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May 24, 2022
Everybody knows that India’s film industry is colossal, proud and historic, ranging from early black and white classics to the glamorous neon colours of Bollywood. But there is more to South Asian film than Bollywood. There’s a broad range of films coming out of the region’s independent directors and producers, including movies from India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. And every year the biggest platform for South Asian independent films in Europe is celebrated in the UK by the London Indian Film Festival on the South Bank. This year the list of must–see films and talks runs from June 23rd to July 3rd 2022. And it has a new title sponsor: Blue Orchid Hotels, who themselves feature among the top hotels in London.
LIFF 2022 opens with Anurag Kashyap’s eagerly anticipated supernatural thriller Dobaraa. Taapsee Pannu stars as a young woman who finds herself trapped between two lives, her existence played out in different decades. It’s also been called a sci–fi mystery but Taapsee Pannu says that the movie’s mood isn’t overly dark, and she obviously enjoyed working with the director, whom she describes as “an oversized teddy bear…” At the same time, she says that Kashyap “knows exactly what he wants for any scene and won’t stop till he gets the desired outcome.”
The London Indian Film Festival has a well deserved reputation for exciting premieres and special screenings, as well as masterclasses and Q&A’s. The festival is also funded by the British Film Institute via National Lottery Funds and Arts Council England, and forms a significant part of London’s cultural offering.
Patron and long–term supporter of LIFF, Tony Matharu is Chairman of title sponsor Blue Orchid Hotels, as well as Founder and Chairman of the Central London Alliance: he says he’s delighted to host the festival’s star–studded red carpet receptions, and pleased to see people embrace the big screen experience once again.
He also recognises London cinema as an important driver of the capital’s international reputation, a place where you can be both entertained and educated; a place in which to live, work and invest, and a place to visit now that London is firing up its dynamic arts and culture sector. People are choosing to come back to the capital, and it’s a good time to look for those London hotel offers.
Tony Matharu is also keenly aware that the films on offer from LIFF coincide with his own values as founder and Chairman of the Integrity International Trust. “This year’s programme is packed with exciting, entertaining and thought provoking films,” he says, “including films which align with Integrity International’s concerns about human rights – particularly relating to children, minorities and women, as well as environmental issues.”
Festival Director Cary Rajinder Sawhney also comments that it’s good to see Anurag Kashyap return to London with his new film. Over the last 12 years the UK has premiered a number of his movies. This year Dobaraa promises a fresh directoral approach and a story with a compelling twist.
Sawhney is delighted by the “exciting new premieres at this year’s festival.” There will be films in ten different languages and “some rare in–person talks, headlined by India’s greatest woman filmmaker Aparna Sen,” he says.
Female filmmakers leading the field in this year’s festival include Aparna Sen and her award–winning film The Rapist (European premiere). It stars Konkona Sen Sharma and Arjun Rampal. After the screening, the film will be followed by a Q&A with director Aparna Sen, who is acknowledged as India’s most prolific female filmmaker. It is anticipated that Konkona Sen will also be attending.
Rebana Liz John’s documentary Ladies Only looks at feminist themes through the lens of the female–only compartments on Mumbai’s hectic train network. It’s all there: questions of family, freedom and career unspool via recordings of individual stories, components of history that more often than not get ignored or quickly forgotten.
Other personal stories include the European premiere of Pan Nalin’s homage to celluloid, Chhello Show (aka Last Film Show). Set in the rural Gujarat village of Saurashtra, it tells the story of “kids who grow up in the countryside and how they start innovating to create their own kind of cinema. Nothing stops these kids. When you have nothing, nothing should stop you. It has reconnected me with my roots,” says Nalin. The story revolves around a nine year old boy who falls in love with cinema, watching from the side lines.
Nalin’s film celebrates the big screen and the shared experience of watching a movie in a public space.
There is also Anik Dutta’s Aparajito, a tribute to legendary director Satayjist Ray and the making of his first film, the cult classic Pather Panchali (1955). It has been rapturously received, particularly for Jeetu Kamal’s performance as a thinly disguised Satayjist Ray, a book illustrator who decided to make a Bengali film unlike any that had been seen before. Ray gave the world a cult humanist film, much admired by the likes of Martin Scorsese.
Bringing us bang up to date is Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s Once Upon a Time in Calcutta, a look at the modern day city. It’s the story of a bereaved mother, trying to find independence. The director got the idea for the film while taking a photo of a dinosaur outside Kolkata’s Science City. He noticed that a nearby flyover was dwarfing everything else: “It looked like the flyover and the dinosaur were about to start a race,” says Sengupta.
No Land’s Man is directed by Mustafa Sarwar Farooki and it deals with the complexities of identity; Q&A with the director himself, following the premiere.
Climate and ecology are explored under the festival’s Save the Planet strand. Titles here include The Road to Kuthriyar, No Ground Beneath My Feet and Haibondhu.
Other strands include Extraordinary Lives, featuring Dug (“Highly stylish debut from director Ritwik Pareek”) and Paka: The River of Blood: (Indian Malayalam language drama from Nithin Lukose). The Young Rebels strand features The Cloud Messenger (Rahat Mahajan’s debut – myth and reality clash in a boarding school romance) and The Very Fishy Trip (Kulanandani Mahanta).
The shorts category includes the hit LGBTQIA+ programme, Too Desi Too Queer, with the films of Mumbai queer pioneer filmmaker Riyad Wadia; plus new British Asian emerging filmmakers, and competitors in the festival’s annual Satyajit Ray Short Film Competition.
Selections from the diaspora include British Indian comedy Little English; the Pakistani American film Americanish; archival screenings including the classic 1990s music documentary Asian Vibes London & Mumbai – plus a special screening of Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi, marking the 40th anniversary of this Oscar winner.
To close the festival, there’s the Canadian Indian documentary Superfan: The Nav Bhatia Story, dedicated to basketball/Toronto Raptor’s greatest fan.
The range and inclusive nature of the London Indian Film Festival is plain to see, and Blue Orchid Hotels, the new title sponsor, has been involved in the festival for many years through its chairman, Tony Matharu. Not only do his hotel venues offer excellent locations and standards – among the best hotels in London – the company also has a commitment to making a difference within communities.
It values the support that private business can give to the arts, and pursues a number of charitable endeavours, including raising awareness of child trafficking and women’s rights, themes that complement the platforms that the festival itself embraces. Chairman Tony Matharu has been a long term supporter and advocate for the festival, and is delighted that Blue Orchid is the title sponsor for 2022.
Films to See, Food to Eat
56 Brushfield Street, E1
One of the best of the Victorian Market Halls is the historic Spitalfields building. It attracts devoted shoppers on the look-out for products from emerging young designers, plus the stalls are flanked by restaurants, also niche stores selling delicious cheeses and wine.
Gracechurch Street, EC3
Historic, pretty, photogenic, with shops, pubs, restaurants and cafes. Near Fenchurch St station.
150 Victoria Street, SW1
Modern French brasserie. The Aster cafe and restaurant serves everything from brunch to a late night snack. Downstairs, the deli has a gin and pudding menu.
21 Eccleston Place, SW1
Very close to Victoria Station is Eccleston Yards. A treasure trove of food stalls, unique books, studio pottery and jewellery.
Covent Garden Market
38 King Street, WC2
A haven for all hungry gift hunters: The Apple Market (British made crafts and accessories); East Colonnade Market (magic tricks, sweets, you name it); The Jubilee Market (arts and crafts on a weekend). Covent Garden Market is next door to theatreland, close to the National Gallery and endless restaurants. Plus Covent Garden is the first UK home for the Marriage Freres tea emporium and restaurant.
100 Minories, EC3
Rooftop restaurant and bar. Al fresco dining and drinking. Drinks, artisan homemade pasta, cicchetti menu, and cocktails – plus spectacular views of the Tower of London and Tower Bridge. All within Blue Orchid Tower Suites
Butlers Wharf Chop House
Opens April 16th
36e Shad Thames, SE1
Ground level views of Tower Bridge. British cuisine and chilled wine by the Thames.
Tandoor Chop House
8 Adelaide St, WC2
Just off the Strand is the wood panelled appeal of the Tandoor Chop House, a combination of North Indian communal eatery and British chop house. Indian spices and marinades, prime cuts of meat. The ethos is welcoming: this is where you come to socialise and share plates of delicious comfort food.
50 Kalò di Ciro Salvo (Pizzeria)
7 Northumberland Avenue, WC2
Ciro Salvo is a third generation master pizza maker from a family of great pizza chefs. His 50 Kalò in Naples is included in Italy’s Michelin Guide, and his acclaimed pizza dough has won plaudits and awards.
17 Frith Street, W1
From Peru: Michelin Guide listed cuisine, flavour–filled menu. Restaurant and cocktail bar inspired by Lima’s bohemian Barranco neighbourhood.
Din Tai Fung
400 Oxford St/ Duke Street, W1
Expert Taiwanese food, Xiao Long Bao dumplings, each one with exactly 18 folds, freshly made in full view. Housed within Selfridges.
8 Heddon Street, W1
Retro (1970s) ramen bar in the pedestrianised bit of Heddon St. Reimagining the yokocho alleys of Japan with J–pop, neon signs and lanterns.
There’s enough in London to keep you going for a whole week let alone an overnight stay, and your London hotel booking just might start with title sponsor of the Blue Orchid London Indian Film Festival. If you are a film fan, even though LIFF delivers a selection of films across the UK in Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds as well as via its online platform, as featured director Pan Nalin reminds us, you can’t beat the big screen or the shared experience of a movie.
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