“Asian cinema” is often used as a catch-all term, but while it’s bad enough that a multitude of countries and cultures are summed up so generically it’s made worse by the realization that too many people think those countries in question consist solely of Japan, South Korea, and China. Technically speaking those three would fall under the East Asian label, but while they get the most press there is great cinema to be found elsewhere in the region. North Asia has seen recent success with the Russian films, Elena and Stalingrad, Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi has helped stimulate interest in West Asian films thanks to his Oscar-winning A Separation, and one of the best action films in years (The Raid) came out of Southeast Asia’s Indonesia.
This week though, attention turns to the Tenth Annual South Asian International Film Festival (SAIFF) in NYC.
The fest runs tonight through Sunday (December 3rd-8th) and highlights cinema from countries including India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and more. To most people, Indian movies means Bollywood, but while that’s a big, bright, musical part of their cinematic culture they actually have far more to offer. That includes the opening night film, Monsoon Shootout, which is the only one on this year’s roster that I’ve already seen and happily one I can say without a doubt is worth seeing.
Keep reading for a look at all of the films playing at this year’s South Asian International Film Festival.
Opening Night Premiere: MONSOON SHOOTOUT
Directed by Amit Kumar. 2013. U.K./India. In Hindi (with English subtitles). New York Premiere. 88 min.
Tuesday, December 3rd, 7:30PM - SVA Theater (333 West 23rd Street)
This acclaimed Cannes and Fantastic Fest hit explores the impact that one’s choices make on the lives of others. As heavy monsoon rains lash the badlands of Mumbai, Adi, a rookie cop out on his first assignment, faces a life altering decision when he must decide whether to shoot or not to shoot. The film presents three scenarios, all resulting from the decision that Adi makes. Each decision takes him on a journey that pits him against a system that demands a compromise on his morals. Finally, however, Adi and we come to understand that every choice has its price.
Centerpiece Premiere: GOOD MORNING, KARACHI
Directed by Sabiha Sumar. 2013. Pakistan. In English and Urdu (with English subtitles). New York Premiere. 85 min.
Friday, December 6th, 7:30PM at NYIT Auditorium (1871 Broadway)
Young Rafina is coming of age in Karachi, with chance and willfulness propelling her rise as a runway and billboard model. As she climbs the social ladder, she’s caught between two men with very different visions of Pakistan – and the role of women. Arif, a partier, dreams of a better world through political action, but is molded by a traditionalism that doesn’t account for her dreams. Urbane and ambitious Jamal is convinced the fashion industry can help women shed their chadors and lead Pakistan into the modern world.
Rafina’s story becomes the story of the people living in Karachi who try to reconcile the demands of tradition and the aspirations of modernity. The film weaves this contradiction not only through its characters and their turbulent lives, but through the very landscape of Karachi, where political extremism and fashion, convention and novelty can - and do - co-exist.
Closing Night Premiere: THE GOOD ROAD
Directed by Gyan Correa. 2013. India. In Gujarati (with English subtitles). New York Premiere. 92 min.
Sunday, December 8th, 7:30PM at SVA Theater (333 West 23rd Street)
State Highway 378, on the border of the Rann desert, is as beautiful as it is unsettling. Accidentally separated from his parents, 7 year-old Aditya finds himself in the care of a truck driver and his assistant, both operating just beyond the law – and being closed in on by the police. Poonam is a 9 year-old girl looking to hitch a ride to her grandmother’s home, but tired and hungry, unwittingly ends up in a desolate brothel. As the realization of where is dawns on her, she is forced to choose between staying with the new friends she’s made or finding a ride on the highway.
The characters on The Good Road meet each twist, turn, dip, and rise – in the road and their fates – with stubborn hope. Take a journey through a barren land, and into the heart of unseen India – where acts of great compassion are shown to utter strangers.”
In addition to the three films highlighted above, the fest will also include the following screenings:
Anima State. Directed by Hammad Khan. 2013. U.K./Pakistan. In Urdu (with English subtitles). World Premiere. 80 min.
Ankhon Dekhi. Directed by Rajat Kapoor. 2013. India. In Hindi (with English subtitles). World Premiere. 108 min.
First Sight. Directed by Joya Dass. 2013. U.S./India. In Tamil (with English subtitles). World Premiere. 50 min.
I.D.. Directed by Kamal KM. 2012. India. In Hindi (with English subtitles). New York Premiere. 90 min.
Qissa. Directed by Anup Singh. 2013. Germany/India/Netherlands/France. In Punjabi (with English subtitles). U.S. Premiere. 109 min.
Siddarth. Directed by Richie Mehta. 2013. Canada/India. In Hindi (with English subtitles). U.S. Premiere. 96 min.
Tasher Desh. Directed by Q. 2012. India/Belgium. In Bengali (with English subtitles). New York Premiere. 118 min.”
If you live in or near NYC and love international cinema, this is a festival worth exploring. Check out the official SAIFF site for tickets, directions, and further details.