NYIFF: Lucky Number Thirteen
May 07, 2013
The New York Indian Film Festival explores communal issues, and cinema's power to bring communities together.
Now in its thirteenth year, North America’s oldest film festival, the New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF) showcased an array of features, documentaries, short stories, as well as panel discussions and a nod to Indian cinema completing 100 years.
The festival is the crown jewel event for the Indo-American Arts Council, a New York based organization founded by Aroon Shivdasani (who also serves as the festival’s Executive Director) to promote Indian cultural events and nurture artists.
When asked about the theme of the festival, Festival Director Aseem Chhabra explained that while he didn’t have anything in mind, a theme emerged organically. “You never set out to look for a theme. That never happens in any case. While programming the film, after we got Dekh Tamasha Dekh, and we got Filmistan as Closing Night and we put Shahid as the Centerpiece, we saw all three of them deal with Hindu-Muslim issues.”
Renowned theater personality Feroz Abbas Khan’s second feature film, Dekh Tamasha Dekh, made its world premiere at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. Why was Dekh Tamasha Dekh a perfect fit for NYIFF’s Opening Night? Shivdasani replied, “It’s a true story about the extreme beliefs in India and how ridiculous they are. Feroz has been a longtime friend and we’ve shown many of his plays and his film, Gandhi, My Father earlier which won amazing awards.”
A political satire, Dekh Tamasha Dekh takes the viewer into a small town in Maharashtra where the accidental death of a man, whose religious affiliation is questioned by religious leaders, leads to a community spiraling into communal chaos. While having no big stars in the cast can spell doom for a film, it worked wonders for Dekh Tamasha Dekh, as theater artists effortlessly portrayed the sincerity many scenes demanded.
A humorous courtroom scene, a tender love story, and painful personal histories are some of the ingredients that made for an entertaining, thought-provoking film.
Also based on a true story, Shahid, directed by Hansal Mehta, was the Centerpiece film and stars rising actor Raj Kumar Yadav who has recently been seen in Gangs of Wasseypur, Talaash and Kai Po Che. Following the journey of a man leaning towards acts of terror post the Mumbai riots of ’93 (and becoming a wrongfully accused prisoner) to a human right’s activist, Shahid strung together many powerful, moving scenes that translated into another feather in the cap of both the director and leading actor.
Mehta won the Best Director award at NYIFF and humbly accepted his award on behalf of all the filmmakers participating at the festival.
Making its New York premiere, the closing night film, Filmistan, had more than the honor of concluding the festival. Barely 24 hours before the screening of his first feature film, director Nitin Kakkar was in India accepting the National Award for Best Feature Film in Hindi.
Filmistan beautifully showcased how the love for Hindi cinema can break down barriers created by governments and religious zealots. Set on the India-Pakistan border, Filmistan tells the tale of a cinema-crazed Indian film assistant kidnapped by Pakistani terrorists. When the Indian film assistant interacts with the family in whose house he is held captive by bonding over famous film dialogues, pirated dvds and cinema stars, the seemingly fluffy chatter makes way for deeper discussions about memories of an India before partition, unfulfilled dreams, and reasons as to why they chose the life they lived. For the people in the house, reasons for hatred between Indians and Pakistanis starts to seem just as make-believe as their favorite Salman Khan film.
With a diverse range of cinema, mostly independent, from around India, NYIFF 2013 maintains its role of bringing to New York audiences films that would otherwise not be screened theatrically for NRIs. On the centenary celebrations of Indian Cinema, it's a fitting contribution towards the further growth of independent films from across India.