By Maria D’Anselmi
The long- awaited South Asian Film Festival will make its debut during the last week of February at the Angelika Film Center in Plano. What is the draw for Americans who have never seen or known about South Asian cinema? This festival will provide audiences with a unique look into the vibrant culture and current social conflicts of South Asia through a diverse series of 14 films, including feature length films, animations, documentaries and short films.
“Unfortunately, the audience here is only being shown the Bollywood films,” festival director Jitin Hingorani said in a phone interview. “Bollywood, while it’s a fabulous art form and very representative of Indian escapist cinema … our audiences here in North America are a little more sophisticated and are looking for stories that are going to make them think and feel more socially responsible.”
The festival opens with “Brahman Bulls,” a story about a father-son relationship that is set in L.A. and explores themes of romance and family.
“Their father-son relationship is just like any other father-son relationship and we wanted to make the point that South Asians are very much a part of the American fabric,” said Hingorani.
The centerpiece film, “Sold”, helmed by Academy Award- winning director Jeffrey D. Brown and produced by Emma Thompson and Jane Charles, is a raw and moving tale of a thirteen-year-old Nepali girl who becomes the victim of sex trafficking in India.
“Human sex trafficking is an issue that people don’t know much about, don’t talk much about,” Hingorani said. “But this is happening, especially in those parts of South Asia.”
Film festival coordinator Ambica Dev also stresses the relevance of this issue.
“There are young girls that are being trafficked every day, not only in India, but also in the U.S….It’s just an eye -opener to actually see what a child has to go through,” Dev said.
According to Hingorani, the festival provides new South Asian directors with a platform to showcase their work alongside directors who are more mainstream.
Three short films created by young South Asian filmmakers are featured in the festival’s youth program. “Therapy” is about a Punjabi mother whose son is engaged. They attend a therapy session, experiencing a culture clash with their white American therapist, to highly comedic results.
The feature film of the youth program, “Acceptance,” tells the story of a young Indian scholar who lies about getting into Harvard and the chaos that ensues from his unravelling falsehood.
Dubbed an “un-romantic comedy,” “Just Friends” is about how social pressure forces a young Indian boy and girl to become a couple when all they want is to remain friends.
The festival’s documentaries address major social struggles as seen in “Tomorrow We Disappear,” the story of the how Kathputli Colony, home to many Indian artists, magicians and performers, was sold by the New Delhi government to be bulldozed and rebuilt.
“Fire in the Blood” is a complex account of the fight for AIDS treatment to reach victims in Africa.
“We feel the message needs to be brought to this area… people don’t realize how strong the fight against AIDS is or how hard it is to get medication developed for people that have AIDS. We need to bring more light to that” Dev said.
The purpose of this festival is clear to the passionate team behind it, and has a far-reaching cultural aspect to it.
“Our stories are all human stories,” Hingorani said. “What’s happening in parts of Nepal and Bangladesh [is] also happening around the world. This is basically to educate, inspire, and engage the audiences in North Texas to learn more about the world around them…and to kind of get out of their bubble. We wanted a nice mix, we wanted films that appeal to an older audience, a younger audience, women, children, LGBT, everyone.”
Hingorani offered advice for those who are venturing into the world of South Asian film.
“Go in with an open mind, go in with an open heart and just take in the subject matter, because it might very well change your life.”