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Year in review: Film 2014

Year in review: Film 2014

December 30 2014

It’s that time of year to look at back at just some of the amazing highlights of our film coverage…

IF YOU’RE a big fan of Bollywood, was “PK”, the Aamir Khan starrer, as they like to say in those parts, worth the wait?

We think not, but then conventional Bollywood has never quite done it for us.

Despite the intense secrecy of the plot and the storyline, and the slightly surreal remote press conference given by Khan in Mumbai and attended by regular www.asianculturevulture.com contributor Suman Bhuchar in London (http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/bollywood-star-aamir-khan-plays-cool-charismatic-pk-screen/) it couldn’t quite match the glitz or glamour of another Bollywood jamboree.

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Our story and gallery on the press conference for 'Happy New Year' in London, see text for links

Not one star, but four – Shah Rukh Khan/SRK (the biggest of them all), Deepika Padukone (A-list and rising), Abhishek Bachchan (junior, only in a manner of speaking) and Farah Khan (choreographer extraordinaire turned director), descended on London for a press conference to promote “Happy New Year” (http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/big-fat-bollywood-press-happy-new-year/)

Supported and flanked on the day by Boman Irani, Sonu Sood and newcomer Vivaan Shah (son of famous actor Naseeruddin), it started predictably late, but was an exercise in professionalism otherwise – with SRK charming even the sceptics. Pity the film, by most accounts, was a pile of masala piled on further masala. In English then, a noun consisting of just four letters was possibly more apt.

Still India liked it, and the diaspora diehards were satisfied. It grossed over Rs200 Crores (roughly £200m), and we shouldn’t be too hard on it – it notched up 97 tweets in a phenomenally short space of time.

We tend not to cover the run of the mill Bollywood releases here in the UK or ones from South India – it’s something that might change over time.

Non-Bollywood

Any year review cannot fail to mention the staggering success of “The Lunchbox” – much of our coverage took place in 2013, when it was screened at the Cannes Film Festival in the director’s fortnight section and stars Nimrat Kaur (just seen on screens here in the US TV hit, “Homeland”) and the ever watchable Irrfan Khan were on the Cote D’Azur promoting it (http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/irrfan-khan-a-romantic-at-heart/) , (http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/the-lunchbox-film-lff-competition-and-nimrat-kaur/). It screened in the UK for the first time at the London Film Festival 2013 but did not go on general release in the UK until April 2014. The review is here http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/lunchbox-serves-sweet-treat/

As always, the London Indian Film Festival (LIFF), its South Asian inspired capital counterpart put on a good show for 2014.

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Our gallery from the glittering opening night of the London Indian Film Festival 2014 featuring Gillian Anderson and the film. 'Sold'

This site was a sponsor of LIFF and one of our own biggest highlights was the European premiere and screening of the US indie film, “Hank and Asha” which had been a firm fest favourite around North America in the proceeding months.

Here’s the little film we made about that wonderful evening in July, click on the link below the picture to see the video… (http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/hank-asha-vip-reception-liff-2014-video/)

Hollywood came to LIFF, in the form of TV “X-Files”, “The Fall” and West End sensation Gillian Anderson appearing for the Gala opening film, “Sold”. She has a small part in the hard-hitting but almost surprisingly watchable film on child trafficking and prostitution from Nepal to India. It’s likely to hit UK screens in 2015.

The press around Anderson was strictly controlled, but we did manage to get some great pictures, not just of her, but some of the other celebrities too attending the glittering premiere at Cineworld in The Haymarket. Look here http://asianculturevulture.com/?gallery=london-indian-film-festival-gala-opening-2014-pictures-special

Our wrap story on the fest is here http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/london-indian-film-festival-2014-box/

Roundabout the same time “Million Dollar Arm” actually premiered in London as the as mid-LIFF gala film.

Producer and ex-pro baseball player Mark Ciardi and Madhur Mittal (a star from “Slumdog Millionaire”) were both in London to talk about the unlikely, but absolutely true tale of how two Indians who had barely heard of baseball before, tried their hand professionally at the game in the US.

The pair appeared on screen to talk about the challenges of shooting on location near the Taj Mahal in Agra and what it was like to work alongside Jon Hamm (Mr “Mad Men” himself) in one of his first leading film screen roles. (http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/million-dollar-arm-talking-good-game/)

Almost on its heels was the release of “Hundred Foot Journey”, which had the producing input of Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, no less. Based on a fictional tale of an Indian refugee family, who find solace in a French village in the South of the country, they build an Indian restaurant to survive. But just a 100 feet down the road is the imperious French eaterie run by Madame Mallory (Dame Helen Mirren).

Her opponent is Om Puri as the patriarch of the Indian eaterie. In the publicity, Mirren said she loves Indian food but could not cook and Puri revealed that he cooked for the cast and crew on set (http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/helen-mirren-loves-indian-food-cook/). The film itself is fun, if a little sentimental, but the two young, good-looking leads, Manish Dayal (Hasan) and Charlotte Le Bon (Maguerite) keep things fresh and just a tad spicy. There’s also an interview with another easy on the eye young British star in the film, Farzana Dua Elahe http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/farzana-dua-elahes-100ft-journey/
Expect to see more of all of them in 2015…

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Oprah Winfrey talks about her involvement in The Hundred Foot Journey

As the heat faded from these two Hollywood style productions, attention moved back to India and one of its most daring and innovative directors of late.

Vishal Bhardwaj had begun his career as a musician and composer but his first feature loosely based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth, called “Maqbool” enjoyed critical acclaim. He went onto make another celebrated Hindi version of Shakespeare. This time it was “Othello” serving as the template for “Omkara”, with Bollywood icon Saif Ali Khan playing the lead role and the action reprised to the rural badlands of Uttar Pradesh.

In 2014, it was the turn of “Hamlet” to go through the Bhardwaj ringer. Out came a mesmeric performance from Bollywood heartthrob Shahid Kapoor as the Hamlet figure. “Haider” titled after the central character Kapoor played, threw up political controversy.

The setting for the film was the mid-1990s and Kashmir at the height of its troubles. Bhardwaj appeared to side with the Kashmiris (at least on a human level) and the perspective left him open to criticism from the right and much of the Indian establishment, which views anything other than tourism plugs for the region as being highly suspicious.

It’s powerful stuff and well worth a view, especially if you’re interested in the travails of Kashmir, and how a once idyllic place turned into a fierce, bloodied battlefield. It may still be a little Bollywoodish around its edges, but Bhardwaj is another director who deserves a bigger and better stage. The review and some of the heat it generated is here (http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/haider-brave-not-squeamish/)
It was released just before the London Film Festival (LFF) and actually might have fitted well into it.

As is customary, there were half a dozen or so films of interest to us at LFF.

Dukhtar”, “Labour of Love”, “Court”, and “Margarita With A Straw” and “The Strange Familiar” showed that sub-continental filmmaking is very much in rude health. The reviews are here (http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/london-film-festival-2014-reviews-catch-me-daddy-court-dukhtar-labour-love-margarita-straw-two-dosas/)

Another film that that caught the eye at the LFF was the British-made “Catch Me Daddy”, about an Asian teenage girl who elopes with her white boyfriend much to the consternation of her traditional Pakistani origin family. Sameena Jabeen Ahmed walked away with the very prestigious BFI LFF newcomer award for her portrayal of the tortured young woman trying to loosen the shackles of an uncompromising kith and kin. It should screen in the UK next year. (http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/sameena-jabeen-ahmed-named-best-newcomer-bfi-london-film-festival-2014/)

Of course when it comes to festivals, Cannes stands out on its own. While the main competition Palme d’or was seen as a strong one this year, with Turkish master Nuri Bilge Ceylan taking the top accolade, there were a lot of good films – without on a personal level – there being anything that took the breath away. The reviews of the main films are in the links with this (http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/cannes-palme-2014-turkish-film-family-scoops-prize/)

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The ACV Cannes experience 2014

Among the paltry Indian offerings, was “Titli”, which appeared in the Un Certain Regard section, only one down effectively from the Palme. A directorial debut for screenwriter Kanu Behl, who wrote the cult hit “Love Sex aur Dhoka/LSD”), “Titli” was a sign that Indian films can have impact without the typical Bollywood tropes. Interestingly, it is expected to get a UK theatre release and though it is nothing like “The Lunchbox” in subject or style, it is a decent film that can sit happily on any world cinema shelf. About its premiere in Cannes http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/cannes-2014-news-titli-unveiled-cheers/

Earlier in the year at the Asia House Pan-Asian Film Festival, two very brave films deserved bigger audiences than they got when they were eventually released.

Honour” was a well-produced thriller type film plotted around a young Asian woman who plans to elope with her (Asian) boyfriend but her family are dead against any relationship they have not formally sanctioned. It certainly had heart and passion and Paddy Considine was a brooding and captivating presence, but Shan Khan’s first outing as a director was too built around a making a thriller and not enough around characters that were actually interesting complex and watchable.

In a similar vein and released in the US and India, but not here, was first time feature director Ravi Kumar’s “Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain”. It wasn’t a grimfest and told a decent story with US veteran star Martin Sheen giving character and depth to the late and obviously villainous Warren Anderson, the CEO of Union Carbide, the original firm behind the chemical disaster. Kumar showed that Anderson wasn’t always the ogre he became. About both films http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/brave-films-wheres-audience/ There were interviews with both directors, Shan Khan (http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/honour-thy-women-clash-wills/) and Ravi Kumar (http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/critical-receptions-bhopal-prayer-rain/)

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There were a host of Indian personalities at the Zurich Film Festival this year and Ashanti Omkar and Akin Aworan were there to document it

There were also stories around the first ever British Asian Film Festival organised by Rifco Arts and based in Watford Palace in the early part of the year. Gurinder Chadha, director of “Bend it Like Beckham” and iconic actor Meera Syal were among the contributors. Audiences also got a glimpse of a new feature, “Amar, Akbar and Tony”, which is set to release in Spring 2015 in the UK. (http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/gurinder-chadha-gets-ready-shoot-score-laugh/)

Later in the year and just before LIFF, was the London Asian Film Festival. Its opening movie was also about child prostitution in India, “Lakshmi“. Director Nagesh Kukunoor spoke to us about it (http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/indian-films-dont-portray-reality-women-says-filmaker-kukunoor/)

There was also a review from the Berlinale of “Highway” a Bollywood crossover movie with director Imtiaz Ali delivering another offside and underside tale (http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/bollywoods-changing-directions-highway/)

Ashanti Omkar, a near oracle of all things South Indian and Sri Lankan from an arts perspective and now the host of a Sunday afternoon radio show on the BBC Asian Network, wrote a piece for us from the Zurich Film Festival, which was celebrating 10 years. Photographer Akin Aworan provided some super portrait shots of Indian film personalities at the festival for us. The festival had a spotlight on India. See the collage to the right and the story is here ( http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/indian-film-personalities-zurich-film-festival/)

Our coverage of festivals took a slightly different turn this November, with London-based film producer Chris Hainsworth (also the business manager of LIFF) writing exclusively for us on Film Bazaar, the market/industry section of the International Film Festival of India (IFFI) and its version of Cannes. The final piece of his three personal takes on Film Bazaar is here ( http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/bazaar-reflections-new-wave-indian-cinema-risingfilm-bazaar/).

Actor/Writer Naresh Kumar reported on films not seen here yet, from the South Asian International Film Festival (SAIFF) held in New York. The last of his three reports is here with the links (http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/saiff-2014-curtain-comes-karachi-crunch/)

On a different note, radio and TV presenter and ever popular awards host Sunny Grewal, one half of the BBC London 94.9FM and BBC Midlands 95.6FM broadcasting partnership that is Sunny and Shay, became our regular film columnist in February.

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Sunny Grewal's hilarious film chat with Superwoman, see text for link to story

Picking out what to see just from the trailers every month and reviewing those same films the following month proved a popular addition to the site. He reviews mainly the big Hollywood releases. His first column was very successful in its Oscar predications (http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/sunny-grewal-on-the-oscars/) and his film chat with youtube comedy sensation Lilly Singh, aka Superwoman, continues to draw interest, even now. It is very funny, if we say so ourselves. (http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/sunny-grewal-lilly-singh-aka-superwoman-talk-movies-and-stuff/)

There’s a lot to look forward to in 2015 – stay tuned and join the film debate here.

A big thanks to all those who contributed to our film pages: Sunny Grewal, Suman Bhuchar, Naresh Kumar, Chris Hainsworth, Chitra Mogul, Ashanti Omkar, Khakan Qureshi (no story mentioned above but http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/pakistans-slumdog-millionairethesebirdswalk/), Sunil Chauhan, Chayya Syal (on the short http://asianculturevulture.com/portfolios/challenging-bollywood-stereotypes-beautiful-white-skin-film/) and Suranjit R. Shah.

And thank you for all your support and interest – you can always comment and engage with us here on our FACEBOOK page.

Have a great 2015!

Sailesh Ram, editor www.asianculturevulture.com

Top picture collage: Clockwise from top left – Mark Ciardi and Madhur Mittal talk on camera about ‘Million Dollar Arm; Julia Morrison, co-producer and editor of LIFF film, ‘Hank and Asha’ on video about our presentation at the ICA; Cannes Film Festival 2014; Nimrat Kaur in ‘The Lunchbox’; The London press conference for ‘Happy New Year’; Cary Sawhney, director LIFF with Gillian Anderson at the gala opening ceremony and screening of ‘Sold’; Sunny Grewal, BBC radio presenter and acv film columnist with youtube comedy sensation (four million subscribers and counting) Lilly Singh chew the cud about films for us

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture