By Sirah Haq
One thing that is distinct about The London Indian Film Festival this year is the number of films by women filmmakers on the programme. Kick-starting with opening night film Parched; by Leena Yadav, LIFF 2016 has an eclectic mix of films which celebrate women filmmakers and their unique voice.
Leena Yadav’s critically acclaimed Parched; opens the festival on 14th July at Cineworld Haymarket and on 15 th July in Birmingham. The film follows the journey of four rural women from Rajasthan, as they flee the controlling men in their lives and discover themselves anew. From freedom of thought to sexual liberation, Yadav makes her characters embrace freedom with a newfound spirit and almost childlike excitement. Yadav’s characters are bold, beautiful and full of chutzpah and through them she gives women all over the world the courage to fight for themselves and their individuality. Starring rising star Radhika Apte and Tannishtha Chatterjee of ‘Brick Lane’ fame, the film has also been shown at the Toronto International Film Festival and has garnered critical acclaim for its subject matter and giving South Asian women a voice.
Another filmmaker being celebrated at LIFF this year is two time Oscar Winner, Pakistan Filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy. Catch a double bill of Chinoy’s work at Picturehouse Cinema in London on 18th July and in Birmingham on 19th July. Screenings include Oscar Winning documentary ‘A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness’; which follows the story of Saba who survived an honour killing attempt and how she fought back with the help of NGO’s and Human Rights organizations to have her voice heard. The groundbreaking film not only earned Chinoy a second Oscar but also sparked debate in Pakistani parliament on an anti-honour killing bill. The second of Chinoy’s films to be screened is the beautiful and moving Song of Lahore. A look at the classical singers of the city who are fast fading into oblivion but then reinvent themselves by playing Jazz Music on their traditional instruments and eventually making it to Lincoln Centre in New York to perform with esteemed Jazz musician Wynton Marsalis. The film is heartwarming, a beautifully told story and a feast for the eyes and ears with scenic Lahore as its backdrop and some soul-stirring music from all the performers. The films in London will be followed by a Q&A with Sharmeen herself where she’ll talk about her work as a director.
Staying with Pakistan, LIFF also brings you Meenu Gaur’s latest directorial venture ‘Jeewan Haathi’ with co-director Farjad Nabi. Made in collaboration with Zeal for Unity, the film takes a candid look at Pakistan’s burgeoning media industry and the lengths to which channel heads will go to get ratings. Starring Naseerudin Shah this is a brilliant satirical piece and a must watch from the directors of critically acclaimed Zinda Bhaag! Screening on 17th and 19th July in London and 17th July in Birmingham.
More music awaits you in Shefali Bhushan’s musical ‘Jugni The film’, a feature which follows an upcoming music director from Mumbai and her journey to the rural areas in search of a folk singer. A quest which leads her to fall in love and a journey of self-discovery. The film is inspired by the time Bhushan spent in rural India searching for folk music talent. It has a lilting musical score featuring AR Rahman and Vishal Bhardwaj. The film will screen in London from 15th – 17th July and in Birmingham on 17th July. Screenings will also be followed by a Q&A with the director.
Another film to watch out for is Rinku Kalsy’s documentary For the Love of a Man; an eye opening film revolving around the way South Indian super-star Rajinikanth is idolized by his fans and how people hero worship him. Kalsy’s film picks up on the way in which India glorifies its stars and to the extent they go, to feed that obsession- including putting the star before their work, friends and families. Kalsy’s film is bold, enlightening, entertaining and has a unique voice. The film was also an official selection at the Venice Film Festival and will be followed by a Q&A with the director whose previous work includes documentary ‘Mila Journey’. Catch it on 16th and 17th July in London.
Another film not to miss is Aparna Sen’s Bengali adaptation of Romeo and Juliet: ‘Arshinagar’. The film is a riot of colour and will stir the senses with its very varied soundtrack which consists of everything from Qawali to Rock Music. Sen adapts the story with a very local sensibility by making the film about a love affair between a Muslim and Hindu. Famous for films like ‘36 Chowringhee Lane’ and the more recent ‘Mr. and Mrs. Iyer’, Sen’s ‘Arshinagar’ promises to be a visual treat and a landmark for Bengali Cinema. Screening on 16th and 17th July in London.
Last but not least is Ruchika Oberoi’s ‘Island City’. Three stories revolving around characters from urban Mumbai and throwing light on how materialism has affected relationships. From a man who has to have fun when he wins a day of free shopping at a mall, to a family who happily replace the man of the house with a TV soap character. Oberoi’s take on modern India is funny, thought provoking and satirical at the same time. Oberoi won best debut director at the Venice Film Festival for the film, which makes this a must watch! Starring the amazing Vinay Pathak, the film will screen on 19th and 20th July in London.
And last but not least is a panel discussion organised by LIFF and ‘Women in Film and TV UK’ aptly titled: ‘Woman with a Movie Camera: A life less ordinary’ at BFI Southbank on 1 th July. The event will see Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, Leena Yadav and Rinku Kalsy discuss their work and the place of women filmmakers today and promises to be interesting and enlightening.
So get set to see South Asian Women filmmakers use their work as their voice and help make LIFF 2016 all about the power of a woman and her camera!