In March 2010 I gave into temporary insanity, and halfway through a mock New York Bar exam (that I was taking on Regent Street), decided to make a run for it. Leaving unfinished exam behind, through the tube, atop a bus (from which I took a flying, painful fall that seven years on, still hurts), and on to the BFI at the Southbank. I made it just in time to see Mira Nair screening and speaking about her film Salaam Bombay!
Such is the pull of the London Asian Film Festival – which returns to London on the 9th of this month for a ten day run. And as ever, it brings with it a selection of some of the best (some new, some not so new) alternative South Asian cinema, screen talks (this time, with Pakistani filmmaker Sabiha Sumar), and its annual short film competition. There’s no Mira Nair this year, but there is a mushaira at the British Library that I’d happily take another flying leap for.
The full festival programme is worth having a look at, but here are a few of our top picks.
The opening film of the Festival – directed by American filmmaker John Upchurch – has a compelling storyline. A Sikh man suffering from the onset of dementia and tormented by memories of the horrors of partition, is on the run from being admitted into a nursing home by his son. He comes across a Muslim rickshaw driver, struggling with his own demons, who agrees to drive him to his destination – and a complicated journey follows. Described as a “heartwarming story about going home, making peace with your past, and finding hope in the future.” In English, but set in India (as seems to be the trend these days).
Thursday 9th March 2017, 8pm. Regent Street Cinema, 309 Regent Street, London W1B 2UW, £20. Book here.
For obvious reasons. Who doesn’t love a bit of Mowgli, Murray, and monkey loving in a reimagining of Rudyard Kipling’s classic? It’s a year old so many of you might have already caught it. But if not, take the kids, take your younger selves, and look out for those bare necessities.
Saturday 11th March 2017, 11.30am. Regent Street Cinema, 309 Regent Street, London W1B 2UW, £1.75. Book here.
We’ve been long enthralled by stories of Indian mathematical genius Srinivasa Ramanujan. We first heard science writer Simon Singh talk about the influence of Ramanujan on popular animated series such as Futurama and the Simpsons. So for its portrayal of an incredible, yet scandalously little-known story, we greatly enjoyed this film based on Ramanujan’s (played by Dev Patel) life, and his time at Cambridge University with professor G. H. Hardy where he spent four years during World War I, completing proofs of his pioneering work. The film gets the inevitable Hollywood treatment (barely any local languages spoken during the scenes shot in India), but it’s still a remarkable story, and quite moving.
Monday 13th March 2017, 6.30pm. Victoria & Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL. £15. Book here.
We’ve been hearing excellent things about this film for months. British Pakistani award-winning filmmaker Ahmad A Jamal presents this adaptation of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure set in Lahore, arguably one of the most photogenic yet under-represented on screen cities in the world. Besides what promises to be a interesting take on one of the Bard’s ‘problem plays’, Rahm also features some of Pakistan’s most talented actors, including Sajid Hasan, and Sanam Saeed, who started on stage and is now moving on to cinema via TV work. Don’t miss the post-screening Q&A with the director and producer afterwards.
Tuesday 14th March 2017, 7pm. Regent Street Cinema, 309 Regent Street, London W1B 2UW, £15. Book here.
“Have you ever wondered why people sleep on dividers during the summer? When cars pass by, the gush of wind keeps the mosquitoes from biting.” This documentary about the inequalities of sleep, and the realities for India’s urban poor looks like one of the highlights of the Festival. The film follows Shakeel, a beggar as he navigates Delhi’s cut-throat sleep economy. The cinematography and soundtrack are hauntingly evocative. The dialogues are endlessly powerful – “if you want to seize control over someone, never let them sleep“. Even the trailer is a must-see.
Tuesday 14th March 2017, 4pm. Regent Street Cinema, 309 Regent Street, London W1B 2UW, FREE. Book here.
After Manto by Sarmad Khoosat, Toba Tek Singh by Ketan Mehta, Mantostaan is the latest of a slew of films re-imagining the stories of the great short story writer Saadat Hassan Manto. A dark satire by Kashmiri film director Rahat Kazmi, the film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last year. It weaves four of Manto’s arguably most controversial short stories: Khol Do, Thanda Gosht, Assignment and Aakhri Salute into one story against the backdrop of partition.
Thursday 16th March 2017, 7pm. The British Library. £12. Book here.
Konkona Sen Sharma’s writing and directing debut, this film stars some of India’s finest indie actors – Kalki Koechlin, Ranvir Shorey, Tillotama Shome, and the late legendary Om Puri. Like many good indie-dramas, this one too focuses on a homecoming in McCluskieGunj in Jharkand, set in 1979. Expect eccentricities, interesting family and friends dynamics, an incident of a death in the Gunj, and some really excellent performances.
Friday 17th March 2017, 8pm. Watermans Theatre, 40 High Street, Brentford, TW8 0DS, £9. Book here.
Four Indian women, the kick ass Konkona Sen Sharma as one of the leads, themes centring around sexuality, challenges to entrenched gender norms, and of course – a ban by the Indian censor board. **Unfortunately the film sold out when the ban was announced, so you’ll have to check for returns.** Or content yourself with this article here about the censor board’s ban on the basis of: “The story is lady oriented, their fantasy above life. There are contanious [sic] sexual scenes, abusive words, audio pornography and a bit sensitive touch about one particular section of society”.
Saturday 18th March 2017, 7pm. Courthouse Hotel, 335-337 Old St, London EC1V 9LL. £15. More information is here.
The London Asian Film Festival (LAFF) runs from Thursday 9th – Sunday 19th March 2017. Key films from LAFF will also be shown as part of the newly announced Leicester Asian Film Festival, and the Edinburgh Asian Film Festival, now in its second year. For more information, see their website here.
Posted on 7 March 2017
Photos from London Asian Film Festival