New York Indian Film Festival 2012

May 5 - 10, 2014

New York, L.A. Host Indian Film Festivals
May 8, 2014 By Aarti Virani


A still from the film "Fandry," a Marathi tale about a love-struck Dalit boy,
which was screened at the New York Indian Film Festival in May, 2014.
Courtesy of the New York Indian Film Festival

A psychological thriller that exposes Mumbai's malicious underbelly served as the opener this week to the New York Indian Film Festival - America's oldest event showcasing independent South Asian cinema.

Directed by Anurag Kashyap, "Ugly," a film that starts with the disappearance of an aspiring actor's young daughter, embodied the gritty spirit of alternative Indian cinema.

"A film like 'Ugly' would never typically open in New York," said Aseem Chhabra, NYIFF's film festival director, who was referring to the steady supply of mainstream Bollywood movies that dominate Indian titles screened in Manhattan."What happened to 'Slumdog Millionaire' or 'The Lunchbox' doesn't happen to the average independent Indian film," he added.

The annual film festival, now in its 14th year, was founded by the Indo-American Arts Council, a New York-based nonprofit. This year, 34 films will be screened over six days. The line-up with no predictable song-and-dance Bollywood blockbusters spans the spectrum of Indie South Asian films from "Fandry," a Marathi tale about a love-struck Dalit boy and "Zinda Bhaag" (Pakistan's most recent submission to the Academy Awards), a film that traces three young men on the express-track to wealth in present-day Lahore, to "An American in Madras," a documentary that chronicles director Ellis R. Dungan's unlikely contributions to the Tamil film industry. He was known for his unique visual treatment and strong female characters he introduced to the south Indian film industry in the 1930s and 40s.

The 2014 festival also pays homage to British-Indian director, Gurinder Chadha, whose trailblazing feature "Bhaji on the Beach" turns twenty this year. The fest showcased a collection of her lesser-known BBC documentaries about British Asians made in the 1980s.

A judicious curator of films, Mr. Chhabra remembers three especially intense days of viewing a series of work-in-progress titles at the Film Bazaar in November 2013, a Goa-based market where movie rights are bought and sold. It's where he sourced a handful of NYIFF films, he said.

Six of the films selected to be part of this year's NYIFF line-up received India's celebrated National Film Award, in April – mere weeks after they were locked in for the Indian film festival in New York. "These wins are such reaffirmations that we [NYIFF] made the right call," Mr. Chhabra said. "There's a lot of good luck that flows through our programming; I'm just so glad we have this space."

Despite Hollywood's overriding presence, Indian films are also enjoying the spotlight across the country in California.

The Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles launched approximately two years after the New York fest.

"When I initially became involved with IFFLA and saw Anurag Kashyap's first film, 'Black Friday', I was moved," said Jasmine Jaisinghani, IFFLA's artistic director. "It was like being a part of something as it was bubbling over," she said, underscoring South Asia's burgeoning art-house cinema scene on the West Coast.

The California-based festival screened 33 Indian films last month, some of which are now part of the New York film festival.

Are dueling Indian film festivals held within weeks of each other saturating North America's appetite for South Asian cinema?

The relationship between the two festivals is decidedly more amicable than antagonistic, said Ms. Jaisinghani. She encourages directors to show their films in New York after bringing them to California. It's a friendly overlap that's reflected in this year's programming (the film "Fandry" is a part of both line-ups, for instance). "We have to share," Ms. Jaisinghani said.

For Mr. Chhabra, the feeling is mutual."We're all chasing after the depth that's coming out of South Asia,"; he said. "If anything, it's healthy competition."

The 14th annual New York Indian Film Festival will take place from May 5th to May 10th in Manhattan. For a full schedule of films, see here.


New York Indian Film Festival
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