Auckland's Indian Film Festival off to a great start
Fri, 25 Mar 2011 12:40p.m.
By Daniel Rutledge
Auckland’s second annual Indian Film Festival launched last night with a film that shattered clichés and pushed boundaries.
Onir Dhar’s I Am is made up of four stories devoid of colourful song and dance routines, instead telling darker sides of contemporary India we’ve rarely if ever seen before in film.
The segments of the film deal with sperm donation to single women, the consequences of the Kashmir conflict on families, child sex abuse and the violent blackmail of gay men.
I’d always thought Indian films weren’t allowed to show actual kissing, which led to all the clever framing of shots and almost kisses in so many Bollywood romances. Apparently that is not the case as one particular scene in I Am has two male actors passionately kissing – something which is sure to see the film banned in many countries around the world with more backward moral/religious/legal systems.
The segment in the film that focuses on child abuse was for me the most affecting. It shone a light on aspects of molestation that I found particularly uncomfortable and disturbing. The subject was handled with an admirable respect and grace, however, depicting acts in a non-graphic way that didn’t weaken the shock of it.
There are dots of humour speckling the landscape of I Am and for non-Indian viewers it still possesses a beautifully exotic charm, despite the unpleasant subject matter.
However, I do wish that some of the melodramatic music was removed from parts of the film. Most of the characters were intensely compelling, their stories deeply moving. This would have been a more pure, powerful emotion for me had the soundtrack not been driving it home so much.
And like any film comprised of vignettes, some parts are better than others.
But overall I Am is a very finely crafted film that definitely does what all great films do – gets you discussing it as soon as the credits role and keeps you thinking about it long after those conversations end.
The q+a at the end of the screening with director Onir and producer/actress Juhi Chawla was a real pleasure to attend. Some of the audience members asking questions were clearly rattled by the film but everyone was respectful – if somewhat starstruck by Chawla.
As the stunning actress – once crowned Miss India – stood at the front of the audience, loads of people moved closer for a photo and close-up look. They had to be asked to sit down as the q+a became increasingly difficult, but when that finished she was swarmed by adorers and her extremely professional and scary looking bodyguard suddenly made perfect sense.
Onir Dhar and Juhi Chawla at a q+a during the Melbourne leg of the festival
Witnessing an Indian star of this stature and her fans without having to leave Auckland was a real treat.
The Indian snacks received on the way in accompanied by the traditional opening dance performance made the occasion more than just a night at the movies and I can’t wait to get back to Sylvia Park to check out some of the other films at the festival.
For more information about all the films playing at the festival, check out the official Indian Film Festival website.
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