FILM FEST: First ever South Asian film festival in Metro Vancouver offers 40-plus flicks

Pandit Sajan Mishara (above) and his brother Pandit Rajan are the subjects of Adwait Sageet, a documentary on Indian classical music that opens the South Asian Film Festival. Submitted photo

GLEN SCHAEFER
VANCOUVERDESI.COM

A family passing down an ancient tradition of music and a warrior passing on a new tradition of peace are among the stories told in the more than 40 movies screening at the inaugural South Asian Film Festival Canada.

The festival opens with a gala Queen Elizabeth Theatre screening of Adwait Sageet (7:30 p.m. Wednesday), a documentary that follows brothers Pandit Rajan and Pandit Sajan Mishra, two of the foremost exponents of Indian classical music.

“Many of these Indian families involved in music or dance, it goes through generations,” said festival director Hannah Fisher. “The parents teach and train, and are the gurus of the children, and it goes on like that.”

The film’s director, Makarand Brahme, has also studied the music, and discovered the brothers at the Benaras Gharana School of Music. They filmed there, in Delhi and Dehradun, all locations that contributed to the brothers’ careers.

Fisher, who has consulted with festivals around the world, said the film’s lush visuals as well as its music pushed it into the opening spot.

“To see the footage they got in the Ganges River at sunset and at dawn, the director of photography was remarkable.”

The director and the two brothers are set to appear at the gala, and the brothers will perform live afterwards.

Fisher joined with B.C. organizers to launch the new festival, which will be opened by Indian film luminary and politician Jaya Bachchan, who as honourary patron will light a ceremonial lamp to mark the opening at the Queen E.

“I have worked with Mrs. Bachchan before and I know the family a little bit,” Fisher said. “Because it’s a new festival and we’re focusing on new voices, new filmmakers from countries like Bhutan and Afghanistan, I thought she would be intrigued by that, and fortunately I was correct.”

After the festival was conceived a year ago, Fisher travelled a half-dozen south Asian countries looking for films and filmmakers.
Among her finds was a documentary from a filmmaker closer to home, Toronto-born and New York-based Teri McLuhan.

McLuhan’s The Frontier Gandhi tells the story of the little-known Nobel Peace Prize nominee Badshah Khan, a contemporary of Mahatma Gandhi born in the Pashtun warrior society of what is now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. His 100,000 non-violent followers came from Afghanistan and colonial India, and with Gandhi he argued against partition.

“I feel it’s one of the films of the decade,” Fisher said.

McLuhan spent 21 years filming, researching and gathering archival material that included old film footage of the six-foot-plus leader that was left behind after the overthrow of Afghanistan’s modern-day Taliban regime.

“McLuhan’s scholarship in the film is dazzling,” Fisher said. “Many of the people in the film are no longer with us. She has some people on film who were his followers, part of his peace brigade.”

The film is narrated by Indian star Om Puri.

Fisher said she had trouble getting films from Pakistan, but pointed to the film Lamha as one find. Amina Sheikh and Mohib Mirza star for director Mansoor Mujahid as parents torn by the loss of their child in a car accident.

“Before that I was despairing because I want all of these countries to be represented,” she said.

Films are screening at multiple venues to accommodate audiences in Vancouver, Surrey and Abbotsford. The census puts the number of Lower Mainland South Asians at 700,000, mostly in the Fraser Valley, which Fisher said made a strong argument for launching the new festival.

Toronto director Lalita Krishna will be at the festival with her documentary Mallamall, about the displacement of India’s traditional small markets by corporate big-box stores and malls. Foreign companies including Canada’s Perennial Design are aiming to capitalize on India’s $650-billion retail industry. The film contrasts how the aspirations of the middle class collide with the interests of the poor, and documents violent anti-mall street battles.

Most of the festival’s films are from India, but from all over the country, not just from Mumbai’s Bollywood industry.

But Fisher pointed to one from Bollywood’s storied Yash Raj Films as a highlight: the closing gala presentation of director Habib Faisal’s romantic thriller Ishaqzaade (Born To Hate, Destined To Love).

“I love it, it’s a Romeo and Juliet story overlaid with Bonnie and Clyde,” Fisher said. “It’s fast-moving, intense and high-octane. It’s fun.”

The closing gala screening is 6:30 p.m. Sunday at the Abbotsford Sports and Entertainment Centre.

The South Asian Film Festival screens at Empire Granville 7, Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancity Theatre (Vancouver); Empire Guildford (Surrey), Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre, and Towne Cinema Centre (Abbotsford)

Tickets for the gala are $28.50-$68.50, with regular screenings priced at $13/$11 and available at saffcanada.org

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