Tuesday, April 25, 2017

15th Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles [2017]

 Of the films that played recently at the 15th Annual Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, held at the Regal L.A. Live Cinema in Downtown Los Angeles, I was able to view and review the following:

Chronicles of Hari (orig. Harikatha Prasanga) [2016] [IMDb] [FiBt] (directed and cowritten by Ananya Kasaravalli [IMDb] [FiBt] along with Girish Kasaravalli [IMDb] [FiBt] and Gopalakrishna Pai [IMDb]) offered a quite fascinating, traditional Indian contribution to the TRANSGENDER QUESTION raging through society across the world today.  The story here, based in part on truth, is about an actor (played by Shrunga Vasudevan) who apparently _committed suicide_ after many years of playing the role of Hari an Indian Goddess as part of a traditional, ALL MALE, Hindu acting troupe. HE DIDN'T PARTICULARLY LIKE PLAYING THIS ROLE, but the troupe's director essentially forced him to do so, telling him that somebody had to play the role, it made no sense to train multiple actors to play it especially since he was actually quite good at it.  Indeed, a lot of the traditional Hindu women going to the troupe's presentations were quite impressed in his playing of Hari.  But soon his playing of this role got in the way of his personal life: He found it all-but impossible to get married, because even though traditional marriages in Hindu culture tend to be arranged, neither the families, nor the potential brides wanted [their daughters] to get married to someone who made his living playing a woman.  Rejected in this way, and unable to "switch roles" within the troupe, he did then fall into a certain amount of "gender confusion": He started to wonder if he was actually "[meant to be] gay."  But then to be gay in rural India is not necessarily the easiest thing in the world to be either and this caused him all sorts of other problems -- rejection now by his own family, rejection in pretty much every town / village that he tried to set-up home in.  So, driven eventually to despair, he ... The film calls quite stark attention to a fair number of contradictory messages sent by [in this case traditional Indian] society:  Here the society _wanted_ young men to play women's roles in traditional Hindu plays, but then had _no place for these actors_ afterwards -- they were rendered both "unmarriageable" [with traditional Hindu women] and not allowed to be openly gay.   So what options would these actors have?  A simply fascinating / thought provoking film -- 3 1/2 Stars 

Sexy Durga [2017] [IMDb] [FiBt] (written and directed by Sanal Kumar Sasidharan [IMDb] [FiBt]) was a simply _excellent_ minimalist contemporary Indian _horror movie_.  The story is SET IN SOUTH INDIA in and around a small town in the midst of an annual festival in honor of the Hindu Goddess Durga.  And it is about A YOUNG COUPLE -- Kabeer, A MUSLIM presumably from said town, and Durga, HINDI, BUT FROM NORTH INDIA (played by Rajshri Deshpande [IMDb] [FiBt]) and hence one who didn't speak the local language -- trying to hitch a ride to the train station to "get out of town."  Why?  Presumably because neither of the two "fit in."  They get picked-up by a couple of young SOUTH INDIAN MEN in a van, who ... and THAT'S THE POINT OF THE FILM ... one honestly doesn't know their motivations: On one hand they're kinda helpful, on the other hand, they REPEATEDLY (inadvertently?) SCARE THE DAYLIGHTS OUT OF said couple, especially out of said woman who has the same name as the Goddess in honor of whom this enormous and ecstatic festival was taking place (Honestly, the footage from the festival itself is both fascinating and at times disconcerting, though the Christian viewer should note that there are Christian faithful in various parts of the world who do some fairly disturbing things as well as part of their devotion -- including literally handling poisonous snakes up in Appalachia and having themselves literally crucified in some places in the Philippines).   Were the young men trying to be helpful to this already "on edge" couple?  AGAIN ONE SIMPLY DOES NOT KNOW and the film plays out JUST LIKE A NIGHTMARE: Just as one thinks that things are FINALLY being resolved (in one way -- good, or horribly bad -- or another) THERE'S  NEW TWIST ... and THE FILM'S TENSION resumes again.  It all plays like a SIMPLY OUTSTANDING HORROR / PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER -- 4 Stars.

Hotel Salvation (orig. Mukti Bhawan) [2016] [IMDb] [FiBt] (directed and screenplay by Shubhashish Bhutiani [IMDb] [FiBt], dialogues by Asad Hussain [IMDb] [FiBt]) CLOSED this year's Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles and proved to be a simply outstanding film about a naturally complicated relationship between aging father Daya (played by Lalit Behl [IMDb] [FiBt]) and grown/middle aged son Rajiv (played by Adil Hussain [IMDb] [FiBt]) with his own family, indeed marriageable 20-something daughter.  Basically, the film is about the father Daya, aged 77, who comes to the conclusion that "it's his time to die." As a good Hindu, with moderately reasonable means - not super-rich, not poor - this meant making _a final pilgrimage_ to the Hindu Holy City of Varanasi on the banks of the Ganges River ... where he would achieve moksha (the Hindu term for spiritual liberation/salvation) ... die.  And there are hotels along the river there in Varanasi run by Hindu priests which offer accompaniment to the Hindu devout who come to the city, to the mighty Ganges, to die.  Now was Daya particularly sick?  No not really.  He just had a clearly sincere / profound feeling that "his time has come."  Interestingly enough, when he and his son arrive at the hotel, the Hindu priest running the hotel, taking a look at Daya, does in fact believe him that he's probably going to die there.  But he _also_ tells him and his son that they can only stay at the hotel for two weeks and afterwards if Daya does not die, they must go back home.  How can one "schedule death"?   As a non-Hindu looking at this story play out, I did leave with something of a naturalistic theory BUT ... I do think there's a sincerity present that does go beyond simply the naturalistic.  Plus, it is clear that while most of the devotees who come to the town to die, do (somewhat surprisingly) do so, there are others (including one woman who becomes a fairly important character in the story) who don't.  Plus the Hindu priest who gave the incoming Daya "two weeks to die" (or else leave) proves to be a bit more flexible with the devotees coming to the hotel than it would initially seem (he does let some clearly stay longer).  ANYWAY, THIS IS A FASCINATING FILM and honestly WORTH THE VIEW for ANYONE INTERESTED IN INTER-FAITH DIALOGUE / COMPARATIVE RELIGION -- 4+ Stars.

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