Organizers have announced the full roster of films for this year’s London Asian Film Festival (LAFF) which takes place across London from 19 March to 28 March.
This year’s Festival highlights include critically acclaimed films such as ‘Margarita With A Straw’, ‘Bhopal – A Prayer for Rain’, ‘Dukhtar’, ‘Rang Rasiya’ and ‘The World Before Her’.
The 17th edition London Asian Film Festival is once again organized by Tongues on Fire, which has built a reputation for promoting independent cinema as well as providing a showcase for female filmmakers. In keeping with that ethos, LAFF 2015 celebrates ‘The Power of Women’, a theme that is reflected in this year’s roster of special guests who include such filmmakers as Farah Khan, Nisha Pahuja and Afia Nathaniel.
Here’s a list of the films being screened.
Opening Night Gala – ‘Dukhtar’
Quetta-born writer director Afia Nathaniel’s feature debut is the thrilling story of a mother and her ten-year-old daughter, who flee their home after the youngster is promised in marriage to a local tribal leader. Mom Allah Rakhi (Samiya Mumtaz) herself was betrothed to a much-older tribesman at the age of fifteen and she is determined to ensure that her daughter escapes the same fate, despite the appalling dangers she is bound to face as an unaccompanied woman with a young child in rural, lawless Pakistan. As her outraged husband and men from her tribe embark on a pursuit that will almost certainly result in her death, the courageous and determined Rakhi flees and eventually hails down a truck driver, Sohail (Mohib Mirza) and lies to him about wanting a lift. When Sohail learns of the real reason for Rakhi’s flight, he is forced to decide whether he will endanger his own life to deliver mother and daughter to safety in Lahore.
The screening will be followed by a Q&A with director Afia Nathaniel
Closing Night Gala – ‘Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain’
December 1984 and a gas leak at the Union Carbide chemical plant in Bhopal, India leaves nearly 15,000 people dead. London-based director Ravi Kumar tells the harrowing tale of how the disaster impacted on the lives of the people of Bhopal and the continued suffering it causes. The story is told from the viewpoint of Dilip (Rajpal Yadav), a rickshaw driver who lands himself a job at the factory. The job is arduous but presents Dilip with an opportunity to overcome the crippling poverty in which his family lives. As a result, he has little choice but to ignore the lax safety measures in place at the factory. However, Dilip is enlisted by his journalist friend Motwani who is on a mission to expose the American industrial giant with scant regard for the safety or well-being of an impoverished people. Along the way Dilip and Motwani aim to hold to account the man ultimately responsible for the disaster – the head of Union Carbide, Warren Anderson, played in the film by the incomparable Martin Sheen. ‘Bhopal – A Prayer for Rain’ is a troubling and deeply moving account of what remains the world’s worst industrial disaster.
The screening will be followed by a Q&A with director Ravi Kumar
‘The World Before Her’
Widely considered the most powerful and most important film about India in decades, Nisha Pahuja’s skillfully made documentary explores the country’s great dichotomies – the gulf between the rich and the poor and the decades-long conflict between religion and secularism. The film charts the lives and fortunes of two young women from opposing ends of the socio-cultural spectrum. One is a member of the Hindu nationalist Durga Vahini organization, dedicating her life to the preservation of her religion by any and all means. The other is a 20-year-old finalist for the Miss India contest, aiming to be crowned the most beautiful in India and enjoy all that that entails. An accomplished documentary filmmaker, Pahuja won kudos across the world for what many call her “provocative” study of an apparently ‘modern’ India without ever sitting on judgment.
National Award-winning director Ketan Mehta’s visually stunning and audacious drama explores the life of Raja Ravi Varma, widely considered one of the greatest painters in the history of Indian art. Randeep Hooda stars as Varma, a man whose extraordinary skill was matched only by his ambivalent attitudes and the man who, many believe, helped give human form to the myriad deities worshipped in India. Mehta’s film charts Varma’s life from humble beginnings in rural Kerala and the patronage of south Indian royalty to making his fortune in Bombay. Along the way, Mehta explores Varma’s remarkable passion for his art, his conflict with both religion and religious men, censorship and, above all, his all-consuming love for his muse Sugandha – played with rare sensuality by Nandana Sen. The beautiful Sugandha inspires Varma to ever greater artistic heights and becomes his obsession.
An inspiring and deeply troubling portrayal of the position of ordinary women in India. Tara is a young girl from a village not too far from Mumbai, content with life in an idyllic and sleepy backwater that is a shockingly far cry from the chaos and vibrancy of India’s great cultural and commercial capital. Tara’s happy existence however masks an unimaginable darkness, a life built on ceaseless exploitation. Most shockingly of all, when Tara attempts to stand up to her exploiters, and for the benefit of those like her, she is ostracized from the same people she is attempting to help. Tara’s is a story that is the unfortunate reality for innumerable women across the sub-continent and the eternal question that many women grapple with every day – the choice between freedom and social marginalization.
‘Margarita With A Straw’
Based on a true-story, this compelling drama explores disability in India through the eyes of a young Punjabi girl suffering from cerebral palsy. The gifted Kalki Koechlin plays the central role of Laila, a university student, writer, lyricist and musician who is confined to a wheelchair. After winning a scholarship to New York University, Laila moves to Manhattan with her mother (played by the veteran south Indian actress and activist Revathi). In the city that never sleeps, Laila falls in love with Sayani Gupta’s fiery young activist Khanum: a love that threatens chaos for Laila and her family. Writer, producer and director Shonali Bose is no stranger to tackling difficult subjects. Her 2005 feature debut ‘Amu’ – based on her novel of the same name – was a skilfully crafted exploration of the 1984 anti-Sikh massacres in Delhi through the eyes of a young Indian American girl.
‘Lokmanya – Ek Yog Purush’
Director Om Raut’s sweeping Marathi epic brings to life the extraordinary journey of the legendary Indian educator, journalist, social reformer and freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Subodh Bhave stars as the Independence icon, commonly known as ‘Lokmanya Tilak’. The film explores the Lokmanya’s life from humble beginnings in small-town Maharashtra to his career first as a mathematics teacher and, later, a journalist through to his joining the Indian National Congress. Tilak opposed the INC’s more moderate stance on independence, instead calling for India to agitate for freedom – for his troubles, he was imprisoned several times before emerging as a widely-revered national hero, only for his immeasurable contribution to be confined to the back pages of history.
Written and directed by Meenu Gaur and Farjad Nabi, Zinda Bhaag explores the terrifying world of human trafficking and the extraordinary risks taken by ordinary people in the developing world, in pursuit of better lives in the West. Set in Lahore, the film tells the story of three young men – Khaldi, Taambi and Chitta – fighting against a regressive system in an attempt to break free from the chaos of Pakistan and succeed on their own terms away from the country of their birth. Gaur and Nabi lay bare the often desperate reality of life in Pakistan whilst celebrating the ingenuity, determination and spirit of the countless thousands who will risk life and limb in search of their dreams.
For tickets and timings and special events, visit www.tonguesonfire.com