I View Films and the Power of Cinema
By E. Nina Rothe
Those who know me also know that I am pretty much a one-track mind when it comes to Indian cinema, fashion, food and culture. I consistently annoy my friends about joining me for the latest Hindi blockbuster showing at the local multiplex and if anyone asks my opinion on where to go for lunch, dinner or even a mid-afternoon snack, well "Lets do Indian!" is my enthusiastic - albeit unimaginative - answer. Heck, I have even slipped into this blog of ours more than a fair share of Desi-related posts. Oh, and for those who may not be familiar with the word "Desi" it means anything relating to the Desh, which is a more inclusive way to refer to South Asia in general.
Of late though, I have become quite engrossed in basic human rights, which our world leadersand their minions seem to be doing away with more and more these days. It was with great joy that I first became aware of the Engendered organization based here in NYC and their annual I-View Film festival, which combines both my loves into one jam-packed-full-of stars-and-great-movies-with-a-message weekend. Having just spent three days surrounded by some of my most beloved filmmakers and favorite actors in the Indian film industry today, I will share some of the highlights of this year's I-View and, in the process, let you in on a couple of films you should not miss!
In the words of Executive Director Myna Mukherjee "Engendered uses art & culture as tools to raise awareness and change viewer perceptions around gender and sexuality which includes women's issues, minority & health rights, and of course the LGBT community as part of a larger human rights framework".
I-View Film this year included a true Bollywood blockbuster - 'Dostana' starring Abhishek Bachchan and John Abraham - about two heterosexual men who pretend to be gay in order to score the perfect apartment in trendy Miami; a penned memoir turned into a touching
film about a South African man of Indian heritage who turns to Hollywood - and then alcohol - only to finally find his own gay identity, titled 'The Ode'; a groundbreaking film about a couple facing infidelity and the various dimensions, as well as varied emotions, a confession can take - 'Lets Talk' directed by Ram Madhvani and starring a favorite actor of mine Boman Irani; and finally the beautiful and insightful 'Luck By Chance' by Zoya Akhtar, a masterpiece which illuminates with care and great humor the double standards faced by women in the Indian film industry, but also sheds light on our own inner invaluable power to focus on the good in our lives.
The red carpet for the event, on Friday August 28th, was wonderfully festive and lit up the NYC night with its share of star power and the endlessly flashing cameras of the media crews trying to capture the moment for their viewers and readers. John Abraham is by far one of the hunkiest superstars of Indian cinema and all you have to do is swiftly glance at his photo here to put any doubt you may have to rest. On the other hand, Farhan Akhtar has become the thinking woman's sex symbol and it's easy to understand why, with his smart good looks, his impeccable sense of style, his multiple talents - as a director, writer, actor, singer and producer - not to mention his kindness and grace whenever I get the opportunity to share a word or two with him.
His sister Zoya Akhtar is the freshest voice to come out of the Indian film industry since Anurag Kashyap - who BTW has a hilarious cameo in LBC as a plagiarizing writer and is a judge this year at the Venice Film Festival. Hurray for Anurag!! Through her film 'Luck By Chance' - starring brother Farhan and a stellar assortment of talent that makes the Golden
Globes red carpet stroll seem like a casual walk through the parking lot of the local mall - Zoya has broken the glass ceiling, both with her power as a director and writer in a male-dominated world and with a female heroine as the lead, a character whose power, wisdom and inner strength far surpasses that of her male counterpart.
Sona Mishra - played brilliantly by Konkona Sen Sharma - the actress whose journey we follow in 'Luck By Chance' as she goes frommisdirected supporting roles to being the star of her own life, thanks to her understanding of
the hardships she endures, is my favorite female film character ever. I can't list all of the reasons I so deeply identify with her, but certainly her resolve, her positive attitude in the face of adversity, her innate generosity and her strength, when coming face to face one more with the imperfect man she loves inspire me. Every one of my non-Bollywood savvy friends who have been shown the film have become enamored with it and have gone on to become Hindi film addicts as a result. I highly recommend the film to anyone who likes a good story, a beautifully shot film and some charming humor with their drama.
The second find of a film from the festival is titled 'Lets Talk'. Directed by ad-man Ram Madhvani and starring one of most versatile actors in India today Boman Irani, it features a simple story - a woman telling her husband she is pregnant with her lover's child - in eight different ways, or stanzas. I intentionally use the musical term because writer/director Madhvani was inspired by the ancient Indian musical tradition of 'Thumri' for the format of the film. He wanted to explore a film created around the basis of emotions instead of simply telling a linear story. So, we the audience watch Radhika telling her husband Nikhil the same basic information, but each time the tone and the feelings differ, as does the outcome, from belligerence to despair, from violence to humor. All told within the same four walls and a terrace. Truly a brilliant concept and development, available from Netflix here in the US.
And finally, there are those moments in life when one needs some pure, guilty pleasure in the form of simply delicious entertainment, right?! For those instances, I would suggest 'Dostana' which through its light, bright and fun story did manage to break down barriers and form reallines of communication between the gay community, their family and the Indian politicians, always as out of touch as our very own around the world... In the words of 'Dostana' writer and director Tarun Mansukhani, his film "added a drop in the ocean" of events which helped decriminalize Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code - the so-called 'gay law'. It was also the momentous push the gay community needed to find their inner Pride at parades held in Delhi, Bombay and Bangalore this year, which meant record attendances and positive media coverage of the events. And, to get back to the film itself, the ending will surprise you... All I can say is stay tuned for 'Dostana 2', though Mansukhani admitted he "won't be surprised if one day there is a Dostana 8". More of my exclusive interview with him to come, as well as a beautiful, in-depth chat with 'Lets Talk' filmmaker Ram Madhvani...
Entertainment always holds deep powers which go above and beyond the stories being told. Actors, writers, directors, producers and artist are entrusted with the imaginations of their audiences and are responsible for whatever subliminal messages their art infuses in those who come into contact with it. It's probably the reason why I love Hindi films so much, because the power of hope and kindness always seems to win over evil and selfishness. Is it any wonder this
festival touched my soul so deeply, with its message and mission?
Finally, I would love to hear about your own inspiration, those films, books, songs or artwork which make you dream more colorful and fill you with hope for this world of ours. Do share...