Descriptions of some of the films to be screened at the 3rd i South Asian Film Festival this year. The material has been lightly edited for brevity.
November 9, 7: 15 pm, New People Cinema
A immigrant story that captures the tumultuous journey of Arshad Khan’s family’s move to Canada, from Pakistan, in the early 90s. These were Arshad’s teenage years, made all the more confusing by his budding queer sexuality. While the Khans had always struck a balance between traditional and modern values, this was where they drew the line.
Arshad recalls the balancing act, managing his family’s expectations with his own hopes and dreams. His once-liberal parents trade assimilation for fundamentalism, moving towards a conservative strain of Islam, while Arshad was becoming deeply involved in the cultural and political fabric of his new home.
November 10, 9:30 pm, New People Cinema
An indictment of the patriarchy and greed, Gurgaon is a neo-noir film based on the true story of a kidnapping gone awry in the shiny outer reaches of the fast-growing Delhi metropolis.
Kehri Singh awaits the day when his daughter Preet will return from her studies abroad and take over the real estate business named in her honor. Her brother Nikki Singh, however, is not so pleased. Feeling emasculated by her success, Nikki simmers and broods, edging his family towards an explosive denouement, and forcing Kehri Singh to confront a dark secret from his past.
Random Acts of Legacy
November 10, 7: 15 pm, New People Cinema
Director Ali Kazimi who has been rescuing orphaned and decaying home movies from minority families found himself in an online bidding war for film footage from 1936 to 1951 and later saw he had stumbled upon a rare artifact.
A 3rd i alumnus, Kazimi is well-known for his outstanding doc, A Continuous Journey, which chronicles the history of Sikh migration to Canada. Set in Chicago between the Great Depression and the post-war era, this award-winning film peeks into the everyday life of a commercial artist and his trailblazing wife, to reveal the experiences of a first-generation Chinese family in America.
Dance Like a Man
November 18, 7:30 pm, CineArts at Palo Alto Square
One of the most successful plays on the Indian stage (by Mahesh Dattani) is adapted for the screen in this cineplay, co-directed by (and starring) renowned theater actress Lilette Dubey. Relying on humor, the play probes the surface of the characters to question their deeper motivations.
The story of Jairaj and Ratna, two Bharatanatyam dancers past their prime, is contrasted with that of their daughter Lata, who is on the brink of establishing herself as a brilliant dancer. Her imminent success creates tension and jealousy, and the audience is drawn into the dark secrets of family relationships and conflicts between generations.
Bad, Brown, Bride: 3 Desi Series
November 18, 5 pm, CineArts at Palo Alto Square
Three shorts series turn stereotypes about desis on their heads, and offer modern portraits of young South Asians in America. A pilot for a TV show, Shawn Parikh and Devanshi Patel’s Bad Indians is Will & Grace meets Catastrophe, and is a sassy comedy about the adventures of two codependent friends living and loving in Los Angeles. Brown Girls, the hit web series by Fatima Ashgar and Sam Bailey which was recently picked up by HBO, offers a candid and sex-positive look at the life of two 20-something roommates in Chicago. Ik Jagait and Palvinder Jagait’s Bullet Bride (a South Bay production) takes the hackneyed arranged marriage plot and turns it into a roller-coaster ride full of surprises.
The World of Goopi and Bagha (Goopi Gawaiya, Bagha Bajaiya)
November 18, 3 pm, CineArts at Palo Alto Square
Shilpa Ranade’s film is an animated adaptation of a cherished children’s classic, and a remake of one of Indian master Satyajit Ray’s most beloved works. With an anti-war message at its heart, this film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival.
The film follows the misadventures of Goopi and Bagha, two musicians banished from their villages for their ear-splitting music. Their cacophony, however, enthralls the King of Ghosts, who grants them four boons. Thanks to their new gifts, Goopi and Bagha are appointed court musicians in the neighboring kingdom of Shundi, only to be drawn into courtly intrigue and politics, and to use their boons and brains to prevent war between two brothers and win the hands of two princesses.
The Cinema Travellers
November 18, 1 pm, CineArts at Palo Alto Square
Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya capture the fascination for movies in a tradition that has existed in India for decades – the traveling tent cinema.
The film, which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival, focuses on the nomadic projectionists and technicians who roam the rural Indian countryside screening films and tending to the equipment as if it were an ailing relative. It’s a disappearing trade, however, with the influx of digital technology and an audience ever more reliant on the small screen.
Coast to Coast: Mumbai to the Mission
November 12, 7:30 pm, New People Cinema
A kaleidoscope of cinematic offerings ranging from the intimate to the intellectual short films. Bollywood and Bolsheviks revels in the pleasures of classic cinema, while the Spice Sisters sizzle in Australia; Brown Girls assert their sexuality and independence in Chicago, while artists in San Francisco struggle to claim their home in No Vacancy; and Disco Obu takes a humorous and poignant look on the ephemeral nature of fame.
No Vacancy (Abhi Singh, USA, 2017, 17 mins)
Bollywood and Bolsheviks (Emma Hinchcliffe, USA/India, 2016, 11 mins)
Seti X: Let it Grow (Nisha Sembi, USA, 2017, 3 mins)
Disco Obu (Anand Kishore, USA, 2017, 20 mins)
Spice Sisters (Sheila Jayadev, Australia, 2016, 15 mins)
Brown Girls, eps. 1 and 3 (Fatima Ashgar and Sam Bailey, USA, 2017, 18 mins)
Last Man in Dhaka Central (The Young Man Was, Part 3)
November 12, 5 pm, New People Cinema
The story of Peter Custers, a Dutch journalist who arrived in Bangladesh in 1973 to report on the budding revolutionary movement. Filmmaker Naeem Mohaiemen brings his awareness of global politics to the conversation as he probes Custers to find out what fueled his decision to travel halfway across the world to participate in a left-wing uprising. Custers chalks it up to youthful ambition, describing his dreams of revolution inspired by figures such as Che Guevara.
Two years into his stay, Custers ended up in military prison accused of planning a secret uprising, and was released from jail only after a long campaign by Dutch activists. For all the physical and psychological abuse he suffered, Custers forged a deep bond with the people of the country, bringing education to poor farmers in Bangladesh until his unexpected death last year. Combining interviews, news clippings, and archival footage, this is the final installment in Mohaiemen’s trilogy on the legacy of left-wing political movements, and has been screened at numerous prestigious film festivals including Rotterdam, Berlin, and IDFA.
November 12, 2:45 pm, New People Cinema
Amit Masurkar’s black comedy Newton (official selection at the Berlin Film Festival) finds humor in the tenuous nature of democracy. When conscientious clerk Newton is placed on election duty in the conflict-ridden “tribal” area of Chhattisgarh, he tries to ensure free and fair voting despite the apathy of security forces and the looming fear of an attack by Maoist rebels. The protagonist is played by Rajkummar Rao (Queen, Aligarh), a rising star on the indie scene in India.
Newton finds he must keep devious military personnel and oddball bureaucrats in check – even as the voters remain strangely absent. This film asks us to question our belief in the political process, and the power of the vote.
Shepherdess of the Glaciers
November 12, 1 pm, New People Cinema
Directed by Stanzin Dorjai and Christiane Mordelet, the film captures a way of life on a rock-strewn mountain 5,000 meters high, in Ladakh, home to shepherdess Tsering and her flock of 300 sheep and pashmina goats.
Every winter, Tsering sets out from from her home village to the high plateaus of the Himalayas, so that the flock can graze through the winter. Her only access to events in the outside world is via a small transistor radio. When the batteries run out, Tsering sings to herself and the surrounding glaciers. Apart from the physical travails of herding sheep across the icy terrain, danger also lurks in the form of wolves and snow leopards, which Tsering must fight off single-handedly. Documented over four seasons by her brother Stanzin Dorjai, the film examines a culture and a landscape that are fast disappearing due to modernization and climate change.
Om Shanti Om
November 11, 8: 15 pm, Castro Theatre
Om Prakash (played by the irrepressible and iconic Shah Rukh Khan) dreams of becoming a star while swooning over Shanti (Deepika Padukone), the top starlet of the day. Their budding friendship, however, meets a tragic end at the hands of Shanti’s nefarious producer-husband. Not to worry though, for thirty years later, Om is reincarnated as superstar Om Kapoor, who seeks to avenge Shanti’s killing.
At once a parody of and homage to the unbridled, anything-goes exuberance of Hindi musicals from the 1970s, Om Shanti Om even references such Western classics as Singin’ in the Rain and Phantom of the Opera.
An Insignificant Man
November 11, 5:30 pm, Castro Theatre
Dubbed the Bernie Sanders of India, Arvind Kejriwal shook up the the status quo of the Indian political system with his Aam Aadmi Party (Common Man’s Party) in the last national election. This shift in India’s mainstream political establishment is described in this documentary.
Supported by the Sundance Film Institute and official selection at the Toronto Film Festival, this political tale is an on-the-ground look into the political system of the largest democracy in the world, a country with 29 official languages and 1.3 billion people. Directors Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla train their lens on inequality, corruption, and the power of elites, to highlight democratic principles at stake in India and around the world. Fittingly, the film has recently been in a censorship controversy in India.
Nari: The Unsung Story of the Women from India’s First Family of Music
November 11, 3 pm, Castro Theatre
Musician and composer for film Gingger Shankar celebrates the life and work of her mother (Viji Shankar) and grandmother (Lakshmi Shankar). Hailing from India’s first family of music, and renowned artists in their own right, they helped bring Indian music to the West in the 1970s through their close collaborations with Ravi Shankar and George Harrison (The Beatles).
In Sanskrit, “nari” means both “woman” and “sacrifice.” As female artists trying to establish themselves in a male-dominated field, Lakshmi and Viji understood this only too well. They fought to overcome numerous challenges in both their artistic and personal lives as they found themselves catapulted from conservative Indian culture into the stratosphere of American rock n’roll. An official selection at both the Toronto and Sundance film festivals, this multimedia program blends archival sound recordings, film footage, and never-before-seen family photos, to uncover a hidden musical feminine history.
New People Cinema
1746 Post Street
San Francisco, CA 94115
CineArts at Palo Alto Square
3000 El Camino Real
Palo Alto, CA 94306
429 Castro Street
San Francisco, CA 94114