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IFFLA 2019 ..from Bang to Wimper

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Festival director Christine Marouda discusses the opening film Andhadhun with director Sriram Baghavan and actress TABU, the star of the picture.

Los Angeles Indian Film Festival, IFFLA, 2019:  From a Big Bang to a Pitiful Whimper

By Alex Deleon

The 17th annual Indian film festival of Los Angeles began an abbreviated four day run on Thursday, April 11 and closed shop on the following Sunday.  In previous years at the Arclight Multiplex in Hollywood the festival ran six days and screened many more films than this year.  A new main screening venue is the downtown Regal cinema complex with state of the art comfortable seating in two theaters.. Giving up, however, the entire fourth floor of the Hollywood Arclight which used to be the festival domain.
The fest opened with a resounding bang at the elegant Fine Arts theater in Beverly Hills with an elegant thriller but closed with a pathetic whimper, at the same location on Sunday Night, with an incredibly inept comedy called "The Odds".

The opening film, Adhadhun is a  noirish opus starting Tabu, one of India's outstanding veteran actresses .Tabu was present to receive a festival tribute along with the director, Sriram Baghavan, for a sparkling post screening discussion.  

The film itself, an amazingly good tongue in cheek thriller (English title, "Blindly" ) is  about a blind piano virtuoso who isn't really blind  and stumbles into a series of killings he pretends not to see,  while falling in love with a most gorgeous older woman with murder on her mind,  the intriguingly charismatic  TABU.

Director Baghavan, a Tamilian veteran, has the knack of keeping a highly improbable plot with countless twists and turns moving swiftly without missing a beat while handling his actors with respect and kid gloves.

The opening was a grand success while other films were of varying quality including a couple of high profile festival travelers, namely the second feature by talented Ukrainian born helmer  Dar Gai entitled "Namdev Bhau, in Search of Silence".  Daria Gairalova (Dar Gai) still in her twenties, is definitely a director of talent to keep an eye on in the new Indian film scene.  Her second film takes up the idea of an aging Big City driver seeking the Sounds of Silence (and escape from a clamorous wife) on foot iin the Himalayas.

The long awaited Indian comeback of Lunchbox director Ritesh Batra, "Photograph" features top Indian character actor Nawaz Siddiqi.  Since his breakout Indian debut, the much acclaimed "Lunchbox" of 2015, Ritesh has made two films in Hollywood (one with Redford and Jane Fonda!) whereupon his return to Bollywood has stirred up some great expectations.

Siddiqi had a supporting role in Lunchbox but is the leading man here as a street photographer in downtown Mumbai.  He seems to favor the single life while all his friends and especially his mother are trying to pressure him into  marriage. A girl he photographs on the street falls for him but the strongest role in the film is actually his overbearing mother. Unfortunately  the entire story and direction seems very forced and artificial to the point where one begins to wonders whether Lunchbox might not have been a case of beginners luck.  Of marginal interest is the location at the Gate of India with the imperious Grand Taj Hotel in the background.  One cannot help but thinking of the outrageous Pakistan sponsored terrorist attacks on this hotel in 2008 during which many were killed but this is one instance where location is not everything.

 "The Sweet Requiem" centering on events related to the Chinese takeover of Tibet and the Tibetan refugee community in India was intriguing if for no other reason than the fact that the dialogue is entirely in Tibetan a language rarely heard on screen.  It brought out almost the entire Tibetan community of L.A.  However, for myself, the main event of the four days was the shocking three and a half hour hour documentary "Reason" by eminent Hindi documentarian Anand Patwardhan who attended the festival.  The subject is the frightening rise of extreme Hindu nationalism (Hindutva) from the assassination of Gandhi in 1947 to the present day under president Moti.  Gandhi was assassinated by a fellow Hindu, not because he was against Partition but because he favored tolerance of Moslems within India. This highly detailed historical document unveils one shock after another,  among them the fact that Hindu extremists go so far as to embrace Fascism with the qualification that Mussolini did not understand the true nature of this totalitarian ideology.  Mr. Anand received  a richly deserved prize, the only one of any interest, on the final day.
 

The closing film on Sunday evening "The Odds" at a so-called Gala was such a shameful dud that one might assume the selection committee was under the influence of heavy substance abuse.  This is sort of a coming of age film centering on a guy and a gal both of whom have been excluded from final high school exams because of suspicion of attempted cheating. They then bounce around town spouting absurdly stupid dialogue attempting desperately to be funny --mostly English with English subtitles --in situations  so absurd it wasn't even bad.  Just a waste of time A to Z.  Some of the music by several energetic groups was not too bad but by no means good enough to prevent a midstream walkout. Hard to believe such a piece of junk was chosen to close the festival.  Better luck next year if there is a next year. A pity also for those who got suckered in to paying $75 bucks to attend the closing night gala.

Another turkey along the way (by the way) was the Bengali entry in dismal black and white called "Cat Sticks" which seems to refer to the variety of "brown sugar" reefers the dopers of the cast keep doping themselves with. Much of the time during a rainstorm in the shadowy hulk of an abandoned passenger plane. Apparently meant to be some sort of artistic statement against drug abuse but so dark, dismal, wet, hopeless and artless that the murky photography only served to make it even darker.  An early walkout.

There are many new interesting Indian films out there which could have souped up the selection, for example Gully Boy which premiered at Berlin in February, but the selectors here do not seem to be excessively sharp eyed or tuned in to the climate of new cinema of the subcontinent.

It is, however, to the credit of the festival that they were able to attract an international star of Tabu's magnitude but the shortened schedule and shaky programming may call for a shakeup in the selection process if there is to be an 18th edition.

Tabu displays her tribute award at closing night gala. Whutta woman!

 

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Alex with Dar Gai, director, and Dheer Momaya, producer, of the festival film. "Namdev Bhau, in Search of Silence" at Fine Arts cinema in Beverly Hills.  A sundar young couple riding the crest of an Indian New Wave.

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