by Nur Kara
Have you ever felt truly inspired, like a wave of passion and possibility has taken you for a ride? That is the feeling that came over me as I walked out of the Chicago South Asian Film Festival, which ran from Sept. 18-21.
CSAFF is an annual showcase of independent South Asian cinema. The festival encourages emerging talent by giving first-time filmmakers the opportunity to screen their productions on a global platform. Filmmakers, writers, actors and audience members gathered together to celebrate South Asian culture and history through art.
The festival saw a great deal of hype for flying in stars like Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sendhil Ramamurthy and Rajat Kapoor. What stood out the most to me were the short films and documentaries. They explored topics that are often overlooked or considered taboo in South Asian societies, like Indian LGBTQ activism, displacement of refugees and the practice of accepting sexual violence for socioeconomic sustenance. I left the festival aspiring to someday see my name as the writer of a compelling short on the big screen. I decided to rank my favorite films from CSAFF. Read my reviews below, and check the films out for yourself!
Best Short Film:“Tamaash”
Directed by Satyanshu Singh, Devanshu Singh
Cast: Zahid Ahmed Mir
Directed by Devanshu Kumar and Satyanshu Singh, “Tamaash” is set among the scenic valleys and mountains of Kashmir. Anzar and his younger brother live with their stern father, who had to assume responsibility for raising them in the absence of their mother. Anzar carries emotional baggage from his family’s situation. He is constantly scolded for his poor performance in school and decides to find a way to outscore the teacher’s pet, Sadat. Anzar and his brother come across a shaman of sorts who lures them into following his eerie advice. This film beautifully captures the unbreakable bond of brotherhood among scattered pieces of a broken family, while enchanting the audience with Anzar’s debate between good and evil.
Best Full-Length Film: “Monsoon Shootout”
In this film, actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui conveyed a myriad of humanity, humor and wit despite playing the villain. “Monsoon Shootout” portrays three scenarios in which Adi, an Indian cops-in-training, must navigate the path to justice. Working to solve a high-profile case, Adi must negotiate the consequences of taking justice into his own hands. His mother underscores that there are three ways to do work – by taking the right path, the wrong path or the path in between. With its action-packed cinematography and reflective stabs at India’s societal corruption, this film captivates the audience with its air of ambiguity.
Best Documentary: “Algorithms”
Directed by Ian McDonald
Filmed over a period of three years, “Algorithms” pans between the stories of three blind boys as they master the game of chess and represent India in the international junior championships. One of them, Charudatta Jadhav, is a Mumbai native. Charudatta is determined to instill confidence, purpose and ambition in the blind Indian youth he mentors. He uses chess as a means of capitalizing on the power of the mind. “Algorithms” is filmed in black and white. As director Ian McDonald said, “India is too colorful,” and those vibrant hues can distract from an intimate storyline. The documentary brilliantly blends themes of comedy, loss, wisdom and victory. It’s not so much about sight, but about foresight.
Most Unique Story: “Mitraa”
Directed by Ravi Jadhav
Cast: Veena Jamkar, Sandeep Khare, Mrunmayee Deshpande
Set in the wake of Indian independence from Great Britain, “Mitraa” moves its audience to see that identifying as LGBT is neither a new trend nor a fantastical fad. Based on a story by renowned writer and novelist Vijay Tendulkar, “Mitraa” exposes a woman who grows to discover her homosexual orientation. That leads to lost friendships, unrequited love and overall hopelessness as she is looked down upon as unnatural. The most striking feature of this film are the parallels between this 1940’s depiction of LGBT struggles and India’s present-day fight toward LGBT equality. The question which remains to be answered is whether or not the country has truly achieved independence and freedom for all its citizens.
About the Chicago South Asian Film Festival:
CSAFF, organized by the Chicago South Asian Art Council, Inc. (a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit), is a path-breaking film festival that showcases the best of world cinema in the heart of America. The festival is held throughout Chicago-land area in late September. CSAFF brings filmmakers, industry experts, and audiences together to celebrate international cinema. The festival aims to encourage and motivate emerging talent including first time film makers and students by screening their films on a global platform. Follow CSAFF on Twitter and visit their website.
Feature Image Photo Credit: Rahul Rana Photography
Nur Kara is a medley of Indian ancestry and East African heritage, though also carry the labels of “female,” “Ismaili Muslim,” and “first-generation American.” Being part of refugee history and having lived through these various lenses inspires her to similarly share in others’ stories. A self-coined “skeptiste,” she questions the uncommonly questioned.