The Bagri Foundation London Indian Film Festival to open with the world premiere of Love Sonia from Life of Pi producer David Womark
The Bagri Foundation London Indian Film Festival is a cinematic treasure trove of carefully curated premieres of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi independent films, offering rare glimpses into some of the billion plus lives in the sub-continent. Now in its ninth year, it expands out in three cities: London, Birmingham and Manchester.
The programme of dramas, documentaries and shorts explores a compelling slate of controversial, entertaining and thought-provoking themes with global resonances. The festival is title sponsored by the Bagri Foundation, which is dedicated to the promotion of Asian arts and culture. The festival also receives grant support from the BFI’s National Lottery Audience Fund.
The festival helmer, with an all star Hollywood and Bollywood cast including Demi Moore, Mark Duplass, Freida Pinto, Manoj Bajpayee, Rajkummar Rao, Richa Chadda, Anupam Kher, Adil Hussain, Sunny Parwar and Mrunal Thakur, is the World Premiere of Love Sonia, from the Academy nominated producer of Life Of Pi, David Womark. A compelling story of two loving sisters, who are forced into the sex industry in Mumbai. Main protagonist Sonia, is sustained by a fragile dream that is worth surviving for, her searing journey spans three continents and a lifetime of experiences that no young girl should have. Sonia is determined not to become one of the 800,000 women and children who are victims of the international sex trade industry every year. The director Tabrez Noorani, who was previously line producer on the multiple Academy, BAFTA and Golden Globe winner Slumdog Millionaire, and films like Zero Dark Thirty, and talent, are expected at Cineworld Empire Leicester Square on Thursday 21st June.
The Festival finale red carpet is at BFI Southbank with the UK Premiere of Venus – a feel-good comedy about a Canadian Punjabi transgender person who is about to embark on surgery but suddenly discovers they are the father of a teenage boy who thinks they are the coolest dad on the planet. The director Eisha Marjara and talent are expected, on Friday 29 June.
The Central Gala is T For Taj, an inspiring tale about a roadside eatery owner who lives aside the main road to the Taj Mahal. He embarks on an innovative and risky plan to educate the local illiterate children by offering free food in exchange for tourists teaching the kids. Starring Aki Falkner (The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Pitobash (Million Dollar Arm). The director Kireet Khuranna and guests, are expected.
‘The Female Eye’ showcases the work of six, exciting female filmmakers who offer very fresh stories and alternative cinematic styles in South Asian cinema. The English Premiere of multi-award-winning Village Rockstars is a joyous mother-daughter story about a freethinking village girl who dreams of being a rock guitarist, with Q&A by director Rima Sen. While Teen Aur Aadha (Three and a Half) is an envelope pushing compilation of three, dramatic tales of modern Mumbai shot in three and a half takes. British Bengali director Sangeeta Datta’s mesmerisingly beautiful Bird of Dusk examines the inner life of the late, great Bengali filmmaker Rituparno Ghosh. These and two other women filmmakers highlight some of India’s most original, cutting edge film talents. Alongside, this LIFF will also screen a cinematic tribute to the legendary Bollywood star Sridevi, who died in February, with a special treat for all her fans – a rare, silverscreen showing of Shekhur Kapur’s iconic 1987 blockbuster, Mr India, co-starring Slumdog Millionaire star Anil Kapoor.
‘Fathers & Sons’ is also a powerful theme running through this year’s festival, with films that explore Indian father and son relationships, from which boys learn their first lessons about masculinity. This role model has good sides and bad including toxic masculinity, which leads to violence against women. In The Shadows is a dark, agoraphobic debut by Dipesh Jain that depicts a ten-year-old’s story of struggling with a wife-beating father in an old Delhi chawl, starring the versatile Indian actor Manoj Bajpayee (Aligarh), who is expected at the festival. By contrast, the raucous, British comedy Eaten By Lions has Bradford teenager Omar and his half brother searching for his real Asian dad on the streets of Blackpool.
‘Extra-Ordinary Lives’ is a strand of films exploring everyday people in extraordinary circumstances. Kicking off this strand is the must-see English Premiere of Norway’s Oscar nomination, What will People Say, about a Pakistani girl, Nisha, who is forced to go to Pakistan after her father finds her with a white Norwegian lad and her fight for survival and self-determination. Kho Ki Pa Lu is a stunning documentary on the villagers of Nagaland (in Eastern India) and their Blues-like field songs. From South India is the much lauded Tamil drama My Son is Gay, and from North to Punjab, is the road movie Mehsampur and from Bangladesh is Doob (No Bed of Roses) starring Irrfan Khan (Slumdog Millionaire).
Hard hitting themes of famine and toilets
Meanwhile, by sharp contrast, a searing new documentary, Bengal Shadows interrogates the little known story of the Bengali Famine, where millions of Bengali’s perished at the British Empire and Churchill’s alleged hand in this calamity with a debate at the LSE including Economist Amartya Sen and Professor Tirthankar Roy. Grand Prix winner at Montreal Film Festival is the charming, family film Halkaa about a slum living boy who, instead of defecating on the rail lines, dreams of having his own private toilet and his eventful mission to try to get one built.
The Song of Scorpions is set in the deep deserts of Rajasthan, where a lone camel herder played by Irrfan Khan (The Lunch Box) is obsessed by a magical, female healer who has the power to sing away scorpion bites, played by Iranian actor Golshifteh Farahani (About Elly).
The Festival’s annual Satyajit Ray Competition, presented in association with the Bagri Foundation, with its £1,000 prize offers a platform for emerging filmmakers and six, shortlisted entries will be screened. The Festival will present its Pure Heaven Icon Award and its Outstanding Achievement Award, supported by Sun Mark Ltd.
BFI Southbank, Cineworld cinemas, Empire Leicester Square and Wembley, the Barbican, Picturehouses Central, Crouch End and Stratford, Watermans Art Centre, Genesis, LSE and SOAS in London; mac Birmingham, Cineworld Broad Street and The Mockingbird Cinema and Kitchen in Birmingham; and HOME in Manchester will all host the festival.
Due to popular demand, reaching out to audiences outside London has become a priority for the festival, and with a successful few years in Birmingham, it is back there for a 4th year. The festival now also travels to Manchester for the first time, at HOME, a leading independent arts space. Over the weekend of Sat 30 June and Sun 1 July, there will be screenings of an eye-catching selection of must-watch films: the award winning Village Rockstars, British Asian comedy set in Blackpool – Eaten By Lions and our delightful alternative family values comedy Venus.
Words from the Festival Director
Festival director Cary Rajinder Sawhney says: “One great thing about being in the UK and especially London is that we are culturally intertwined to India and South Asia, not just through our shared history but our living, everyday experience where South Asian communities add so much to UK cultural life, of which cinema is an important aspect. This cutting edge festival showcases indie cinema that entertains but shows the more realistic and sometimes the raw side of South Asian culture but, at the same time, there are always stories of comedy, hope and the inexhaustible energy of over 1.3 Billion South Asian lives from the Indian subcontinent”.
Words from the Title Sponsor
Dr Alka Bagri, Trustee of the Bagri Foundation says: “For the fourth year, the Bagri Foundation is delighted to bring to the UK the best of independent South Asian cinema with LIFF. As a charity dedicated to celebrating the arts and culture of Asia in all its richness and diversity, from the traditional to the contemporary, we are proud to champion independent cinema and give a platform to new voices alongside established artists. The Festival is a key moment in the UK arts calendar and we are thrilled to place a spotlight on South Asian culture through engaging and audacious films that explore universal and topical subject matters such as identity, women’s empowerment and construction of masculinity.”