New York Indian Film Festival 2012

May 5 - 10, 2014

Anurag Kashyap's Ugly screens in New York Indian Film Festival
May 6, 2014

On Monday night in New York, Hollywood's shiniest stars were walking on the red carpet that led up to the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art's annual Costume Institute gala.

Far away from that Fifth Avenue location, at the Skirball Cultural Centre in the Village, there was a very different red carpet laid out for a very different gala. And as weird and wonderful as the gowns of people like Charlize Theron and Naomi Watts may have been, for fans of Bollywood and Indian cinema, Skirball Centre had something the Met didn't: Anurag Kashyap and Ugly, the opening film at this year's New York Indian Film Festival.


This is the 14th year for NYIFF, presented by Aroon Shivdasani and her organisation Indo-American Arts Council. She started the festival in 2001, after having energetically promoted South Asian cultural events in New York since the 1990s. NYIFF had one of its biggest coups early on, when it screened Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding (2001) before its worldwide release. Since then, the festival has seen a variety of Indian celebrities showing up at its parties, from Salman Rushdie to Rishi Kapoor.

While Shivdasani remains enthusiastic about South Asian art and literature — IAAC organised the recent book launch of Ramachandra Guha's Gandhi Before India in New York — she's also keenly aware that Indian films can reel in desi audiences the way little else can. Though Shivdasani is more than happy to have Bollywood celebrities at her party, NYIFF doesn't show the blockbusters that make the big bucks in Bollywood. Both she and festival director Aseem Chhabra see NYIFF as a platform for 'interesting' Indian cinema and to that end, Chhabra has put together varied set of films for NYIFF this year.

There's a retrospective of British filmmaker Gurinder Chadha's films that gives festival-goers a chance to revisit the classic Bhaji on the Beach. There will also be screenings of Chadha's sharply-observed documentary shorts, which are less well-known.

The National Award-winning Fandry and the Pakistani comedy, Zinda Bhaag are among the critically well-received films being shown at NYIFF. The festival will also see the premiere of The Last Poem by Suman Mukhopadhyay, which is bound to draw in the elderly Bengali diaspora since it's an adaptation of a classic novel by Rabindranath Tagore.The film stars Konkona Sen Sharma and Rahul Bose.

Chhabra has also included a few documentaries in the mix. The Unseen Sequence, by Sumantra Ghoshal, looks at legendary Bharatanatyam dancer Malavika Sarukkai's artistry. Jaideep Verma's I Am Offended talks about Indian stand-up comedians with the hope of convincing audiences that comedy is not all haha heehee. There's also Karan Bali's An American in Madras, which is about an American-born filmmaker named Ellis R. Dungan who came to India for a holiday and stayed on to become one of Tamil cinema's leading filmmakers.

However, for many, the main attraction of this year's NYIFF is its opening film, Kashyap's Ugly. Ugly was shown at Cannes Film Festival last year and reportedly received a standing ovation. It was due to release last year, but faced a roadblock when Kashyap refused to have an anti-smoking message pop up on screen for the final, climactic shot of the film.

The director has filed a complaint against the Censor Board, arguing the message isn't necessary because the actor is seen holding an unlit cigarette and not smoking it. His real objection is that the notification distracts the audience from a powerful moment in the film.

Ugly's release is now dependant upon the ruling, which is expected some time this month. Kashyap, who came to New York after wrapping up the shooting for Bombay Velvet, bemoaned that the Indian government doesn't see cinema as art and so ignores the aesthetics involved in making a film. "In the eyes of the government, we are people doing nautanki," said Kashyap. "Whatever work we do, it's not taken seriously by anyone. It's a joke. So it's a long fight."


New York Indian Film Festival
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