Tonight might be the opening of the Seventh Annual Mahindra Indo-American Arts Council Film Festival in New York, but it's a first for me. My friend Payal Sethi (who worked last year at Tribeca with me) is the festival's programmer, and a few weeks ago, she asked if I'd like to be on one of their juries. Of course I said yes. My first festival jury; kicking back to watch some Bollywood; sounds great!
Of course, the seven films I had to watch turned out to not really be traditional Bollywood in the least. In fact, not one of them was a musical. A couple had some songs, but not in the standard song-and-dance number way. But that actually made it all more interesting: to see the kind of Indian cinema that likely doesn't come to mind, at least to those who don't follow it. As I was telling people that I had to watch Indian films all weekend, everybody obviously thought I was subjecting myself (for better or worse -- depends on your perspective, I suppose) to multiple three-plus hour movies filled with flowing saris and lip-synched production numbers.
The jury deliberation experience was an interesting one even though my colleagues and I seemed to mostly agree without too much debate on our selections. I don't feel like I can really say which films I enjoyed the most because that would indicate what won the Best Film and Best Director prizes, so I'll come back to talk about the films in more detail after the winners are announced on Sunday night. The films under consideration for those prizes which I had to watch were Dosar, Frozen, Manorama Six Feet Under, Missed Call, Valley of Flowers, Via Darjeeling and The Voyeurs. (You can buy tickets to any of these films online at meraticket.com.)
I'd encourage you to take a look at the film descriptions and check-out a few of them. The festival also features a large number of short films playing as part of various programs. The most fascinating thing to me about all these films was the various approaches towards stories much like the ones in American mainstream and other Westerncinema. From Manorama's homage to Chinatown to Dosar's almost Sirkian qualities; Valley of Flowers' reminded me in a way of The Fountain while Via Darjeeling utilized its own twist on the consistently mimicked Rashomon-tale. (Yes, I know Rashomon is Japanese! Hence the "consistently mimicked" descriptive phrase.) The Voyeurs creates its own mix of a slice-of-life tale with some "peeping Tom"/Rear Window elements. Frozen, for some reason, had me thinking, "This is what Terrence Malick might shoot if he ever decided to do black & white in the Himalayas." And Missed Call certainly owes a lot to every first-person diary film or, to a degree, mockumentary about young-adult angst and relationships. And yet, all of them have their own specific perspective grounded in the place and the culture from which they come. And not a one has a big dance number, thereby blowing your perception of everything Bollywood, right?
But who am I to tell you: go see for yourself, and next week, you can argue with me over the winning films if you disagree.