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Helping to bring Indian culture and awareness to the world

Home News Tribune Online 12/24/06


As the year comes to an end and 2007 approaches, many of us are thinking about new ideas, new dreams and new goals.

But for Aroon Shivdasani, it means planning another Indo-American Arts Council Inc. Film Festival, which will take place in November.

Shivdasani, the executive director and founding member of the festival - which features a weeklong series of Bollywood and independent films - hardly ever rests. If she is not planning the festival or preparing for her annual theater series, she is trying to arrange book readings for authors.

"It's truly a labor of love, and I love every second of it," she said.

The festival usually marks the debut of a new Bollywood movie - or those that have received acclaim at regional or international festivals.

"We try to make it as exciting as possible and we usually get some movies that have not yet been released to the public, which is usually a strong draw for us," she said.

This year, the festival included the premiere of "The Namesake," directed by Mira Nair. The movie, based on Jhumpa Lahiri's book, is scheduled to be released in March.

This year's lineup also included the premiere of the Bollywood movie "Umrao Jaan" with Bollywood actress Shabana Azmi, Aishwaryia Rai and Abhishek Bachchan.

The special Q&A following the movie included a panel discussion with Shabana Azmi and the famed Bollywood writer Javed Akhtar. Part of the process to draw in crowds, Shivdasani said, is to offer new titles and Bollywood stars.

"Everyone likes to see a Bollywood star up close during the festival," she said. "There is something very exciting about it. It provides some sort of validation.

" The festival, which draws thousands from across the tri-state area, has been the platform for many up-and-coming movie producers, directors and actors who rely on the festival for their public debut.

"The selection process has become challenging over the years only because now we get so many films," Shivdasani said, "and unfortunately the festival is only a week long."

Shivdasani's passion for both Indian culture and films led her to start the festival six years ago. At first, it was a challenge to get places to show the films and for prestigious venues to hold the parties. But now some of the city's top locations have opened their arms to host Shivdasani's events, including Tavern on The Green, where this year's after-party took place.

In addition to the festival, Shivdasani has brought to the New York stage some talented playwrights from India and around the world as her organization produces the annual Playwrights' Week.

"Stage drama in India is considered . . . real talent," she said."The writing for some of these dramas is just amazing."

Born and raised in India, Shivdasani has spent most of her adulthood in the United States, but travels to India annually to find new talent and to check out the latest dramas. She has been a big promoter of Indian culture in the United States.

"I think it is so important to bring awareness to the arts and culture of India, and the IAAC plays a crucial role in doing so," she said.

As she prepares for the holidays, Shivdasani said she is grateful for the support she has received throughout the year.

"I want to wish everyone a happy and safe new year," she said. "What I do is just a small part of the entire picture. The help I get from my staff, the support I receive from the community is really what makes the film festival and my other programs successful."

More information on IAAC is available by visiting www.iaac.us.

Mr. Bollywood, a guide to the stars, films and people behind the scenes of the largest film-producing industry in the world, appears on the fourth Sunday of the month. Yande, a Princeton-based entertainment writer, reporter and independent TV producer, has been covering Bollywood and its stars for years. He can be reached at



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