South Asian Films at TIFF 2015!

South Asian Films at TIFF 2015!

TIFF is the leading public film festival in the world, screening more than 300 films from 60+ countries from September 10 - 20, 2015!

Highlighting South Asian films at Toronto International Film Festival.

Angry Indian Goddessess

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A group of college friends. A wedding. Countless secrets. Billed as “India’s first female buddy comedy,” Angry Indian Goddesses seems at first like the South Asian spin on Bridesmaids. But in the hands of award-winning filmmaker Pan Nalin (Samsara), the story takes surprising turns that upend genre expectations and explore the pressing issues of gender and sexism in contemporary Indian society.

In the scenic beachside state of Goa, Frieda (Sarah Jane Dias), a strong-willed and celebrated photographer, gathers her closest friends on the eve of her nuptials. The diverse (and often hilarious) group is a snapshot of modern Indian society: Su (Sandhya Mridul), a businesswoman and mother; the engaging Nargis (Tannishtha Chatterjee, who also appears at this year’s Festival in Parched); Jo (Amrit Maghera), an aspiring Bollywood actress; Pammy (Pavleen Gujral), a housewife; Mad (Anushka Manchanda), a singer-songwriter; and the house servant, Lakshmi (Rajshri Deshpande). Everything’s set for a night of celebration. There’s only one issue: Frieda won’t say who her betrothed is.

As they banter their way through a tonally varied series of scenes — some of them jubilantly comic, others loaded with pathos — the characters inAngry Indian Goddesses evolve far beyond mere tropes. Their conversation, derived entirely from improvisations among the actors, covers everything from sex to street harassment to the buff (and often shirtless) next-door neighbour. As the night goes on, we become acquainted with the women’s dreams, desires, fears, and above all, their unwavering bond with one another — a bond that eventually takes them to extreme lengths.

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Beeba Boys

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Festival favourite Deepa Mehta (Midnight’s Children, Water) is one of Canada’s most singular cinematic visionaries — and her latest film is a bold addition to her body of work. Beeba Boys is a kinetic drama loosely based on the career of notorious crime lord “Bindy” Singh Johal and the Punjabi gangs of second- and third-generation Indian immigrants operating on Canada’s West Coast in the 1990s.

Jeet Johar (Randeep Hooda) is a devoted family man and observant member of the Jat Sikh community. He is also a merciless gangster who fronts a pack of nattily dressed young toughs known as the Beeba Boys. Competing with other local Asian gangs for supremacy in the Vancouver drugs-and-arms-trafficking racket, Jeet leads his boys into battle to fight for their piece of this lucrative pie and for the respect they believe they deserve. Yet Jeet also finds time to mentor a volatile new gang member (Ali Momen) and seduce a beautiful woman (2011 TIFF Rising Star Sarah Allen) serving on the jury at the neophyte’s murder trial.

Mehta shows us all the dark allure of the gangs’ high-tension, male-centric world, one that beckons with the promise of glamour and fast money but demands a sacrifice all out of proportion to its rewards. Provocative and exciting — and boasting a very memorable cameo from Paul Gross, whose Hyena Road is also a Gala selection at this year’s Festival — Beeba Boys offers a dynamic tale of violence, racism, discrimination, and marginalization, and at its core is a powerful story about family that is sure to resonate with any audience.

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Dheepan

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In A Prophet, Jacques Audiard pulled his audience deep inside a powerful prison drama. In Rust and Bone, he brought the same intensity and authenticity to an unlikely love story. In Dheepan, which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes this year, Audiard turns his piercing focus to a story so ubiquitous it practically hides in plain sight. What happens to the millions of migrants who flee conflict zones to find new homes in the cities of the west? In the case of the Tamil family at the centre of this searing film, conflict is never far behind.

The film begins in Sri Lanka at the end of the civil war as a Tamil soldier (Jesuthasan Antonythasan), burns the bodies of his fallen comrades. The guns are silenced, his family has been killed, and he seeks a way out. He and Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan) are strangers in a refugee camp, but they cobble together a fake family with young Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby). It’s enough to fool the aid workers and get them to France.

Audiard establishes the ruthlessly pragmatic ways of these three war survivors early on. Once in the outskirts of Paris, they must use those same skills to navigate their crime-ridden housing complex. Securing their position in France means making their false family real, but past violence and present threats combine to exert a rising pressure that is bound to explode.

Working with screenwriters Noé Debré and Thomas Bidegain (who respectively wrote and directed Cowboys, also at this year’s Festival), Audiard finds both dramatic opportunity and moral depth in this migrant tale.

Dheepan‘s conclusion was controversial at Cannes, with viewers taking sides on its motivations and meanings. Whether you follow the news headlines, the logic of film narrative, or both, you’ll find significance in the fact that Dheepan ends as it begins.

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Guilty

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The day after fourteen-year-old Aarushi Talwar is found murdered in her home, the body of her family’s house servant is discovered just steps away from the scene of Aarushi’s death. The police deem it an honour killing, as she had allegedly brought shame to her family by having an affair with the servant. Despite a lack of evidence, Aarushi’s parents are convicted of the gruesome crimes. Yet the case is riddled with ambiguities that leave more than a shadow of doubt as to whether justice has been served.

Employing the structure of a classic whodunit, director Meghna Gulzar reconstructs the botched police investigation, the subsequent inquiry into the case, and the trial by public perception that took place when Aarushi’s grieving parents were taken to court.

As we jump between various accounts of the night of the murders, the mystery deepens, and the search for truth takes on a mounting sense of urgency. Khan plays the lead detective with wit, depth and an engaging unpredictability. It’s a performance in keeping with the multifaceted nature of the film.

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Parched

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This year has seen a cultural shift that puts more women at the active centre of Indian films. At the vanguard of this trend stands Parched, in which director Leena Yadav turns her lens on a group of ordinary women who, like the desert lands they inhabit, thirst for more than what life has given them.

“Society has rules for a reason,” says a village elder at the opening of this modern melodrama. And the rural community — home to widowed Rani (Tannishtha Chatterjee, most recently seen at the Festival in Siddharth), her vivacious best friend Lajjo (Radhika Apte), and the erotic dancer Bijli (Surveen Chawla) — lives and dies by those rules the old man cites. But when it falls to Rani to find a teenage bride for her entitled fifteen-year-old son, she and her friends begin to subtly question this status quo that favours men, sends child brides to abusive husbands, and ostracizes women for being educated and opinionated.

With a bold visual confidence, Yadav combines the stark realism of Rajasthan’s hostile desert landscapes with a Bollywood palette, vibrant tones that celebrate the unleashing of the women’s repressed sensuality and dreams. Splendidly shot by Academy Award-winning cinematographer Russell Carpenter (Titanic), Parched gradually accrues a feeling of grandeur — mirroring the way in which Yadav elevates these women’s stories, transforming her characters’ struggles into a stirring portrayal of liberation.

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A Journey of a Thousand Miles: Peacekeepers

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A Journey of a Thousand Miles: Peacekeepers acquaints us with the personal side of such a mission, focusing on five Muslim policewomen from Dhaka, Bangladesh who are part of a unit sent to maintain peace in the wake of Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake. Their training is inadequate, to say the least. Adding to the volatile situation are the local perceptions that the UN has overstayed its welcome, and that foreign troops are responsible for the cholera epidemic that has been killing Haitians by the thousands since the earthquake.

Academy Award winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy (Saving Face) teams with filmmaker Geeta Gandbhir to follow the peacekeeping unit not just over the course of the year-long mission, but also through their return home, where they face fresh challenges of reintegration. Many of the women are the primary earners in their families, but they still encounter opposition from husbands and parents over leaving home for work. As the film takes us deeper into their lives, we come to feel the emotional toll of a risky and gruelling year abroad, away from children and loved ones.

Muslim women are often kept at a distance in the Western media. This film offers a rare and up-close look as they make the best of a difficult situation, with compassion and humour, while the mission expands their sense of what’s possible.

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Meghmaller

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Bangladeshi director Zahidur Rahim Anjan’s subtle yet striking debut is the story of a family transformed by the forces of war. Directed with remarkable maturity for a first feature, Meghmallar marks the arrival of a significant new talent in South Asian cinema. Anjan blends political insight with astute human observation, and shapes his film with a disciplined, cinematic eye. In 1971, the Bangladesh Liberation War is on the verge of erupting, but chemistry teacher Nurul (Shahiduzzaman Selmin) wants nothing to do with politics. He and his wife, Asma (Aparna Jara), want simply to protect their young daughter from the violence rapidly encroaching on their rural village.

In the middle of a torrential storm, Asma’s brother, Mintu (Joyonto Chattopaddhay), abruptly abandons the family to join the rebel army, leaving behind nothing but his raincoat. Though Asma doesn’t share her brother’s politics, she secretly continues to correspond with him. On the monsoon’s third day, Nurul heads off to a school function wearing Mintu’s raincoat for protection from the ceaseless rains. It’s a fateful mistake. He’s arrested by government forces on suspicion of being a militant. Taken into custody, Nurul — anything but a radical by nature — will be forced to make a decision that will impact not only the destiny of his family but also that of his country.

In this adaptation of a short story by celebrated novelist Akhteruzzaman Elias, Anjan eschews the histrionics typical of war films, bringing instead a patient minimalism to bear on his examination of the tensions between family and nationalism, love and loyalty. Meghmallar resonates with a profound — and ultimately devastating — humanism.

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He Named Me Malala

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In October 2012, at the age of fifteen, Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head in while riding home on a bus in Pakistan’s Swat Valley. She had been targeted by Taliban militants for her outspokenness in support of girls’ education. She survived the attack and relocated with her family to England, where she is continuing her studies. In the meantime, she has authored the bestselling memoir I Am Malala and campaigned for girls’ rights around the world.

Academy Award-winning filmmaker Davis Guggenheim gives us a close-up portrait of this extraordinary teenager and her family. “He” in the title refers to Malala’s father, Ziauddin, who ran a school in the Swat Valley and set an example for his daughter by standing up to the Taliban. He named her after the nineteenth century Pashtun folk hero Malalai of Maiwand, known for her bravery in battle.

Guggenheim follows Malala and Ziauddin on their travels to countries such as Kenya and Nigeria in support of projects empowering young women. Malala has a boldness and eloquence that would be notable in a person of any age. When she met with President Obama, she didn’t hesitate to raise concerns about drone strikes fuelling terrorism.

The film blends a recounting of the events that led up to Malala’s shooting with archival footage and Jason Carpenter’s lovely animation. Even when Malala was eleven, she was already attracting the attention of international reporters. Yet despite growing up under scrutiny and death threats, she retains an easy laughter and playfulness. One imagines we’ll be hearing her name for a long time to come.

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