Independent Indian cinema is taking strides around the world, and it’s about time. This summer the 1st annual London Indian Film Festival brought the focus to this face of Indian cinema for British film buffs, and now the I-View Film 2010 has kicked off their annual film festival in New York with a marathon nine days of socially relevant independent films from across South Asia along with issue-based panels and an array of leading filmmakers present to represent their films. The festival opened on September 18 at Asia Society with the New York premiere of the Sundance-hailed documentary Bhutto, along with the red carpet world premiere of Onir’s latest film I Am and fashion shows by top designers from the subcontinent.
The I-View Film Festival is in its third year as the signature film component of the Engendered organization. Engendered is an arts and human rights organization that organizes numerous arts and culture events around the issues of women’s rights, gender inequity, sexual orientation, and minority and health rights. Myna Mukherjee, the director of Engendered and the I-View Film 2010, says that "gender and sexuality are not divorced from everyday life, and cinema is an evocative way to address these issues.”
The opening documentary feature Bhutto had premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year to much acclaim. Directed by Duane Baughman and Johnny O’ Hara, Bhutto is an emotional and educational rollercoaster of a film that aptly mirrors the trajectory of the life of its subject, Benazir Bhutto. It starts with one of the quickest and most loaded history lessons about the creation of Pakistan and its brief and turbulent growth that you will ever see. It is quite evidently targeted towards an audience that is unfamiliar with the country and its past, essentially explaining in detail why “one of the most dangerous countries on earth” is labeled as such. The film dives into Pakistan’s political waters and provides a rather detailed study of the Bhutto family and navigates fluidly between Benazir’s political and personal lives.
The film’s strength is the detail with which the life of this leader is painted, gathering a mindboggling array of archival material and a slew of interviews with family members and friends. The film falters, however, with its heavy leaning towards the Benazir camp, regularly describing the accusations against her but rarely offering an opposing perspective. Benazir’s niece, Fatima Bhutto, is the only interviewee who provides such a perspective and a fascinating one at that. Bhutto is nonetheless a gripping documentary, engaging the viewer from start to finish with perhaps the most comprehensive account I’ve seen of Pakistani history and the life of a female leader who had such an impact on an Islamic state.
Onir's crowd funded film I Am was also screened to a red carpet premiere. The film is definitely worth noting for the way it's been produced - funded by public contributions across social networks - and voluntary performances by the cast and some of the crew. It signals the emergence of truly democratic form of filmmaking in India and, combined with the four very relevant stories it tells, the film comes as cinematic expression “about identity, self-respect and dignity,” as Onir puts it. The film flows through the stories of four characters and their struggles to assert, reclaim, or shed an identity. Afia (Nandita Das) is determined to have a child without a partner but is desperate to find the “perfect man” to donate sperm. Megha (Juhi Chawla), a Kashmiri Pandit, goes back to Srinagar for one last time to sell her family home and cut all ties from the “paradise” she grew up in. Abhimanyu (Sanjay Suri) struggles with coming to terms with a childhood of sexual abuse by his step-father. Finally, Omar (Rahul Bose) attempts to find liberation through his sexual identity. I Am boasts of a talented cast, including the many supporting actors, and signals an entirely new direction in the way films are produced.
The I-View has brought prominent filmmakers with their films such as Vishal Bhardwaj (Maqbool), Onir and Sanjay Suri (I Am), Dibakar Banerjee (Love Sex aur Dhokha), Abhishek Chaubey (Ishqiya), Sudipto Chattopadhyay (Pankh) and many more. The festival continues until September 26, with screenings and panel discussions running every day and culminating with the closing night feature Mirch (dir. Vinay Shukla, starring Konkana Sen Sharma) and an award ceremony. Look out for my upcoming film reviews of selected films screening here. As director Vishal Bhardwaj says, “films are the language I speak,” and that stands true for the platter of films showing at I-View, each one addressing or challenging debates on issues of gender, human rights, sexuality and identity through the powerful medium of cinema.