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South Asian cinema at London Film Festival 2012

South Asian cinema has become an increasingly important part of the London Film Festival in the past few years and the 2012 edition of the event is certainly no exception.

The number of films and filmmakers from the sub-continent is still relatively low in comparison to entries from countries such as Japan and Australia but Bollywood and films from the region are more visible than ever at one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world.

Prakash Jha's epic political thriller ‘Chakravyuh’ will have its’ world premiere during the 12-day event, in a first for an Indian feature film.  

Other gala premiers include Mira Nair's 'Reluctant Fundamentalist' and Deepa Mehta's 'Midnight's Children' which has been entered in the Festival's official competition.

Whilst these two films are not strictly South Asian productions, they are evidence of the region's abundance of compelling stories and filmmaking talent.

Among the other films featuring South Asian talent or themes will be ‘Midnight’s Children’, Deepa Mehta’s adaptation of Salman Rushdie’s Booker prize-winning novel; Mira Nair’s ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ starring British Asian actor and musician Riz Ahmed; ‘Aiyya’, a romantic-comedy helmed by Sachin Kundalkar and starring Rani Mukherjee and ‘With You, Without You’, the new production from talented Sri Lankan writer and director Prasanna Vithanage.  

The British Film Institute will also hold a special screening of Satyajit Ray’s ‘Mahanagar’ as part of the Festival.

Below is the full list of South Asian films at this year's Festival:

Aiyaa
Director-Screenwriter: Sachin Kundalkar/Producer Anurag Kashyap, Guneet Monga/Starring Rani Mukherjee, Prithviraj Sukumaran, Nirmiti Sawant

Bollywood icon Rani Mukherji plays Marathi girl Meenaxi in this delightful Amelie-style comedy. Meenaxi lives with her eccentric family next to a smelly rubbish dump, lost in her dream-like Bollywood fantasy world. She gets a job at an art college where she meets a soul-mate, a buck-toothed Lady GaGa lookalike, and together they go man-hunting. That’s until Meenaxi catches the smell of her dream man, follows the scent and finds a hunky Tamil student (superstar Prithviraj), who she stalks; much to his annoyance. At the same time her barely sane parents are arranging her marriage to a good, sensible boy, who loves Marathi art cinema and rose-planting. As her dream hunk mysteriously disappears, Meenaxi is torn: should she settle for the rose garden? Director Sachin Kundalkar deftly delivers on-the-button gags, and ecstatic song and dance numbers.

Chakravyuh
Director-Producer: Prakash Jha/Screenwriter: Prakash Jha, Sagar Pandya, Anjum Rajabali/Starring Abhay Deol, Arjun Rampal, Manoj Bajpayee

Prakash Jha’s Bollywood action epic tells of two best friends who end up on opposite sides of the law. Idealistic Adil Khan (Arjun Rampal), heads up a rural police force; he is supported by his much-loved mate Kabir (Abhay Deol). Naxalites – extreme left-wing revolutionaries – are taking control of the local area, and after they ruthlessly gun down a police squadron, Kabir offers to help Adil by becoming an undercover spy. The planned infiltration works and Kabir is soon face-to-face with the Naxalite leader (Manoj Bajpayee) and his beautiful, ultra-violent right-hand woman Juhi (Anjali Patil), who Kabir soon falls for. He sends back essential information, which leads to the police ambushing the rebels, but as the Naxalites are pushed back, it soon becomes horribly clear to Kabir that the latter are, in fact, defending the poor local villagers from corrupt land-grabbers. The tables turn and Kabir switches sides, leading to the ultimate bullet-riddled conflict where friends become deadly enemies. Jha’s characteristically balanced handling of controversial topics, the strong characters, and the robust script and sharply executed action sequences make for a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.

Mahanagar
Director: Satjajit Rai/Producer: RD Bansal/Starring Anil Chatterjee, Madhabi Mukherjee, Haren Chatterjee

A woman’s place is with her cooking-pots: that is the firmly articulated belief of Subrata Mazumdar, a young bank clerk struggling to support his entire extended family on a meagre salary, and he is duly horrified when his wife Arati (a ravishing, spirited performance from Madhabi Mukherjee) offers to help by going out to work as a ‘salesgirl’. Satyajit Ray’s wonderfully enjoyable portrait of mid-50s Calcutta, a society still adjusting to independence, displays warmth, wit and genuine insight into its large, multi-generational cast of characters, including Arati’s conservative old father-in-law, her studious teenage sister-in-law, and her benevolently despotic boss. For this new restoration, undertaken in India, the original negative was scanned at a high resolution (2K), enabling the film’s epic scale and intimate detail – from the portrayal of big city life to the exquisite play of emotions on Arati’s face – to emerge in greater beauty and clarity.

Peddlers
Director-Screenwriter: Vasan Bala/Producer: Anurag Kashyap, Guneet Monga/Starring Gulshan Devaiah, Siddharth Mennon

Fresh from Cannes success, this compelling multi-strand film noir tells of ace narcotics investigation cop Ranjit. His successful work life is, however, in deep contrast to his private struggle with impotence, which makes relationships with women impossible. On the other side of the fence is Bilkis, a young Bangladeshi woman who has become a drug mule in order to pay for her cancer operation. While the cop’s frustrated private life starts to get dangerously confused with his investigations, Bilkis and her dealer friends embark on their biggest score yet. Unstable Ranjit is on the scent of Bilkis’s drug-carrier boyfriend, and it’s not long before Ranjit and Bilkis’ paths cross, and she is forced to trade loyalties for her very survival. First-time director Vasan Bala’s flair for unexpected plot twists ensures a rollercoaster-ride of a narrative, while a powerful cast bring to life its dark heart.


The Reluctant Fundamentalist
Director: Mira Nair/Producer: Lydia Dean Pilcher/Screenwriter: William Wheeler, Mohsin Hamid, Ami Boghani/Starring Riz Ahmed, Kate Hudson, Kiefer Sutherland

Director Mira Nair (Salaam Bombay; Monsoon Wedding) returns to the Festival with her intense adaption of Moshin Hamid’s bestseller. It tells of Changez, an ambitious young man whose identity pivots between a glittering stockbroker career in the Big Apple and his home culture thousands of miles away in Lahore, Pakistan. Aggressive young gun Changez sums up everything his poet father detests about the West, as he lands a prize job at a firm specialising in the ruthless takeovers of ailing companies. Changez soon catches the eye of troubled trophy WASP princess Erica, who is intrigued by this ‘exotic’ man. Then, out of the blue, the World Trade Centre is destroyed, and suddenly Changez’s Pakistani background and face suddenly don’t fit. Being strip-searched at US Customs is the first of his humiliations; and disenchantment with his new home, which forces Changez to reconsider who he is, draws him back to Pakistan and headlong into the unfolding conflict between the US military and Pakistani extremists. Nair astutely treads the delicate faultlines between Western and Islamic worlds, supported by an impressive cast led by Riz Ahmed, with Kiefer Sutherland, Kate Hudson and Shabana Azmi.

Save Your Legs!
Director: Boyd Hicklin/Producer: Nick Batzias, Robyn Kershaw/Screenwriter: Brendan Cowell/Starring Steve Curry, Brendan Cowell, Damon Gameau, Brenton Thwaites, David Lyons

Get your silly-mid-on with this hilarious ‘bromantic comedy’ that follows a D-grade cricket team from the suburbs of Melbourne to the subcontinent of India. Blagging his way into a sponsorship deal on false pretences, the Abbotsford Anglers president Teddy (Stephen Curry) convinces his ramshackle club to rise to the challenge. Together they embark on a tour that is memorable for what happens off the field and laughable for what happens on it. Failing to notice the shifting priorities of his mates, along with the attentive glances of the sponsor’s gorgeous daughter Anjali (Pallavi Sharda), the gullible Teddy is about to learn – Bollywood-style – that some things in life are more important than cricket. Written by actor Brendan Cowell (The Slap), Save Your Legs! was inspired by director Boyd Hicklin’s documentary of the same name about a tour by the real-life team on which the story is based.

Ship of Theseus
Director-Screenwriter: Anand Gandhi/Producer: Mukesh Shah/Starring Aida El-Kashef, Neeraj Kabi, Sohum Shah

An astounding tour de force by first-feature filmmaker Anand Gandhi leads us through three separate stories in contemporary Mumbai, which culminate in ultimate illumination. An idealist monk is involved in animal-rights activism but, being diagnosed with cancer, he is forced to make a choice between death and medicine that is tested on animals. A photographer is celebrated for her intuitive work, but she also struggles over how both she and her art are viewed by others. A young stockbroker nurses his grandmother in a hospital. When he discovers that a neighbouring patient has had his kidney stolen, his concern leads him on the trail of an organ-smuggling racket and eventually to confront the recipient patient in Europe. Following the separate strands of this trio’s philosophical journeys, and their eventual convergence, Gandhi’s elegant docu-drama style film carefully unfolds questions of identity, justice, beauty and death.

Oba Nathuwa Oba Ekka
Director-Screenwriter: Prasanna Vithanage/Producer: Mohamed Adamaly, Lasantha Nawarathna/Starring Anjali Patil, Shyam Fernando, Wasantha Moragoda

Acclaimed Sri Lankan director Vithanage returns to the Festival with arguably his best work so far. Akin to The English Patient, it is set in the months after war and deftly explores the emotional fall-out of such trauma on the lives of ordinary people. Selvi is a beautiful but quiet Tamil refugee (powerfully played by Anjali Patil) who catches the eye of a middle-aged Buddhist pawnbroker when she comes to cash in her last jewellery. Immediately captivated, the pawnbroker follows her back to her temporary home. Discovering she is about to be wed for money to a very old man, he throws caution to the wind and offers to marry her instead. Selvi soon moves into his house and slowly falls in love with her saviour, but neither of them ever talk about their past; until an old army friend of the pawnbroker turns up, and a terrible secret emerges. Tightly scripted, with a wonderfully nuanced plot and haunting cinematography, this is Sri Lankan independent cinema at its best.

For venues and listings, visit www.bfi.org.uk/lff

- Poonam Joshi

- Synopses courtesy Cary Sawhney, Clare Stewart, Margaret Deriez

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