Usually you'd have to make a trip to South Asia to see independent films made in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh. But in the next few weeks, you can check out films from the region at not one but two film festivals in New York City. Leading the way tonight, the 6th annual South Asian International Film Festival (SAIFF) kicks off at the School of Visual Arts in Chelsea.
Next month in the same venue, the 10th annual Mahindra Indo-American Arts Council Film Festival (MIAAC) will present films from more well-known Indian and Indian-American filmmakers. The MIACC festival is perhaps best known for premiering Danny Boyle's Oscar-winning "Slumdog Millionaire" in 2008. If you're a fan of the region's films, according to Queens-based film writer and Mumbai Mirror columnist Aseem Chhabra, this might be your only chance to see these South Asian films in theaters in the U.S.
"Quite frankly," Chhabra says, "most of them will not get distribution. And that’s what makes these festivals really unique. You have access to some films which otherwise will not come to your regular theaters."
Chhabra says India is the largest film-producing country in the world, and only one third of the 900 films India produces annually are made in the Bollywood tradition, dance-drama films typically made in Mumbai in the Hindi language. The rest of the films, he says, are in other languages, come from around the country, and represent a very strong independent film movement. In fact, there’s been an increase in independent Indian films being shown at major festivals around the world.
"Four Indian films were shown in Toronto last month," Chhabra says, referring to the Toronto International Film Festival in September. "There were six or seven Indian films in Berlin last February, and Cannes had one for the first time in seven or 10 years. It’s a clear indication that what’s happening is good independent cinema is emerging outside of Bollywood, and film festivals all across are recognizing it."
Tonight, the SAIFF will host the U.S. premiere of director Anurag Kashyap’s "That Girl in Yellow Boots" (watch the trailer below), and will screen movies through Tuesday. The MIAAC festival runs from November 10 through 14. Among its draws is the New York premiere of "Raavanan," by director Mani Ratnam, with music by Oscar- and Grammy-winning composer A.R. Rahman, who wrote the score for "Slumdog Millionaire."