The London Asian Film Festival returns this week for another packed programme of the best independent cinema from South Asia. We talk to the festival director Pushpinder Chowdry about the upcoming events, women in Asian film industry, and her hopes for the festival.
London Calling: Hi Pushpinder! Thank you for talking with us today. The London Asian Film Festival is just a few days away. Maybe for someone who hasn’t been to the London Asian Film Festival before, could you just explain what it is and what to expect?
Pushpinder Chowdry: It’s a very exciting film festival. It’s been going on for the last 19 years and we’ve been showing non-Bollywood, South Asian films – so this is basically independent films, British-Asian films, and international films made by Asians.
LC: This is the 19th London Asian Film Festival. What is new this year?
PC: We are going nationwide. We will have the best of the London Asian Film Festival going to Leicester and Edinburgh, taking independent cinema to other cities in the UK. This year is also 70 years of Indian independence. We are celebrating memories beyond borders and looking at the partition with Pakistan.
LC: The festival programme is a big mix of different genres, films for different ages, a few films like The Man Who Knew To Infinity and The Jungle Book that are British or US produced. What do you look for when selecting films?
PC: When we are selecting films, the most important thing to look at is that the film fits in with our theme. Also, that it is independent. We also look for good stories from round the world. This year’s theme, as I said, is 70 years of India’s independence. So our aim is to look at memories and people talking about their experience and sharing heritage.
LC: The Festivals opening gala is a screening of Mango Dreams. Could you tell us a little about the film and why you selected it for the opening gala?
PC:Mango Dreams is a film that really befits our festival and themes. The film is from the United States; it talks about the partition time. It’s a very good story about an elderly doctor who is now getting Alzheimers and wants to return and visit his home. But now it is in Pakistan.
LC: There are similar themes in the closing gala: a conversation with documentary filmmaker Sabiha Sumar and actress Kalki Koechlin on the topics of Indian-Pakistan relations.
PC: Our closing night is at BAFTA. We have invited Sabiha Sumar and she will screen her latest documentary and give some insight into how she made it. It’s a crowd funded documentary. The theme of the film is looking at the rise of fundamentalism in India and Pakistan, in the context of what is happening worldwide. We are also celebrating with a delicious meal. The evening will have networking opportunities and provide a chance to celebrate young filmmakers.
LC: Sabiha Sumar’s documentary – Azmaish: Trials of Life – is also trying to highlight the positive side of Indian-Pakistan relations, as well as the difficulties. Is that correct?
PC: I think the whole festival is based on the idea of what we share: we share memories, we share heritage. We also look at the shared heritage with the UK. It’s very much focused on how in the future we can work together and take forward and resolve the issues that do exist.
LC: Viceroy’s House is out at the moment and it also focuses on Indian independence and the partition with Pakistan. For most, particularly most white British people, it is through films like this that they experience South Asia on the big screen. How do you see the work of these films?
PC: I think they are definitely important films. Gurinda Chadha (the director of Viceroy’s House) is one of the guests at our closing gala. Not only are we looking at our main theme, we are also encouraging women filmmakers and helping provide a platform for them. Gurinda Chudha will be talking about her film. She will also be paying tribute to Om Puri, who is an international star from India. Our festival is not just about independent films, it is about giving a voice to women filmmakers. For us, this is a very important aspect of putting this festival on.
LC: If you were going to pick out a few films from the programme that might provide a good introduction to someone who maybe hadn’t seen much South Asian cinema before, what would they be?
PC: I would select Mango Dreams. The film has actually been directed by a white American (John Upchurch), so it will be very interesting to see his take on this particular film. Lipstick Under My Burkha, which is our closing night film, has the theme of women’s ambitions and aspirations, and is also looking at women’s sexuality. It would be a good film to introduce someone to our festival. But apart from just screenings there are lots of other events like Mushaira, looking at the part poetry and music play in our films. We’ve also got a new documentary from Deepa Mahta, which looks at the gang rape incident that occurred in India three years ago – it’s called Anatomy of Violence. This film, and a lot of our films, have an added event to them talking about gender equality and how it is dealt with in film and in wider culture. So beyond just screenings we have discussion and debate.
The London Asian Film Festival starts on 9 March and runs until 19 March, with select events after these dates. For a full list of screenings, see the London Asian Film Festival website.