSC South Asian Literature Prize earlier in the year.

Lucy Beresford talked to us about her novel, a psychological potboiler, “Invisible Threads” which explores the murky world of sex trafficking as seen through the eyes of a Sara, a British psychotherapist who travels to India to investigate the death of her soldier husband, based in Afghanistan. His strange, unexplained and unlikely death in India set her on a trail.

THEATRE

THE CURTAIN on our theatre coverage in 2015 was raised with “Dara” at the National Theatre.

Showing not long after the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, its themes, essentially about two interpretations of Islam were especially topical.

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The play vividly illustrates an Islam that is highly conservative and pious and could be a staging post to extremism, while the other shows Islam as an open and curious faith, opposed to fundamentalist positions.

About the battle for men’s minds and hearts – the play, by Pakistani writer Shahid Nadeem, and adapted for the National Theatre by Tanya Ronda, was also a deep, moving and insightful study of power. Our interview with Nadeem and Ronda are here.

Our review http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/dara-review-scintillating-play-ideas-violent-family-divisions/

Suman Bhuchar was impressed by “Multitudes” , a play that looked at how Muslims were choosing diverging paths in modern Britain and that a singular narrative about disaffection and disillusion are far too simplistic.

Tara Arts and Black Theatre Live produced an innovative take on a Shakespeare classic, with three Hirjas (drag queens) getting in on the pot-stirring in Indian style “Macbeth“.
There was a chance to see Indira Varma in the GB Shaw classic “Man and Superman” at the National. She held her own with the much praised Ralph Fiennes stealing the show.

Chayya Syal found much to admire in “No Guts, No Glory”, a play about three young Asian Muslim girls finding their voice and their muscle in a bid to be heard and not ignored. The play featured at the Southbank Centre’s Women of the World Festival in March .

The Alchemy Festival (see row of stories in theatre section) had a rich and varied programme and there was a welcome return it it, for the hard-hitting and unforgettable “Nirbhaya” which documents the rape of the young Delhi medical student who became such a rallying point for people everywhere campaigning against violence and the repression of women and girls. Priya Shah provided a personal take on the play against the background of her own experience of working in India.

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Gurinder Chadha’s film, “Bend It Like Beckham” got the musical treatment and what a huge success that has been.
Extended now to February, it’s proved that a home-grown Indian/Punjabi inspired story with an Asian girl at the heart of it, can and does, work in the West End. Chadha told us what had inspired her.

It’s made a star too of Natalie Dew, who plays Jess and she told us what impact the role has had on her.

There was our customary spotlight on several performers taking new work to the Edinburgh Fringe.

Fun and laughter came to the fore in the form of “A Brimful of Asha”, about that perennial fave, the arranged marriage and “Come In! Sit Down”, a revue type show with the Muslim-Jewish theatre troupe, Muju conceiving and executing.
Both were staged at the Tricycle Theatre where Indhu Rubasingham is the artistic director. Her work on the best play, “The F*****r with the hat’ won her a nomination for a prestigious Evening Standard Theatre Award.

As winter set in, darker themes surfaced. That was the case with “The Merchant of Vembley” an imaginative recasting of Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” in contemporary northwest London. Writer Shishir Kurup and director Ajay Chowdhury laid bare Hindu-Muslim tensions, but also provided a powerful commentary on unity and brotherhood in the face of common enemies – ignorance and prejudice. Lead actor Emilio Doorgasingh was a tour de force as embattled ‘Sharuk’ (Shylock).

Meera Syal’s first book “Anita and Me” was turned into a period drama with the help of award winning playwright, Tanika Gupta. First premiered at Birmingham Rep, Khakan Qureshi found himself visiting memory lane

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Tasha Mathur quizzed both Gupta and director Roxanna Gilbert about how they went about adapting a much loved book.

Political theatre was quite apparent with the visit of India’s prime minister Narendra Modi. The newly elected (this May) leader of a majority Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government was at the real Wembley and in front of 60,000 supporters heralding a new chapter in UK-India relations.

Three hacks took to the stage to recount their adventures in journalism. A veritable trio, Shekhar Bhatia, Mihir Bose and Vivek Chaudhary, entertained, amused and occasionally shocked us in “No Cowboys, only Indians”.

Jules Verne’s classic “Around the World in 80 Days” is the subject of a lively and highly entertaining stage version on the classic tale. Given some seasonal twists too, it is heartily part of the Christmas theatre landscape. It also stars Shanaya Rafaat who answered a travel-themed Q&A and the play itself was enthusiastically ‘adopted’ by us for our xmas competition. The results and the background are here.

As befits the month, Suman Bhuchar explored the world of panto as seen through the production of “Robin Hood” at the Theatre Royal Stratford East and discussed diversity and an actor’s approach with Richard Sumitro and the panto scene at large with panto expert, Simon Sladen.

Thanks also to all our contributors in these sections: Suman Bhuchar, Tasha Mathur, Chayya Syal, Attika Choudhary, Michael Tsim and Priya Shah.

Sailesh Ram, editor of www.asianculturevulture.com

Coming: Our year review in Music/Dance, TV and Art.

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture