India

Irrfan Khan in THE LUNCHBOX

There comes a point in nearly every relationship, romantic or otherwise, where a bout of stagnation nestles in. Such a stasis is seldom planned or desired; it simply comes to fruition, often without warning. As the matriarch of a family, Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is no exception. In an attempt to rejuvenate her marriage, she decides to use a new recipe in making her husband’s coveted lunch. Like The Lunchbox, Ila does not make the type of grand gestures we’re accustomed to receiving from tacky Hollywood fare. Director Ritesh Batra poignantly keeps in mind that in love, it’s often the little things that count. Unfortunately, Ila’s carefully crafted culinary gesture is not received by her emotionally distant husband (Nakul Vaid). Instead the home-cooked meal is mistakenly delivered to Saajan (Irrfan Khan), another accountant in the office. On the verge of retirement after 35 years of loyal service, Saajan accepts the enigmatic lunch. Surprised by the lack of response from her husband, Ila instead receives a letter from Saajan (upon receiving yet another meal the following day). A few simple words sets in motion a series notes between the two of them.

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news SAIFF2013

“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.

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Chhaya and Arvind are living a borderline middle-class life in modern day India, but circumstances are sliding them lower. Arvind (Alekh Sangal) can’t catch a break at his job managing a construction crew where he’s consistently pressured by his boss to speed things up and do more with less. Sitting across from the balding man with the crude 9/11 sculpture on his desk Arvind is forced to swallow his pride and accept the mistreatment if he wants to hang on to his job. Chhaya (Rasika Dugal) meanwhile spends her days at home doing chores, shopping for groceries, and falling quickly and quietly into depression. At least until an accident of questionable intervention leads her to find a sculpture of Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, that “even God couldn’t make more beautiful.” The statue sits in a young boy’s shop where he claims to be the sculptor and sets a very high price for it, but the financial cost doesn’t phase her. She becomes convinced that her and her husband need the sculpture to make everything better, to make everything right, and to give her another chance at having children. Her desire becomes an obsession, and soon the better life they were hoping for begins slipping through their fingers faster than they could have imagined. The result is an engaging and beautifully rendered drama about the dangers of compulsion and the lengths we’ll go to be happy.

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