South Asian Films at TIFF 2016!

South Asian Films at TIFF 2016!

TIFF is the leading public film festival in the world, screening more than 300 films from 60+ countries from September 10 - 20, 2016!

Highlighting South Asian films at Toronto International Film Festival.

Anatomy of Violence

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Celebrated filmmaker Deepa Mehta investigates one of India’s most notorious crimes — the 2012 gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old woman on a Delhi bus — in her angry, impassioned and essential new film.

In December 2012, a 23-year-old woman and her friend got on a private bus in Delhi. The men already on board — five passengers and the bus driver — gang-raped the woman, beat her friend, and threw them onto the street. The woman died of her injuries two weeks later. The case made worldwide news and was instrumental in activating Indian policy discussions about women’s rights and the government’s duty to prosecute for rape.

Deepa Mehta’s Anatomy of Violence takes a fearless approach to the topic. In collaboration with theatre artist Neelam Mansingh Chowdhry, Mehta worked improvisationally with her actors to envisage possible sociological and psychological backgrounds and pasts for the perpetrators and the victim. The film posits formative events in the men’s lives, imagining the origins of their violent, remorseless personalities, while presenting the woman’s life in parallel.

Unburdened by the weight of a large production, which can sometimes crush an artistic inquiry into the shape of a conventional narrative, Mehta pares things down to the essentials. The film seeks something other than an onscreen trial of these particular individuals. While still holding them accountable, it denounces the patriarchal culture and the cycle of abuse that fed their dark impulses, and the economic system that leaves its disadvantaged classes in desperate straits.

Mehta’s brilliant and celebrated oeuvre has been consistently concerned with human rights. Continuing in this vein, Anatomy of Violence challenges her audience to enter unsettling territory. This is an incredibly courageous work of cinema.

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Barry

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Devon Terrell and Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch) star in this biopic about the young Barack Obama’s college days in New York City.

As President Barack Obama’s term draws to a close, filmmakers are looking back. What makes Barry exceptional is that it looks back not just on Obama’s presidential run, his years in the Senate, or even his early career. The film takes us all the way back to Obama’s junior year at Columbia University. What it reveals about Obama in 1981 could not be of more relevance to America in 2016.

Twenty-year-old Barry (Devon Terrell) arrives in a New York City where turf wars pervade every milieu, from the basketball courts to the university campus where he is bullied by police on his first night. He starts dating a white woman from his political science class. He attends a party in a Harlem housing project. With his Kenyan father and Kansas-born mother, Barry should be able to slip between racially coded camps. Instead, he feels like he doesn’t belong anywhere.

Rather than hammer home its themes of racial tension and ambivalence, Barryimmerses us in its protagonist’s experience. Adam Mansbach’s script and Vikram Gandhi’s direction consistently show rather than tell. And Terrell lets us see Barry’s inner frustration mounting — even as the young man learns to exercise the external neutrality that will prove so useful later in his life.

In one of many scenes in which he’s asked where he’s from, Barry outlines his Honolulu-Jakarta-California trajectory and waits for the usual startled reply. Instead, his interlocutor tells him, “That makes you American.”

Barry is the story of a young man searching. It just so happens that what he’s searching for in this film is the very sense of diversity and acceptance that his country is still trying to find 35 years later.

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The Cinema Travellers

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This lyrical documentary chronicles the vanishing tradition of the mobile “tent cinemas” that bring films to far-flung towns and villages across India.

More than 120 years after its birth, cinema retains its power to inspire awe in spectators. Sadly, however, one of the world’s most wondrous film-exhibition models is nearing extinction. India’s travelling tent cinemas have been delivering movies to distant villages for seven decades, but the projectors are collapsing, celluloid is becoming a rarity, and patrons are being lured away by the marvels of television and digital devices. This beautiful new documentary, by filmmakers Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya, explores the incredible legacy of tent cinemas even as its most stalwart purveyors ride into the sunset.

The Cinema Travellers begins with eager crowds bustling around the colourful carnival tent at whose entrance a barker promises “movies to touch your soul.” Inside that tent, resourceful exhibitors scramble to set up, using mud packs to steady their aging equipment. Once the movie begins, however, all that busyness gives way to the magic on screen. Madheshiya, who’s an accomplished photographer, captures the spectators’ rapt faces in poignant still images.

Abraham and Madheshiya follow the exhibitors as they traverse the state of Maharashtra in rust-covered trucks, struggling to keep their operation running in the face of rain-outs, and resisting the temptation to adopt new technologies that may not prove sustainable in territories lacking reliable internet. Along the way, we’re introduced to the beguiling Prakash, a crackerjack repairman and inventor: he invites Abraham and Madheshiya to his workshop, where he proudly displays his self-oiling projector. It is an ingenious innovation — no matter that it’s nearly obsolete.

Lyrically edited and gorgeously shot, The Cinema Travellers is an affectionate elegy for a disappearing trade that still brings joy to so many.

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Dadyaa

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In their remote village, haunted by memories, Atimaley and Devi find themselves faced with a dilemma when a dear friend leaves without saying goodbye.

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A Death in the Gunj

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Award-winning actor Konkona Sensharma makes her feature debut as a writer-director with this coming-of-age story about a shy young Indian student who quietly and fatefully unravels during a family road trip.

Having made an indelible impact on Indian cinema with her work in front of the camera, renowned actor Konkona Sensharma (Talvar) makes her debut as a writer-director with this tense family drama.

It’s the late 1970s, and just outside the quiet Indian resort town of McCluskiegunj, a family gathers in their country home and prepares to ring in the new year with old friends. On the periphery of the family’s focus hovers the young man Shutu (Vikrant Massey), an innocent attempting to navigate a world that’s unkind to his sensitive nature.

Shutu would rather spend time with his friend’s young daughter than engage with the adults, but he is eventually drawn into the messy realm of mature emotions and desires. Relationships in these close quarters begin to simmer and strain, and Shutu struggles to define his masculinity and sense of self — even as the atmosphere becomes suffused with lust and mystery.

Sensharma was a star of Indian Parallel Cinema, the movement made famous by the likes of Satyajit Ray and Mrinal Sen, and her directorial approach shares a realist sensibility with the work of those directors. Shot on location in Jharkhand State, the film is deeply steeped in a sense of place; Sensharma’s camera captures the natural beauty of the family home’s surroundings as she patiently lets her Chekhovian story build to its dramatic and tragic conclusion.

With a star-studded ensemble cast that includes Kalki Koechlin (Margarita With a Straw), Tillotama Shome (Monsoon Wedding), and Gulshan Devaiah (Peddlers), A Death in the Gunj announces the multi-talented Sensharma as an exciting new filmmaker.

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India In a Day

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Directed by Richie Mehta, executive produced by Ridley Scott and powered by Google, India in a Day is a new form of non-fiction filmmaking that uses footage shot by millions of people in India on one single day to assemble a lyrical portrait of modern India.

October 10, 2015 was a day like any other. It wasn’t a national holiday or anniversary, and it held no major religious significance. But on this day, through an initiative backed by Google, millions of people across India turned on their cameras and smartphones and recorded their lives, then uploaded their footage to a website. From these thousands of hours of footage, director Richie Mehta has constructed a lyrical portrait of modern India that allows for a multitude of voices — male, female, transgendered, young and old, rural and urban — to make themselves heard.

Set to an upbeat score, by Stephen Warbeck (Proof, The Other Man) India in a Dayis a celebration of a diverse nation. Mehta edits the varying perspectives into a film that’s sometimes a fast-paced symphony of traffic jams, and sometimes as quiet and serene as a scenic pastoral landscape. It’s a country of women demanding their rights with steadfast determination, of children relishing the opportunity to learn — and, of course, of men taking a break for a game of cricket. In one affecting scene, a mother takes a momentary break from childcare to express her deepest thoughts to the camera.

Executive produced by Ridley Scott, India in a Day uses crowdsourcing to create an exciting new form of non-fiction filmmaking. The result is not only a breathtaking, kaleidoscopic view of a fascinating country, but a testament to the ways in which the internet and the digital realm are reshaping our view of the world, one day at a time.

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An Insignificant Man

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Filmmakers Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla follow Arvind Kejriwal, “the Bernie Sanders of India,” as he shakes up the complacent and corrupt status quo of Indian politics as the head of the Common Man’s Party.

Call him the Bernie Sanders of India: fed up with rampant corruption in Indian politics, Arvind Kejriwal decided to shake things up and challenge the status quo by forming the Aam Aadmi Party (Common Man’s Party, or AAP) in 2012. This was no small feat in a country that (much like the United States) has an unofficial two-party system composed of the Indian National Congress (Gandhi’s former party, which has ruled the country for a total of more than 50 years since independence), and the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party. Campaigning on promises to revoke unfair electricity bills and employing savvy grassroots tactics, Kejriwal went from being a long shot to finding himself a frontrunner in the so-called Battle for Delhi, the crucial state in Indian elections. Kejriwal represented a new political future for India. But the path to revolution is never smooth.

Over the period of a year, filmmakers Khushboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla embedded themselves with Kejriwal and his loyal volunteers, filming rallies, fraught party meetings, and Kejriwal’s anti-corruption hunger strike. Combining the directors’ original material with carefully chosen news footage, An Insignificant Man is a vital, on-the-ground look of the phenomenon that is the AAP. More than a portrait of Kejriwal, Ranka and Shukla have created a portrait of a country with 29 official languages and 1.3 billion people struggling to achieve real democracy &mdash: a struggle that places in even sharper relief many of the issues and principles at stake in the current US presidential race.

Taking a rightful place alongside other great modern political documentaries such as The Revolution Will Not Be Televised and The Square, An Insignificant Man is a vivid document of India’s fascinating political process.

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Land of the Gods

 

The latest from Serbian director Goran Paskaljevic (Cabaret Balkan) is a visually stunning fable set in a remote Himalayan village, where the return of a native who has been wandering for 40 years (Victor Banerjee) stirs dark memories and old grudges.

The latest from Serbian director Goran Paskaljevic is serene and assured, unimposing and wise, the work of an artist with nothing to prove and everything to share. Co-scripted by Paskaljevic and his endlessly watchable lead actor Victor Banerjee, Land of the Gods makes a geographical and spiritual journey into the past, leading us to discover how to forge a better future.

Rahul Negi (Banerjee) returns to his remote Himalayan village after a 40-year absence, with only his rucksack and his good manners. A devastating landslide struck the region two years ago, killing thousands, but the Elysian beauty of this place transcends the residues of disaster. Rahul wanders, looking for familiar faces, and, surprisingly enough, there are those who instantly recognize him — but they are not happy to see him. He left the village of his youth under a dark cloud. Most of the people here are superstitious and capable of holding grudges over generations. Suffice it to say that the bad vibes involve family squabbles, a woman, and the terrible injustices of caste.

Dedicated to the people of Uttarakhand, the north Indian state ravaged by floods and landslides in 2013, Land of the Gods is a simple but emotion-laden film that’s an homage to a place, its people, and their traditions. It features a wedding ceremony and a funeral, and there are splendid images of villagers at work and at rest. One scene of a woman bathing her children is a vision of quotidian loveliness.

Over and over throughout Land of the Gods, Paskaljevic illuminates the ordinary with grace — one of the highest achievements to which a filmmaker can aspire.

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Lion

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Dev Patel, Rooney Mara and Nicole Kidman star in the true story of Saroo Brierley, who was adopted by an Australian couple after being separated from his family in India at the age of five, and then located his original home using Google Earth 25 years later.

From the production team that brought us The King’s Speech comes Lion: the incredible true story of Saroo Brierley and his 25-year odyssey.

Precocious five-year-old Saroo Khan is always up for an adventure. Eager to help his older brother Guddu with any odd job that will provide their family with much-needed money, Saroo follows Guddu everywhere he goes. One night the two boys are separated on a train platform in their native Madhya Pradesh, and Saroo winds up nearly a thousand miles away in Calcutta.

Homeless in a strange city where he doesn’t speak the language, Saroo gets by on his street smarts until he is taken in by a government orphanage. When an Australian couple adopts him, he is taken to live with them in Hobart, Tasmania. It’s not until Saroo leaves that island as a young Australian man that he begins to wonder what became of his first home and the family he so adored. Ingeniously using satellite images from Google Earth, he finds a lead to follow up on. But the search for Saroo’s past threatens to overwhelm his present, and he finds himself further adrift than he ever imagined possible.

Adapting Brierley’s own book, A Long Way Home, screenwriter Luke Davies and first-time director Garth Davis infuse the story with quiet heartbreak. Newcomer Sunny Pawar lights up the screen as the young boy, and Dev Patel delivers a deeply affecting performance as the adult Saroo. Nicole Kidman, David Wenham, Rooney Mara (also at the Festival in Una and The Secret Scripture) and Tannishtha Chatterjee round out Lion‘s all-star international cast, while Greig Fraser’s arresting photography conveys the overwhelming chaos and beauty of Saroo’s two worlds. This remarkable journey shows us how home transcends borders and family transcends blood.

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Mostly Sunny

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Veteran filmmaker Dilip Mehta (Cooking with Stella) returns to the Festival with this fascinating documentary portrait of porn actress turned Bollywood starlet Sunny Leone.

Veteran filmmaker Dilip Mehta (Cooking with Stella) returns to the festival with a fascinating portrait of one of the most intriguing — and unlikely — international stars to emerge in recent memory: Sarnia, Ontario’s own Karenjit Kaur Vohra, a.k.a. Sunny Leone, whose previous career in the adult film industry has, incredibly, not hampered her rise in Bollywood cinema.

A former nude model and adult-film star in the United States, Leone has in recent years focused on forging a career in mainstream popular cinema in India. While the transition hasn’t been entirely smooth — one of Sunny’s first star vehicles,Jackpot, was a huge bomb — Sunny and her husband Daniel Weber (who is also her manager, as well as an actor and musician in his own right) press forward with determination. Mehta skilfully lays out the contradictions and complications that Leone’s career has revealed in both Indian and diasporic Indian societies. Though not exactly known for its liberal views towards sexuality or the empowerment of women, India has seemingly had fewer qualms about accepting Sunny than has the Indian community in her Ontario hometown, which remains scandalized by her unconventional life choices.

One of the reasons Leone has been embraced by a mainstream audience is her demeanour. Instead of a privileged, upperclass Bollywood starlet, the Sunny we see here is a common-sense small-town girl who is deeply devoted to both her family (perhaps the most touching moment in the film comes when she discusses her father) and her work. What emerges from Mostly Sunny is a portrait of a woman whose exposure on the job has not destroyed the loving wife and daughter at home: if she’s Sunny to millions, to her family she’s still Karen.

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Once Again

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After years spent living off the modest wealth of his in-laws, a man hatches a desperate plan that draws his respectable middle-class family into a vortex of crime, in this first feature in eight years from south Indian master Adoor Gopalakrishnan.

It’s been eight years since the last film from south Indian master Adoor Gopalakrishnan. The director of such acclaimed classics as Swayamvaram andKathapurushan takes his time, and the effort shows in the layers of detail that reveal themselves in this story of love, sacrifice, and, most surprisingly, murder.

Set in Adoor’s home state of Kerala, Once Again opens with the discovery of a man’s corpse in a hotel room. As the police begin to investigate, the story shifts to the family of Purushothaman Nair (played by Malayalam movie star Dileep). Drowning in debt after years of looking for a job, Purushothaman drew on his in-laws’ modest wealth even before he married his wife, Devi (Kavya Madhavan). When he finally gets a visa to work in Dubai, his wife, daughter, and in-laws celebrate. But the naïve Purushothaman takes out an expensive insurance policy, then can’t keep up with new demands for money from relatives and community members eager for what they think is his overseas wealth. Pushed to the breaking point, he hatches a desperate plan.

Once Again establishes the extended Nair family as the essence of middle-class respectability, but as the financial knots tighten around them their true natures begin to emerge.

Despite the ugliness it reveals, the film remains light and graceful, its widescreen images composed with an eye both to visual harmony and to relaying the shifting power relationships among the characters. Similarly, the performances are calibrated to deliver impact without excess: Madhavan is especially strong here, working in a dramatic register that is decidedly different from the many romantic comedies in which she’s co-starred with Dileep. As Kerala’s rains descend and Devi is drawn into a much darker marriage than she could ever have imagined,Once Again becomes a scintillating contemporary noir.

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