There’s always a sense of accomplishment when something which began as a challenging venture turns into an annual staple and Cary Sawhney, the executive and programming director for the London Indian Film Festival (LIFF), should be proud of what LIFF has blossomed into – the UK and Europe’s largest South Asian film festival.
Now in its ninth year, LIFF has certainly not rested on its laurels and has another packed programme of eye-opening cinema, which now not only includes showings in London and Birmingham but has also added Manchester for the first time. If you only thought India cinema was about Bollywood then you absolutely have to see one of the films on offer this year. It won’t matter which because they will all change your perception of Asian cinema.
If the line-up looks a little daunting then here’s a helpful guide from BollySpice to which films might be good to put at the top of your list, depending on what kind of film you’re in the mood for. Most of the films mentioned here have a t least one showing where the director, sometimes along with cast and crew, will have a question and answers session. This gives audiences the perfect opportunity to delve deeper into the movie. So it’s well worth chasing one of these showings down.
Powerful social issues
LIFF has never been shy about tackling tough subject matter and enlightening its audiences. So it’s not surprising that the festival kicks off with Love Sonia directed by Tabrez Noorani, which is inspired by true events and tells the story of a young Indian village girl whose life changes irrevocably when she is entrapped in the global sex trade while trying to save her beloved sister Preeti. Without realising the size of the sex-trafficking army, she struggles to free herself from small-time pimps. Her journey takes her to three continents as she determinedly fights not to become just another of the 800,000 woman and children who are victims of the international sex trade industry every year.
Hva Vil Folk Si (What will people say)
Love is always an emotional battle ground and Hva Vil Folk Si, directed by Iram Haq, is the award-winning tale of a young Pakistani teenager, Nisha, whose happy double-life in Norway is torn apart when her father discovers her with her white Norwegian boyfriend. The outrage and pressure from the community lead to him sending her away to Pakistan to “learn how to behave properly”. Trapped in a land she doesn’t know, with a hostile extended family who see her as a shameful westerner, Nisha is forced to make hard choices.
LIFF has also showcased some powerful documentaries over the years and this year is no exception. Bengal Shadows brings to light a lesser-known episode of the Second World War – the 1943 famine, during which time several million people starved to death in Bengal. Looking back from today’s perspective, numerous historians, researchers and writers, from both India and Britain, blame the British Empire for the famine that occurred whilst the subcontinent was under its rule. This film gives a voice to historians, researchers, and most movingly some of the survivors who were there to witness those tragic events. It’s hard not to be affected by the enormity of the catastrophe.
Comedy tackling difficult topics
If you prefer your enlightenment to have a lighter tone then try one of these movies. Comedy is often the best way to handle tough situations and life is often full of humour at what appears to be difficult or inappropriate circumstances.
The festival ends in London and Birmingham with Venus an award-winning, laugh-out-loud comedy about alternative family values, self empowerment and love. The movie regales us with the tale of Sid, a Montreal Punjabi , who after years of struggling with his identity decides to have a sex change. Apart from his mother’s initial upset, things seem to go well, that is until a 14-year-old boy turns up and insists that Sid is his long lost father from a teenage affair. The film follows Sid as his world spirals out of control, trying to deal with this teenager, who thinks having a transgender dad is “cool”, whilst also keeping his mother from exploding.
Eaten by Lions
If you’re looking for something UK-based then check out Eaten by Lions. It’s a British comedy about two half-brothers who are brought up by their grandma, after their parents are accidentally killed by lions in a safari park. Set in Bradford, the story then follows the aftermath of their gran’s sudden death which leaves the teenagers looking for family to take them in. Their different dad’s means that their lives take very different turns. Pete, of English parentage, gets foisted on his controlling English aunty. Omar, the other brother, heads to the fabled holiday resort of Blackpool in search of his real Asian dad. However, the brothers miss each other terribly and Pete runs away to join Omar, just as the chaos breaks loose thanks to Omar’s new orthodox Muslim family. A culture-clash comedy that will be right up your street.
Are you looking for something a bit more eye-opening? Then how about one of these three UK premiers.
Firstly there is Mehsampur which tells of a quirky filmmaker who arrives in Punjab to make a movie about the popular folk-singing duo Amar Singh Chamkila and Amarjot Kaur, who were assassinated in the village of Mehsampur in 1988. On his journey, Devrath rescues a wannabe actress from lechers and finds a survivor of the afore-mentioned assassination. They then go on a breathtaking journey to Mehsampur which culminates in an explosive finale. This is a bold and sometimes psychedelic film which explores narrative structures in a way Indian cinema has never seen before.
My Son is Gay
In this day and age you’d sometimes be forgiven for thinking that the world is enlightened and social issues such as being gay would no longer be the problem that they once were. My Son is Gay vividly tells the story of Varun, a happy-go-lucky, handsome young man who is the apple of his mother Lakshmi’s eye. He mistakenly believes that she will stand by him, no matter what, not realising that parents still have taboos that society in general may now appear to accept. When his mother discovers that Varun is gay, she is shocked and vows that it is something she will never accept. Undeterred, he moves on with his life and vows to find love, only for his mother to discover that she wants to seek out her lost son, despite her feelings and beliefs. This is a poignant tale of a multilayered mother-son relationship, which manages to tackle the difficult and often challenging themes of tolerance and acceptance in a sensitive manner.
Doob (No bed of roses)
What is life all about? Successful movie director Javed Hasan certainly doesn’t seem to have the answer as he finds himself in a midlife crisis, questioning whether his marriage and career have demanded too much from him. Doob (No bed of roses), directed by Mostofa Sarwar, follows Javed as he embarks on a tryst with Nitu, his daughter’s childhood friend. The situation blows out of proportion and turns into a national scandal, tearing his family apart. Javed and Nitu marry, but it’s no bed of roses for the couple as they receive the wrath of judgmental Bangladeshi society. It’s an award-winning film having accolades from both the Moscow and Shanghai film festivals.
Feel good premiers
LIFF is also a gold mine of films that you won’t have had the chance to see before. So if you’d like an exclusive chance to re-affirm your faith in the human spirit then check out one of these feel good premiers.
T for Taj Mahal
Treat yourself to the world’s first showing of T for Taj Mahal, an inspirational glimpse into the world of an illiterate villager who runs a roadside eatery near the main road to the world famous Taj Mahal. His caring attitude leaves him concerned that another generation of villagers will also grow up without an education, leading to them being taken advantage of and ridiculed much like he has been. His solution is to offer tourists the option to either pay their bill or to teach the local youngsters instead. The idea
is initially a hit, that is until a big company muscles in. The film benefits from including Indian actors of international fame, including Ali Faulkner (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn) and Pitobash (Million Dollar Arm).
A heart-warming European premier that’s based on a true story comes in the form of Uma, which recounts how a young girl who lives with her father in Switzerland is diagnosed with a potentially terminal disease. Her dream is to participate in the Durga Puja, the annual joyous celebrations which take place in October. The problem is that she might not survive long enough to go. In the face of that, her father together with the help of an award-winning filmmaker and the entire city of Kolkata, undertakes to recreate the festival in the summer as a special treat for his beloved daughter. It’s a life-affirming, emotional tale that is a celebration of the human spirit.
Girls rock and no-one should stand in their way! So says Village Rockstars, a movie that’s won multiple international awards and is appearing here in its English premier. Join 10-year-old Dhunu and her single mother who live in a remote, flood-prone Assamese village. Dhunu is not a shy, submissive girl and with a vibrant spirit and imagination she dreams of setting up her own rock band. Having fashioned a make-believe guitar out of expanded polystyrene, she jams with the boys in the rice fields. The local women don’t approve of this tomboy behaviour and try to foil Dhunu’s attempts to buy a real guitar, until her mother steps in to help.
Film Festival Dates:
London: 21 June – 29 June
Manchester: 29 June – 1 July
Birmingham: 22 June – 1 July