MUMBAI, Sunday, November 06, 2005
Two stars for New York
By - Aseem Chhabra
Mira Nair and Deepa Mehta shine at the Indo-American Arts Council festival
It was a night of celebrities honouring other celebrities. The opening of the Fifth Annual Indo-American Arts Council (IAAC) Film Festival (earlier known as the Indian Diaspora Film Festival) saw two of the top Indian women filmmakers together at the Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theatre — Mira Nair, who lives in New York City and Deepa Mehta, who travelled south from Toronto to mark the US premiere of her film Water.
Nair was dressed in a bright red chooridar-kurta, while Mehta was in a white silk sari. The two looked fabulous next to each other, with wide smiles for the cameras.
This is the first time Mehta has shown a film at a film festival organised by IAAC (the organisation also promotes other arts, including dance and theatre). But as Aroon Shivdasani — the executive director of the organisation pointed out, IAAC was launched in 1998 with a free preview screening of Mehta’s Earth.
Recognising Mehta’s stature and that she has finally completed Water, Shivdasani picked two people to honour the Indian-Canadian director – leading American Indie filmmaker John Sayles and actor Rahul Khanna, who fortunately happened to be in New York City. Dressed in a black suit, Khanna came prepared with a typed speech. When Mehta looked surprised, he said: “Don’t worry, it is not long. Just the font size is big.”
Thanking Mehta for casting him in Earth, Khanna said: “Working for Deepa Mehta in my first film was like getting a Rolls Royce as my first car.” And Sayles, whose films include, Matewan, The Return of Secaucus 7 and Lone Star, said that he admired Mehta’s films since they “presented individuals who have elemental human needs that are in conflict with our culture.”
Now it was Mehta’s turn to thank the two. Standing on the stage between the two tall men, Mehta first looked up at Sayles. “John, I have always loved your films,” she said sounding very star struck. But then she quickly turned to Khanna and said: “Rahul, you know I will always love you.”
Nair is almost a regular at the IAAC film festival. She premiered Monsoon Wedding at the festival. Last year she was one of honourees at the festival. And this year Nair came to the festival to honour her colleague from her Delhi University days — the UN Under Secretary General for Communications, Shashi Tharoor.
Tharoor also has a long connection with the IAAC. A few years ago Shivdasani organised a dramatic reading of Tharoor’s novel “Riot” in New York. Among the guests who read parts of the book was Shabana Azmi, whose presence brought some 40 Hindutva members in protest against the actress and her politics. Thirty-one years ago, Nair played Cleopatra to Tharoor’s Anthony for a performance arranged by the Delhi University Shakespeare Society. Nair added that the play also featured another desi celebrity from New York – writer Amitav Ghosh. “We used to always speculate about Shashi’s perfect Oxford accent,” Nair said. “Did his mother fly over Oxford while she was expecting him?”
“I hope he will become the next Kofi Annan,” Nair said referring to speculations that Tharoor has good chances of becoming the UN Secretary General. Nair also recognised Tharoor’s fiction and non-fiction writing. “I hope he will continue writing the truth.”
Tharoor returned the compliment to Nair referring to their theatre days in New Delhi. “When Mira became a great director, I have to say, the world lost a great actor,” he said as Nair smiled.
The third honouree at the IAAC festival was actress Madhur Jaffrey. Shivdasani picked another New York actress, Sarita Choudhury to recognise Jaffrey on the stage.
“I was crying throughout the film,” Jaffrey said about Water. “I am still trying to recover from it. Thank you, Deepa, for making the film.”
Prior to the ceremony honouring Mehta, Tharoor and Jaffrey, Richard Pena, the programme director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, moderated a discussion on Mehta’s film. Water producer (and Mehta’s life partner) David Hamilton and actress Lisa Ray joined the director for the discussion.
“I believe the film is about the conflict between the conscience and faith,” Mehta said. “Unfortunately, a bunch of extremists felt that no one had the right to ask that question.”
Water opened in Canadian theatres on November 4. The film will open in the US market in April 2006. Right now no release date is fixed for India, Hamilton said. “We have plans to release the film in India,” Hamilton added. “Whether those plans manifest or not, we have to see. There are many, many people in India who would like to see this film and in the end I hope they will win.”