Hansal Mehta’s Shahid Centerpiece film of NYIFF

Festival to screen 22 features.

By American Bazaar Staff

NEW YORK: The New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF) have announced the full lineup for their 13th year of celebrating Independent, art house, alternate and diaspora films on and from the Indian subcontinent and Indian Diaspora in the United States, to be held here from April 30 – May 4. This year the festival will screen 22 features – 14 narrative, five documentary, and three recently restored classics – all having their New York City premieres.

Among the highlights of the festival’s 13th year is centerpiece selection Hansal Mehta’s SHAHID. The film is in keeping thematically with the opening and closing premiere features, Feroz Abbas Khan’s DEKH TAMASHA DEKH and Nitin Kakkar’s FILMISTAAN, by bringing forth additional thoughtful perspectives on communal harmony and conflict. SHAHID traces the true story of slain human rights activist lawyer Shahid Azmi. With the city of Mumbai as a backdrop, one sees a remarkable tale of an impoverished Muslim struggling to come to terms with injustice, inequality and rising above his circumstances. SHAHID is an inspiring testament to the human spirit and represents the filmmaker’s concern towards religious, class-based, racial intolerance around the world.

“This is an important film about our times and the world that we live in seen through the life of human rights activist/lawyer Shahid Azmi who was murdered at the young age of 32. The film in its festival run has never failed to move audiences around the world with its narrative, characters, form and performances. I am hoping the NY premiere of the film will spread the word about this engaging story,” said Mehta in a statement.

New to the festival this year is a special midnight screening of one of India’s latest horror films, AATMA, which follows a single mother, Maya Verma, who wants to start her life afresh with her six year old daughter Nia. When Nia starts speaking to her dead father, Maya initially feels that her daughter has created an imaginary male figure to fill that gap in her life. But slowly Maya’s life grows darker, falling apart to the point that she starts to doubt her own sanity. AATMA stars Bollywood bombshell, Bipasha Basu and indie superstar Nawazuddin Siddiqui.

Additional festival highlights include Amit Gupta’s light-hearted JADOO and Marathi filmmaker Ratnakar Matkari’s hard-hitting social drama INVESTMENT.

JADOO is a tale of two restaurateur brothers divided in fierce competition, to be brought together by a daughter’s wedding. It is the second film by Gupta, following his critically acclaimed debut RESISTANCE, which garnered actor awards and a nomination for the Best First Film award by the Writers Guild of Great Britain. Matkari’s INVESTMENT is a realistic examination of a family with striving ambitions to move into a higher social class, but at the cost of their social values. This film won The National Award for best Marathi Film in 2012. Another Marathi film screening at the festival is Gajinder Ahire’s ANUMATI, a heartfelt film about a retired teacher trying to save his dying wife. In the face of adversity, one lone man becomes a symbol of eternal will and positive spirit as he struggles to save his world. Noted for his work in Marathi cinema, Ahire has previously been hailed for his 2007 biopic about Vasudev Balwant Phadke and his television work on Shrimaan-Shrimati.

Returning to the Festival for a second time is esteemed Malayalam filmmaker Dr. Biju, with his latest work AKASHATHINTE NIRAM (Color of Sky). The film follows the story of a sixty-year-old man who lives on an isolated island. When confronted by a burglar, the elderly man traps the burglar on the island, and forever changes the young thief’s life. This is Dr. Biju’s fourth feature following his 2005 SAIRA, which opened the Cannes International Film Festival’s Cinema of the World, and his 2008 RAMAN – TRAVELOGUE OF INVASION, an official Cairo International Film Festival selection. Dr. Biju received the Kerala State Film Award for Best Cinema Writer in 2011.

Another renowned filmmaker premiering his work at the festival this year is Goutam Ghose with his film SHUNYO AWNKO. Ghose has made 13 feature films, winning 15 National Awards and 3 Filmfare Awards, including the Golden Peacock at IFFI 2010 for his most recent Bengali film, MONER MANUSH (The Quest). His International awards include the Silver Balloon Award at Nantes Film Festival, UNESCO Award – at Cannes Film Festival, Grand Prix – Golden Semurg at Tashkent, UNESCO Award at Venice, Fipresci Award, the Red Cross Award at Verna Film Festival. The only Indian to win the coveted Vittori Di Sica Award, Ghose was also awarded the Knighthood of the Star of the Italian Solidarity in July 2006.

Aseem Chhabra, NYIFF’s film festival director says, “The filmmakers we chose this year depict a wide, global perspective of Indian culture and lifestyle. In particular this year we have a large number of Marathi films, demonstrating that currently some of the best work is coming out of that region.“

Documentary highlights include the world premiere of Mirra Bank’s THE ONLY REAL GAME about the once princely state of Manipur in Northeast India struggling to counter gun violence, poverty, corruption, drug traffic, and HIV/AIDS with its surprising passion for baseball. Banks’ previous feature documentary, LAST DANCE, was short-listed for an Academy Award. Her innovative nonfiction feature, NOBODY’S GIRLS, was a PBS primetime special and her groundbreaking indie feature ENORMOUS CHANGES premiered at Sundance, followed by a critically praised theatrical release.

Another documentary highlight will be the U.S. premiere of Ritu Sarin’s and Tenzing Sonam’s WHEN HARI GOT MARRIED about a small-town taxi driver, Hari, embarking on a new trip towards an arranged marriage. This film marks the first time that a Tibetan filmmaker has screened their work at NYIFF. Sarin and Sonam have have been making films on Tibetan subjects for more than 20 years through their film company, White Crane Films. Previous documentaries include the 1997 critically lauded A STRANGER IN MY NATIVE LAND and THE SHADOW CIRCUS. In 2005, Sarin and Sonam completed a dramatic feature film, DREAMING LHASA, executive produced by Jeremy Thomas and Richard Gere.

Among the feature debuts are teen-cricketer-turned-director Ajay Bahl’s B.A. PASS, an erotic human drama based on Mohan Sikka’s short story “The Railway Aunty.” The short was published in the award-winning urban-noir series Delhi Noir (Akashic Books and HarperCollins India) and follows the loss of innocence of a young small town boy who moves to Delhi to stay with his aunt and finish his college. Additional feature debuts include Nikhil Mahajan’s PUNE 52, a romantic thriller following a private detective during the 1992 finance reform that spiraled the Indian Middle Class in a tizzy of consumerism.

Remarking on this year’s NYIFF lineup, IAAC founder Aroon Shivdasani says, “We are delighted to welcome these filmmakers to the New York Indian Film Festival. NYIFF is one of the most exciting Indian film festivals in the United States. Films showcased at our festival last year won an unbelievable number of National Awards in every category. This year’s Closing Night US Premiere Nitin Kakkar’s Filmistaan has already been declared Best Hindi Film of the year and I have no doubt others will very quickly follow suit! We present New York with an amazing breadth of cinematic experiences through independent and alternate masterpieces of English, Hindi, regional and diaspora films.”

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