New York Indian Film Festival 2016- a feast for film lovers
Indian cinema has long had a trusty following in far flung corners of the world…and it isn’t just the diaspora pining for a slice of the homemade masala mix. Indian movie fans are everywhere – “Awara” former soviets have an abiding love for Raj Kapoor, Amitabh fans belt out songs atop mountains of Afghanistan, young British girls imitate Shahrukh’s dance moves and while Peruvian fans are fida on Fanaa, Chinese damsels hide their mouths as they giggle over Aamir Khan in 3 Idiots.
Over the years, as international film distribution first became easier and then a norm, audiences have come to expect a regular fare of Bollywood film in a theatre (or pirated DVD) near them. With a Bollywood films its a given that you’d get a heady mix of romance, drama, emotion and commotion. Then there are the the other levels that are revealing themselves like an ever peeling onion. Those film aficionados who dug deeper came to understand that Indian cinema is really a bouquet of cinemas and that it comes in flavours more complex and nuanced than the usual “masala”. Some few chose to study it, engage with it and then shared their love in the form of informal film clubs and festivals big and small. Some festivals worked their way to prominence because of their diligent efforts to bring the many voices of Indian cinema to film lovers.
One such effort that started sixteen years ago was the New York Indian Film Festival, presented by the Indian American Arts Council. This year, in its sixteenth edition, NYIFF is showcasing an enviable lineup of films from May 7th to 14th. The festival will open with Nachom-ia Kumpasar, a Konkani film set in Goa that tells the story of musicians who “lived and died in unrecognized, unappreciated and unsung”. This crowd funded venture won the 62nd National Film Award in India and is shortlisted for the 2016 Oscars. In fact there’s a host of other National Award winners too- A Far Afternoon, Birds With Large Wings and The River of Fables.
The festival’s highlight is a special screening of Matthew Brown’s, “The Man Who Knew Infinity”. This film is already gaining wide audience and is reviewed as being as a carefully crafted and well told tale based on the life of mathematics genius Ramanujan.
Other films in the festival are an eclectic mix of cinema from across India. There’s a total of 40 screenings (35 narrative, 5 documentary) along with five programs of short films. There’s a lot of new, some with a touch of nostalgia. One of the films to to look forward to is Bengali master, Soumitra Chatterjee starrer “Peace Haven”, a story of three septuagenarian friends who embark on a journey to build their very own mortuary. Another award winner,”Parched” is a story about four ordinary women in the heart of parched rural landscape of Gujarat, who unapologetically talk about men, sex and life even as they face their demons and fight personal wars.
The festival ends with Hansal Mehta’s “Aligarh”. There’s enough said about the film and Manoj Bajpai’s riveting performance as a college professor who is sacked on charges of homosexuality.
New Yorkers have a filmy feast in store for them. For the rest of us, lets hope the tribe of the lovers of Indian cinema increases. In fact, we right here in India could do with a few more well curated festivals of our own!
(Arti Jain is a filmmaker and a writer. She also conducts specialised film tours)