First Dalit Film Festival showcases acclaimed movies from India

Niharika Singh
Niharika Singh at the Dalit Film Festival in New York City. Image via Twitter

Among films screened include “Masaan,” “Kaala” and “Fandry.”

Organized by a collective of Ambedkarite group, the festival showcased critically acclaimed films such as Masaan and Fandry

The first ever Dalit Film and Cultural Festival (DALIFF), held in New York City on February 23 and 24, served as a unique opportunity to bring to the fore the struggles faced by Dalits in India. Organized by a collective of Ambedkarite groups, the festival showcased critically acclaimed films such as Masaan, Kaala and Fandry.

The festival was also aimed at starting a dialogue on the lack of Dalit representation in cinema. Held at Columbia University and The New School, both in New York City, the festival featured Dalit filmmakers Pa. Ranjith, Nagraj Manjule, Neeraj Ghaywan and former Femina Miss India Earth Niharika Singh, who were the special guests.

“The festival was a huge success,” the New York-based Indian American filmmaker Jayan Cherian told the American Bazaar. Cherian’s film Papilio Buddha, which chronicles the story of Dalits in southern India who embrace Buddhism to escape caste oppression, was screened at the festival.

According to the organizers, the idea of a festival featuring Dalit films — largely ignored by both pop culture and cinema in India — spurred from the radical change that has been taking place in Indian cinema in the past few years. With stories being told about marginalized segments and issues, the future looks ready to embrace, even acknowledge the past wrongdoings.

The first edition of DALIFF was dedicated to P. K. Rosy, a legendary first female actor of South India, who was a victim of casteist social and cinematic sphere and died in penury, shunned by the public.

Besides features such as Masaan, a 2015 drama directed by Neeraj Ghaywan, and Fandry, a 2013 Marathi film by Nagraj Manjule, the festival also featired documentaries such as Dalan Series (Nepal), We have Not Come Here to Die and Pistulya, amongst other impressive works.

The festival was organized by a coalition of the Ambedkar International Mission USA, Ambedkar Association of North America, Boston Study Group and the Ambedkar Buddhist Association Texas. DALIFF was co-sponsored and hosted by Barnard College, Columbia University and The New School, New York.

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