“Kadambari,” a Bengali film centered around Kadambari Devi, sister-in-law of Rabindranath Tagore with whom he is supposed to have had a close personal relationship and who eventually committed suicide, won the Best Film award at the 4th Washington, D.C., South Asian Film Festival. The film was directed by the National Award-winning filmmaker Suman Ghosh.
Chaitanya Tamhane won the Best Director award for ‘Court’, a Hindi and Marathi film, which is India’s official entry to the upcoming Academy Awards. Some of the biggest and most famous names in South Asian Independent Cinema lent glitter to the Sept. 25-27 festival of alternative cinema screening 14 features, ten short films and one documentary from India, Pakistan, the United States and Canada.
Award winners: Best Film – Kadambari, Best Story – Rough Book, Best Director – Chaitanya Tamhane (Court), Best Actor – Kishor Kadam (Partu), Best Actress – Konkona Sen Sharma (Kadambari), and Best Short Film – Bonjour ji. The audience rated “Partu” as the Best Film and “Billu’s Flight” as the Best Short Film.
Aparna Sen received the Special Achievement Award, while Huma Beg from Pakistan (Veils and Walls) got the Special Appreciation Award Documentary. Sarmad Khoosat received the Special Award for Contribution to Pakistan TV and Films.
A number of directors, including Sen and Ghosh, attended the festival. Another notable presence was popular Bollywood and Bengali actress Riya Sen. Indian-American entrepreneur and philanthropist Frank Islam inaugurated the festival saying this year’s theme, “Art and culture transcend boundaries” reflects a reality.
“This is so even though we live in a deeply divided world. These are unsettling times-wars, refugees, terrorism, hate crimes of all types, and boundary disputes. Events such as these dominate the headlines daily,” he said.
“Yet, art and culture elevate and unite all of us. Whether it is a young boy in Afghanistan, or an old woman in Zimbabwe, there is not a soul that doesn’t enjoy a good movie, or a lovely piece of music. “The fact that we have with us today some of the finest collection of talents from India and Pakistan under one roof is proof that art and culture indeed transcend all the boundaries.”
Marketing is a big challenge for indie films as well, he said facing what he called the “curse of Bollywood” – extravagant, studio-backed and star-studded films from Bollywood.
In order to succeed, indie films from India, in their quiet way, must overcome this stereotype and sea of noise, Islam said. “This year there was more awareness about the film festival here in the U.S. and in South Asian countries,” said DCSAFF Executive Director Manoj Singh, noting more non-South Asians came to see the movies.
“Saari Raat”, Sen’s film adaptation of Bengali playwright Badal Sircar’s drama, was the opening film. There were three films from South Asian Americans: “Partu”, a film by Nitin Adsul; “Miss India America” by Ravi Kapoor; and “For Here or To Go” by Rucha Humnabadkar.
The festival also featured two Pakistani films, “Manto” and “Shah” based on the lives of short-story writer Sadat Hassan Manto and Pakistani boxer Hussain Shah, who won the bronze medal at 1988 Summer Olympics. Islam and his wife Debbie Driesman also hosted a dinner for the visiting artists at their home Norton Manor. Promoting art and culture is one of the missions of the Frank Islam and Debbie Driesman Foundation.