Tuesday, 21 September 2010

South Asian cinema in all its splendour at London Film Festival 2010

South Asian cinema and its’ stars will take centre stage in London this October, with several eagerly-anticipated films to be screened at the 54th BFI London Film Festival, which takes place 13th to 28th October. Organizers have chosen a slew of outstanding features that have already caused considerable buzz in film circles, and which showcase compelling stories and characters from a region with increasing social, political and cultural influence.

Similarly, the brightest South Asian film talent will be out in force as well. Slumdog Millionaire beauty Frieda Pinto sheds the L’Oreal foundation and returns to the big screen with ‘Miral’; Oscar-winning director Julian Schnabel’s incendiary epic about the Middle Eastern conflict from its’ birth in the late 1940’s to the start of the first Intifada in the 1980’s. Whilst the film itself has had mixed reviews, Pinto has received universal approval for her portrayal of a Palestinian orphan growing up in an environment of violence and ethnic hatred.

Irfan Khan – Hollywood‘s most sought after Indian actor and by far the most accomplished thespian in Bollywood – appears in ‘Paan Singh Tomar’. The film tells the real-life story of Tomar, an impoverished young man who joins the army where he excels as an athlete, successfully representing India in the Asian Games for a number of years in the 1950’s. After retiring from the army, Tomar returns home to rural Madhya Pradesh only to run into trouble with wealthy landowners who confiscate his land and murder his mother. The decorated but now disillusioned soldier takes up arms and turns into a Robin Hood style bandit terrorizing villagers in the infamous jungles of Central India. The film’s director Tigmanshu Dhulia was the casting director on ‘Bandit Queen’ and early previews suggest the film is a gripping crowd-pleaser.

Another acting Khan – Amir – makes a return to London in ‘Dhobi Ghat’, about the social disparities that continue to defile the gleaming facade of modern India. It’s a topic that has obsessed artists, writers and filmmakers in recent times – from Booker winner Arvind Adiga to filmmaker Dibhaker Bannerjee. With ‘Dhobi Ghat’, the subject truly comes into the mainstream and with the support of Bollywood royalty. Aside from taking on the lead role, Khan is an executive producer on the film which is written and directed by his wife Kiran Rao. Dhobi Ghat follows Shai (played by Monica Dogra), an NRI banker based in the US who returns to Mumbai for a sabbatical and falls for Arun (Amir Khan), a reclusive artist. After being spurned by Arun however, Shai falls for the charms of a young laundryman or ‘Dhobi’. As with many films based in Mumbai, that megalopolis that is at once flamboyant and muted, is as much a star as the A-list film talent. As the icing on the cake, the soundtrack is by Gustavo Santaolalla, who also composed music for Brokeback Mountain and Babel, among others.

While Rao delves into issues of social inequity in India, Director Kaushik Ganguly attempts to provide an insight into homosexuality in the country with ‘Just Another Love Story’. In the film, a gay filmmaker from New Delhi films the life story of an elderly Bengali transsexual dancer and discovers some truths about himself and the society he lives in.

The contemporary issues theme continues at the LFF with ‘The Taqwacores’ – Eyad Zahra’s adaptation of Michael Muhammad Knight’s novel The Taqwacores: The Birth of Punk Islam. In the novel, Knight – a Michigan native who converted to Islam after travelling to Pakistan as a teenager – imagined a musical movement that married the two seemingly contradictory movements of Islam and Punk Rock. The movement that Knight imagined struck a chord with a slew of young punk rockers across America who also happened to be Muslim, leading to the birth of an entirely new genre of music. The birth of that movement was depicted in a critically acclaimed documentary screened at the London East End Film Festival earlier this year and Zahra’s dramatisation of the book will be closely watched.

Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated screening at the London Film Festival will be West is West, the sequel to the funny and poignant East is East, writer Ayub Khan-Din’s semi-autobiographical tale of a mixed race family in 1970’s Salford. The story of a conservative Pakistani father, George Khan (Om Puri), his English wife Ella (Linda Bassett) and their children was acclaimed for its compelling portrayal of the clash of cultures. West is West takes up the story 8 years on when most of the older children have left home and the only one remaining is Sajid, the youngest, and the apple of his father’s eye. Sajid is playing truant and George decides that a trip back home to Pakistan is the best cure. The chilly reception they find in Pakistan is further pickled by the arrival of Ella, who jets out after her husband and youngest son. The ensuing tug of war between Ella and George’s first wife is touching and distressing all at once and provides the dramatic as well as comedic heart of the film.

- Vijitha Alles

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