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 leaders
and 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 from
misdirected 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 real
lines 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...

Dostana images courtesy of Dharma Productions, Luck By Chance images courtesy of Excel Entertainment, Lets Talk photo courtesy of the filmmaker and working still of Farhan and Zoya Akhtar courtesy of the filmmakers


  1. Great article! For me it's the new songs coming out that give me hope for a new world.

    For so many years it seemed the 'new' music was overly commercial or just not appealing. I tended to find an occasional new fave but stuck with long-ago hits that always inspired me.

    That all changed a few years ago. I caught an occasional song--Hey There Delilah on the radio and Amy Winehouse on a late night show. Suddenly it seemed I could flip on the radio when driving and discover fabulous new artists, leaving me scrambling to scribble stray lyrics in hopes of finding the source.

    Music is on an upswing. The 60's without the disorientation and risks of the drug scene. Well, except for poor Amy. *sigh*

    I loved reading your article and getting insight into Hindi films and their positive impact on our global community. Thanks so much!


  2. I always love your articles Nina! And this one is stellar. Thank you for telling us about these wonderful films. I can't wait to see them on this side of the border! ;D And I agree films have the power to move, enlighten, change our way of thinking as well as entertain. And, ahem - I agree with you both those actors are very appealing but that's not the real reason you love Indian cinema is it? **g** I haven't been to a festival in a few years - but festival films always fill me with excitement and energy about the possibility in all of us to tell great stories - even the simplest of stories can make the most profound or poignant films.

  3. I love bollywood! Yeay! Hinthint, check out Kaminey, an oldie, Dil Chatha Hai, my personal favorite Dil Tho Pagal Hai, and the most amazing bollywood movie in the last five years 'Jab we met.' What a fabulous and well informed post! great job!

    <3Nisha Sharma

  4. Nina, you met John Abraham? Oh, I am sooo jealous! Isn't that man a dish???

    I loved Dostana, had a good laugh over it, some of the scenes were so hilarious! Gonna look for Luck By Chance now, Konkona Sen Sharma is I think one of the best actors of her generation. Absolutely adored her in Page 3. I have recently gotten hooked by the 'realistic Bollywood movies, the likes of Page 3, Life in a Metro, and just last week saw Fashion with Priyanka Chopra and Kangana Ranaut. I thought it was a good movie, not often you see such a well-sketched character arc. It's true to life, though I wished they'd shown her affair with her boss Sareen and not simply implied it when she needed to have an abortion. But, Indian cinema is still Indian cinema, though in Page 3, which I think was by Madhur Bhandarkar too, they did show love/sex scenes, like the one where Konkona's character comes to see the man she fancied was in fact bisexual. And in fashion, one of the secondary characters, fashion designer Rahul Arora, is gay but to please his mom, he gets into this marriage of convenience with his best friend from college who's now a model.

    It might be strange, but for me, it's those 'realistic' movies that show me hope. Because we're allowed to see the world as it is, not a washed out or hyper-romanticized version of it that would have us crashing from even taller heights when something does happen to jar us back to face reality.

    But, darn, you met John Abraham!!!



  5. Dear Chiron,

    Thanks so much for your kind words and for pointing out to music. There is truly nothing like a great song to get the day going. I mean, guilty as charged of scrambling on my car stereo, when I had a car in LA!! I love U2, Hindi film music - of course - Reggae, and Coldplay. Viva La Vida, what a song!! Inspiring and incredibly touching.

    Again, thanks for reading up and for inspiring with your comment!

    Look forward to your post!! Nina

  6. Dearest Joanna!

    Again, it's the mutual admiration society, as I absolutely positively adore your writing and your ideas!! I think I like Hindi cinema for two reasons: the beauty it displays, both in men and women, costumes and locations and because there is such a spectrum in their stories. Truly, there is indie stuff as well as blockbusters, and sometimes within the same project!!

    I highly recommend these films and they are all available on Netflix here in the US, Dostana, Luck By Chance and Lets Talk. Although the first one is hardly a festival film in the true sense of the word... But it has changed the world, in many ways...

    Hugs and thanks for reading! Nina

  7. Ahhhh Nisha!! A fellow Bolly addict I see!!!

    Dil Chahta Hai is the first film by Farhan, he is now acting too, and Rock On, as well as the still undistributed and absolutely stunning Fakir of Venice are two of his acting accomplishments. He is the true sex symbol of Hindi cinema I think. With great crossover appeal. Kaminey rocked! As did Jab We Met and I'll add the new one by Imtiaz Ali Love Aaj Kal. The romance simply blew me away. And of course, the quintessential K3G which started my love for Indian cinema!!

    Thanks for reading and for sharing and inspiring even more passion in films within this post!


  8. Hello Z!!!

    I think from the kind of great taste in film you display, you will love Luck By Chance! It's a bit of that behind the scenes feel of Fashion, but with a better story, I feel. I saw Fashion late at night and with a rowdy audience who kept shouting at Priyanka in the climax scene 'Arre Yaar, Aao Go!!' calling our her character's name. You know, when she finds out about her friend/competition and can't quite make it onto the ramp?? Anyway, it was funny and broke the mood for me a bit. But Page 3 was one of the first first to tell it like it is and I really enjoyed that. Also, had the added 'reporter' angle which I identified with, even if I am not a journo in any way, shape or form... But writing about fluff is something that comes my way from time to time...

    Glad you enjoyed the piece and hope you'll watch both LBC and Lets Talk, a truly insightful piece about relationships...

    Hugs to you and read you soon! Nina

  9. I'll definitely look for it, Nina!

    And I've got Love Aaj Kal on the to-be-watched list, asap it comes on DVD.

    K3G - now that, I think, was the best of the best! Can you say "Chandu ke chacha ne chandu ke chachi..." My kids really hate me when I try to make them repeat that line!



  10. Z!!!

    Always delightful to get you feedback!! Love the line will now repeat it ad naseaum....

    Hugs and thanks for sharing your wonderful insight.


  11. Nina - just watched the trailers for Luck by Chance and Dostana on You Tube. Awesome.

    John Abraham *fall over thud*

    The Superstar from Luck by Chance *I'm going to knock myself out if I feep falling over thud*

    Sounds like you had an unbelievable time at I-View-Film.


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