“I never thought dancing and singing actors got awards!!” – Bollywood star Rishi Kapoor looked truly happy, bounding onto the stage at the Asia Society, on New York’s Park Avenue, to accept his award for Best Actor at the closing ceremony of the New York Indian Film Festival on Sunday, May 8th. For the eleven years of its existence, the Indo-American Arts Council’s annual film festival has brought New York’s culturally sophisticated South Asian audience and artists, both US-based and India-based, together for an exceptional four-day weekend of screenings, conversations, panel discussions, and parties, as well as providing an extremely rare opportunity for the larger New York community to see movies and meet filmmakers from the widest range of South Asian industries.
This year’s enthusiastic capacity closing-night audience enjoyed not only the awards ceremony but also a tribute to India’s Nobel Prize honoree Rabindranath Tagore in honor of the 150th anniversary of his birth. The closing event featured a premier screening of Noukadubi [Shipwreck], Rituparno Ghosh’s stunning Bengali film based on a Tagore novel – itself inspired by the stories of shipwrecks and mixed-up identities in some of Shakespeare’s plays. The movie was introduced and discussed by Richard Allen, Professor of Cinema Studies at New York University, and Bengali actress and director Aparna Sen, who acted in Gungat, a very different Bengali film adaptation of the same story, many years ago, and shared some reflections on Noukadubi as a profound meditation on the question of what a marriage really is.
Then it was on to the awards ceremony and amping up the festivity considerably, Rishi’s Best Actor award was presented to him by Neetu Singh, who starred with her husband for the first time in thirty years in the Disney-backed independent Hindi family comedy Do Dooni Chaar, in its United States premiere screening and the festival’s opening film,.
The ebullient mood of the Kapoors was definitely matched by their spirited reception from an especially glamorous-looking, mostly-South-Asian audience, with women guests taking the opportunity to bring out luxe saris and up-to-date stylish churidar-kameez on a lovely spring night to create an evening of India-in-Manhattan at the awards event and the celebration and reception to follow.
An award from the NYIFF carries real prestige, and the festival awards ceremony generates real suspense. The New York Indian Film Festival is New York’s oldest Indian Film Festival, and only a small number of films submitted win a screening. As Indo-American Arts Council Executive Director Aroon Shivdasani explained last week, festival prize-winners are selected by a jury of thirteen film professionals, and their votes are audited by KPMG LLP, the American audit, tax, and advisory services firm. No one knows who is going to win, not even the festival staff or jury, until the moment when envelopes are opened by the presenters onstage.
The films discovered and chosen for screening by Festival Director Aseem Chhabra, the well-known South Asian entertainment journalist, and his selection committee, are all by and/or about South Asians, this year including filmmakers from the US, Britain, Bangladesh, and Pakistan as well as Mumbai, Bengal, and other film industries of India. 150 films were submitted for consideration this year for the four-day program, which has changed its name and shifted to a new place on the city’s cultural calendar, taking place for the first time this year in the spring instead of the fall.
Awards presented at this year’s festival were as follows:
Best Feature Film: Sthaniya Sambaad, (Bengali), directed by Arjun Gourisaria and Moinak Biswas, who was there to accept the award from Salman Rushdie, a long-time festival community member and supporter.
Best Director: Aparna Sen, for Iti Mrinalini (Bengali). Mira Nair, another member of New York’s Indian creative community who has been present at the festival since its first days presented the award to the director. (An exciting moment for the audience, one great and talented Indian woman director presenting an honor to another.)
Best Actor: Rishi Kapoor for Do Dooni Chaar, (Hindi) enthusiastically presented by Neetu Singh and received that way with some cheers as well.
Best Actress: Konkana Sen Sharma for Iti Mrinalini (Bengali). The film was the festival’s Centerpiece selection. Presented by Rishi Kapoor and accepted on behalf of Konkana by her mother, Aparna Sen, who said that after Konkana’s new little baby, this award would be the next thing to make Konkana happiest.
Best Screenplay: Mohan Raghavan for T.D. Dasan Std, VI B (Malayalam). This award was presented by Aparna Sen
Best Documentary: Bhopali (English) – Max Carlson.
Best Short Film: Just That Sort of a Day (English) – Abhay Kumar. Madhur Jaffrey, who has been a strong and beautiful presence in the Festival since its first year presented this award.
Have a look at some exclusive shots of the event!
Aroon Shivdasani, Indo-American Arts Council Executive Director, and Mira Nair, announcing the award to Aparna Sen for Best Director
Aparna Sen, winner of the festival award for Best Director for Iti Mrinalini
Aparna Sen receives her award for Best Director from Mira Nair (Photo credit: Virginia Kelley)
Neetu SIngh has just presented the festival award to Rishi Kapoor for Best Actor (Photo credit: Virginia Kelley)
Salman Rushdie presents the award for Best Feature Film to Moinak Biswas for Sthaniya Sambaad
Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh at the Asia Society, Park Avenue, New York City. Rishi is carrying his award for Best Actor for Do Dooni Chaar.
Photo credit: MichaelToolan.com