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Hansal Mehta’s SHAHID

The 2013 New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF) will screen 22 features (14 narrative, 5 documentary, 3 recently restored classics) – all having their New York City premieres. Among the highlights of the festival’s 13th year is centerpiece selection Hansal Mehta’s SHAHID. SHAHID traces the true story of slain human rights activist lawyer Shahid Azmi. 

The New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF) announced the full lineup today for their 13th year of celebrating Independent, art house, alternate and diaspora films from/about/connected to the Indian subcontinent (April 30 – May 4). Dedicated to bringing these films to a New York audience, the festival will screen 22 features (14 narrative, 5 documentary, 3 recently restored classics) – all having their New York City premieres. 

Among the highlights of the festival’s 13th year is centerpiece selection Hansal Mehta’s SHAHID. The film is in keeping thematically with the opening and closing premiere features, Feroz Abbas Khan’s DEKH TAMASHA DEKH and Nitin Kakkar’s FILMISTAAN, by bringing forth additional thoughtful perspectives on communal harmony and conflict. SHAHID traces the true story of slain human rights activist lawyer Shahid Azmi. With the city of Mumbai as a backdrop, we see a remarkable tale of an impoverished Muslim struggling to come to terms with injustice, inequality and rising above his circumstances. SHAHID is an inspiring testament to the human spirit and represents the filmmaker’s concern towards religious/class based/racial intolerance around the world. 

“I am honored that my film SHAHID is the centerpiece at NYIFF,” states Mehta. “This is an important film about our times and the world that we live in seen through the life of human rights activist/lawyer Shahid Azmi who was murdered at the young age of 32. The film in its festival run has never failed to move audiences around the world with its narrative, characters, form and performances. I am hoping the NY premiere of the film will spread the word about this engaging story.”

New to the festival this year is a special midnight screening of one of India’s latest horror films, AATMA, which follows a single mother, Maya Verma, who wants to start her life afresh with her six year old daughter Nia. When Nia starts speaking to her dead father, Maya initially feels that her daughter has created an imaginary male figure to fill that gap in her life. But slowly Maya’s life grows darker, falling apart to the point that she starts to doubt her own sanity. AATMA stars Bollywood bombshell, Bipasha Basu and indie superstar Nawazuddin Siddiqui.

Additional festival highlights include Amit Gupta’s light-hearted JADOO and Marathi filmmaker Ratnakar Matkari’s hard-hitting social drama INVESTMENT. JADOO is a tale of two restauranteur brothers divided in fierce competition, to be brought together by a daughter’s wedding. It is the second film by Gupta, following his critically acclaimed debut RESISTANCE, which garnered actor awards and a nomination for the Best First Film award by the Writers Guild of Great Britain. Matkari’s INVESTMENT is a realistic examination of a family with striving ambitions to move into a higher social class, but at the cost of their social values. This film won The National Award for best Marathi Film in 2012. Another Marathi film screening at the festival is Gajinder Ahire’s ANUMATI, a heartfelt film about a retired teacher trying to save his dying wife.  In the face of adversity, one lone man becomes a symbol of eternal will and positive spirit as he struggles to save his world. Noted for his work in Marathi cinema, Ahire has previously been hailed for his 2007 biopic about Vasudev Balwant Phadke and his television work on Shrimaan-Shrimati.

Returning to the Festival for a second time is esteemed Malayalam filmmaker Dr. Biju, with his latest work AKASHATHINTE NIRAM (Color of Sky).  The film follows the story of a sixty-year-old man who lives on an isolated island. When confronted by a burglar, the elderly man traps the burglar on the island, and forever changes the young thief’s life. This is Dr. Biju’s fourth feature following his 2005 SAIRA, which opened the Cannes International Film Festival’s Cinema of the World, and his 2008 RAMAN – TRAVELOGUE OF INVASION, an official Cairo International Film Festival selection. Dr. Biju received the Kerala State Film Award for Best Cinema Writer in 2011.

Another renowned filmmaker premiering his work at the festival this year is Goutam Ghose with his film SHUNYO AWNKO. Ghose has made 13 feature films, winning 15 National Awards and 3 Filmfare Awards, including the Golden Peacock at IFFI 2010 for his most recent Bengali film, MONER MANUSH (The Quest). His International awards include the Silver Balloon Award at Nantes Film Festival, UNESCO Award – at Cannes Film Festival, Grand Prix – Golden Semurg at Tashkent, UNESCO Award at Venice, Fipresci Award, the Red Cross Award at Verna Film Festival. The only Indian to win the coveted Vittori Di Sica Award, Ghose was also awarded the Knighthood of the Star of the Italian Solidarity in July 2006.

Aseem Chhabra, NYIFF’s film festival director says, “The filmmakers we chose this year depict a wide, global perspective of Indian culture and lifestyle. In particular this year we have a large number of Marathi films, demonstrating that currently some of the best work is coming out of that region.“

Documentary highlights include the world premiere of Mirra Bank’s THE ONLY REAL GAME about the once princely state of Manipur in Northeast India struggling to counter gun violence, poverty, corruption, drug traffic, and HIV/AIDS with its surprising passion for baseball. Banks’ previous feature documentary, LAST DANCE, was short-listed for an Academy Award. Her innovative nonfiction feature, NOBODY’S GIRLS, was a PBS primetime special and her groundbreaking indie feature ENORMOUS CHANGES premiered at Sundance, followed by a critically praised theatrical release.

Another documentary highlight will be the U.S. premiere of Ritu Sarin’s and Tenzing Sonam’s WHEN HARI GOT MARRIED about a small-town taxi driver, Hari, embarking on a new trip towards an arranged marriage. This film marks the first time that a Tibetan filmmaker has screened their work at NYIFF. Sarin and Sonam have have been making films on Tibetan subjects for more than 20 years through their film company, White Crane Films. Previous documentaries include the 1997 critically lauded A STRANGER IN MY NATIVE LAND and THE SHADOW CIRCUS. In 2005, Sarin and Sonam completed a dramatic feature film, DREAMING LHASA, executive produced by Jeremy Thomas and Richard Gere.

Among the feature debuts are teen-cricketer-turned-director Ajay Bahl’s B.A. PASS, an erotic human drama based on Mohan Sikka’s short story “The Railway Aunty.” The short was published in the award-winning urban-noir series Delhi Noir (Akashic Books and HarperCollins India) and follows the loss of innocence of a young small town boy who moves to Delhi to stay with his aunt and finish his college.  Additional feature debuts include Nikhil Mahajan’s PUNE 52, a romantic thriller following a private detective during the 1992 finance reform that spiraled the Indian Middle Class in a tizzy of consumerism.

Remarking on this year’s NYIFF lineup, IAAC founder Aroon Shivdasani says, “We are delighted to welcome these filmmakers to the New York Indian Film Festival. NYIFF is one of the most exciting Indian film festivals in the United States.   Films showcased at our festival last year won an unbelievable number of National Awards in every category.  This year’s  Closing Night US Premiere Nitin Kakkar’s Filmistaan has already been declared Best Hindi Film of the year and I have no doubt others will very quickly follow suit!   We present New York with an amazing breadth of cinematic experiences through independent and alternate masterpieces of English, Hindi, regional and diaspora films.” 

Festival Passes and Individual Tickets go on sale on now at the festival’s website:  Memberships may be purchased at 

The 13th Annual NYIFF’s features selections include:

Director: Feroz Abbas Khan 
Country: India, Hindi with English subtitles

At the forefront of Indian theatre today, director Feroz Abbas Khan brings his singular style to a cinematic exploration of the religious identity of a poor man crushed under the weight of a politician’s hoarding. A social and political satire, the film explores the impossible India, where bizarre is normal.

Director: Nitin Kakkar 
Country: India, Hindi with English subtitles
United States Premiere

This National Award winning movie is set in Mumbai where, affable Bollywood buff and wanna-be-actor Sunny, who works as an assistant director, fantasizes on becoming a heart-throb star. However, at every audition he is summarily thrown out. Undeterred, he goes with an American crew to remote areas in Rajasthan to work on a documentary. One day an Islamic terrorist group kidnaps him for the American crew-member. Sunny finds himself on enemy border amidst guns and pathani-clad guards, who decide to keep him hostage until they locate their original target.  The house in which he is confined belongs to a Pakistani, whose trade stems from pirated Hindi films, which he brings back every time he crosses the border. Soon, the two factions realize that they share a human and cultural bond. The film shows how cinema can be the universal panacea for co-existence.

Director: Hansal Mehta 
Country: India, Hindi with English subtitles
New York Premiere

Set in the backdrop of communal violence that was unleashed on the city of Mumbai since 1993, SHAHID traces the remarkable true story of slain human rights activist and lawyer Shahid Azmi.  The film follows the personal journey of a young boy who goes from attempting to become a terrorist to being wrongly imprisoned under a draconian anti-terrorism law to becoming a criminal lawyer, to becoming an unlikely messiah for human rights.  This story of an impoverished Muslim struggling to come to terms with injustice, inequality and rising above his circumstances is an inspiring testament to the human spirit.

AATMA (2013) 100 min

Director Suparn Verma

Country: India, Hindi with English subtitles

United States Premiere

Aatma is the journey of a single mother Maya Verma who finally starts her life afresh with her six year old daughter Nia but as Maya starts to pick up the pieces of her life, strange things starts happening around her. Maya’s six year old daughter Nia starts to speak to her dead father. Maya initially feels that she has created an imaginary father to fill the gap in her life but slowly Maya’s life starts to fall apart and the reality gets darker till she starts to doubt her own sanity. Aatma is a psychological thriller set in a supernatural framework. It is about the inheritance of loss, a tableau of conflicting emotions played against a diabolic backdrop.

AKASHATHINTE NIRAM (Color of Sky) (2012) 117min
Director: Dr. Biju
Country: India, Malyalam with English Subtitles
United States Premiere 

A 60-year-old man lives on an isolated island. He visits the nearby harbour in a motorboat once a month to sell handicrafts. A young burglar keeps tabs on him and one day jumps onto the motorboat and demands money. The old man remains calm and takes the motorboat towards his island where the young man remains trapped. He meets the people who live with the old man, a 7-year-old boy, a 20-year-old deaf and dumb lady and a middle-aged man with a stammer. The intruder confronts rare life situations for the first time, His concept about life changes, as he understands how nature blends with life. The film is the ‘color’  of life, of the wind, of the sea and nature…

ANUMATI (2012) 112min
Director: Gajinder Ahire
Country: India, Marathi with English Subtitles
United States Premiere 

Anumati is the story of a retired teacher Ratnakar’s attempt to save his dying wife. Not ready to give up, Ratnakar is desperately trying to hold on to the world his wife Madhu has woven. In the face of adversities Ratnakar’s trauma of facing life without his life partner is unbearable… He is a symbol of undying will and positive spirit of fighting till the end…He finds himself in a corner, helplessly trapped between emotions and practicality, being forced against his wishes, to give up on his longlasting partnerhip- a dilemma that only fate can solve. Will he give that fatal ‘Consent’…will he succumb to failure. Come watch this beautiful heart rendering journey of a lone man’s struggle to save his world, his wife.

B.A. PASS (2012) 100min
Director: Ajay Bahl
Country: India, Hindi with English subtitles
New York Premiere

A young small town boy moves to Delhi to stay with his aunt and finish his college. Soon a mysterious married woman seduces him known to him as Sarika ‘Aunty’. Set amidst the neon-lit by lanes of Delhi’s Paharganj unfolds an erotic human drama between the two. A relationship based on lust, lies and deceit is forged. As the young boy gets more and more entrenched into his surroundings he discovers a city that thrives on corrupting even the most naive and innocent.

BAAVRA MANN (2013) 127min
Director: Jaideep Varma
Country: India, Hindi with English subtitles
World Premiere

This documentary zooms in on the personal and professional life of Sudhi Mishra, one of Mumbai cinema’s longest lasting and relevant filmmakers, using his life as a lens to explore declining cultural life in India. 

FIREFLIES (2012) 102min
Director: Sabal Singh Sheikhawat
Country: India, Hindi & English,
World Premiere 

FIREFLIES is the story of two estranged brothers – Shiv and Rana. Shiv, a successful banker, lives in the superficial glitter of corporate Bombay. The younger brother, Rana, is a law school dropout who lives by the day. Though worldly experiences and illusions briefly illuminate the brothers’ journeys, a tragedy that befell them fifteen years earlier seems destined to repeat itself, just in new incarnations. Flames suddenly extinguish again, in an eerie heartbeat. The journey ahead echoing with voices and visions from the past, and the magic realism of the years gone by, beckons the brothers to find each other again. And the picture in the puzzle that was scattered so long ago. Fireflies come out in the night, just to light up the darkness. They live as long as the glow lasts. Even if it is a lifetime, being lived in a day.

GARAM HAWA (1973) 146min
Director:  M.S. Sathyu
Hindi, Urdu
United States premiere of Restored print 
Based on an unpublished Urdu short story by Ismat Chughtai and adapted for screen by Kaifi Azmi, who also wrote its lyrics, this film is deals with the plight of a North Indian Muslim family, in the post-partition India of 1947, as the film’s protagonist grapples with the dilemma of moving to Pakistan or not. The Mirzas, a Muslim family living in a large ancestral house and running a shoe manufacturing business in the city of Agra in the United Provinces of northern India (now Uttar Pradesh) is headed by two brothers; Salim, who guides the family business, and his elder brother Halim, who is engaged in politics and acts as a major leader in the provincial branch of the All India Muslim League, which led the demand for the creation of a separate Muslim state of Pakistan. 

HANSA (2012) 88min
Director: Manav Kaul
Country: India, Hindi with English subtitles
United States Premiere 

The movie revolves around a little boy, Hansa and his sister, Cheeku. Their father has mysteriously disappeared while the mother is pregnant and about to deliver. Their father disappeared with outstanding loans and now it is left to young Cheeku has to prevent her house from getting sold and is at the receiving end of a powerful villager’s lecherous advances while little Hansa is too restless and distracted to pay attention to all the trouble his sister is facing. For Hansa his troubles revolve around a small red tennis ball which has got entangled in a huge inaccessible tree, a five rupee coin stolen from a local bully and all the travails of a boy and his closest friend Raku playing hookey from school and asking the time.

THE HUMAN FACTOR (2012) 76min
Director: Rudradeep Bhattacharjee
Country: India, English
World premiere

This documentary investigates song and music in the context of the Indian filmic experience. Although singers, music directors, the lyricists are all publicly celebrated for their work and have attained almost legendary status in popular culture, many unseen – and uncredited – musicians make up the orchestras that played on those songs and the background scores. The Human Factor focuses closely in on the story of the Lords, a family of Parsi musicians whose contribution to Hindi film music parallels that of any of the great music directors or singers, yet is widely unknown. But the story of the Lords is not theirs alone, but represents thousands of other composers. This documentary is crucial to providing an obscure chapter in the history of Indian cinema, replete with rare archival material, which provides viewers with a subaltern history of Bollywood.

INVESTMENT (2012) 122 min
Director: Ratnakar Matkari
Country: India, Marathi with English Subtitles
United States Premiere

Investment is a realistic, socially relevant and hard hitting film for the urban audience that can identify with its characters and the nature of the issues dealt within. The protagonists are a couple striving for greater ambitions, eager to move into a higher class of society, but at the cost of their social values. Their 12 year old son is being nurtured to become a politician, as the couple believes politics offers lucrative opportunities of growth, power and finance. The bratty son believes in always getting what he wants and his shocking involvement in a crime brings forth the changing face of today’s society and its uncertain future. It won The National Award for best Marathi Film in 2012.

JADOO (2012) 
Director: Amit Gupta
Country: India, English and Hindi
United States Premiere

Two brothers, both wonderful chefs, fall out catastrophically. At the climax of their dispute they rip the family recipe book in half – one brother gets the starters and the other gets the main courses. They set up rival restaurants, across the road from each other, and spend the next twenty years trying to out-do each other. Neither brother will admit it but they both know they are not entirely successful in the ‘other half’ of the menu. It takes a daughter to reunite them. She is planning her marriage and is determined that they will both cook together. But can the men bury the hatchet?

JAANE BHI DO YAARO (1983) 132min
Director: Kundan Shah
Country: India, Hindi
United States premiere of Restored Print

Professional photographers Vinod Chopra and Sudhir Mishra open a photo studio in the prestigious Hajj Ali area in Mumbai, in the hopes of making enough money to sustain themselves. After a disastrous start, they are given some work by the editor of “Khabardar,” a publication that exposes the scandalous lives of the rich and the famous. They accept it and start working with the editor, Shobha Sen, on a story to expose the dealings between an unscrupulous builder, Tarneja, and corrupt Municipal Commissioner D’Mello. While working on their story, Sudhir and Vinod decide to enter a photography contest, taking photos all over the city. On developing their pictures, they notice a man shooting someone, and get caught up in a murder case that ends with them in prison. In the final scene, Vinod and Sudhir are shown several years later being released, still in their prison clothes. They turn to the camera and make a cut-throat gesture, signifying the death of justice and truth in an age of corruption.

KALPANA (1948) 160min
Director: Uday Shanker
Country: India, Hindi

United States premiere of Restored Print 

Part soap opera, ballet, and political treatise, Kalpana blends surrealism with the high art of Indian classical dance to tell a story loosely based on director Uday Shankar’s own experiences trying to found a dance academy. The film opens with an earnest film director who pitches a screenplay to the owner of a production company. The producer rebuffs the director, claiming he is only interested in films that will net the highest possible box office rather than works with cultural integrity. The director begs him to at least hear him out, and thus the story of Kalpana begins to unfold. Kalpana centers on Udayan, a boy who, despite a difficult childhood, becomes a great dancer. Udayan dreams of opening a dance academy, but must overcome a series of professional challenges, including a crooked theatre promoter, and navigate the competing affections of two women, Uma and Kamini. Dance is used as the primary tool of expression throughout the film, lending Kalpana a unique style that is still unrivaled in Indian cinema.

LISTEN AMAYA (2012) 108min
Director: Avinash Kumar Singh
Country: India, Hindi with English subtitles
New York Premiere

LISTEN AMAYA is a modern, young, contemporary film about relationships, family dynamics, about pre-conceptions and about priorities. Book a coffee, is an offbeat library cum coffee shop. It is owned and run by Leela Krishnamoorthy, a middle aged widow. She herself is as interesting and free spirited as the café she runs! Amaya, Leela’s only child is a firebrand 22 year-old writer; quick witted, confident and open-minded. They adore each other as only mother daughter can. Into this mix, is thrown Jayant Sinha. A 60 year old retired photographer, who continues his chosen profession as a hobby today. He is passionate about people and the memories they create; he is also a great friend to Amaya Krishnamoorthy, with whom he decides to co-author a coffee table book, titled Memories…of The Busy Bazaar. The Busy Bazaar as a title has its own story and adds a subtle but intriguing undercurrent to the narrative woven around it.

THE ONLY REAL GAME (2012) 82min
Director: Mirra Bank
Country: India, English and Manipuri with Subtitles
World Premiere

The movie explores the power of baseball for people in a troubled, distant place. The small, once princely state of Manipur in embattled northeast India, counters gun violence, poverty, corruption, drug traffic, and HIV/AIDS with its surprising passion for our National Pastime. Manipur, which shares a porous border with Burma, joined the Indian Union under pressure in 1949, triggering a corrosive separatist conflict that continues to this day. For decades baseball has delivered release from daily struggles and a dream for healing this wounded society, as well as a way to connect to the wider world. This dream moves toward reality when First Pitch, a small group of baseball-loving New Yorkers, and two Major League Baseball Envoy coaches, join Manipuri men, women and children to “Play Ball.”

OONGA (2012) 98min
Director: Devashish Makhija
Country: India, Hindi and Oriya with English subtitles
World Premiere 

Little Oonga missed his village school trip to the faraway big city Lohabad to see a play called ‘Ramayan’. Unable to handle the pressure of being the only kid around who has not seen the fantastic warrior-king ‘Rama’, Oonga runs away. He goes on a perilous journey across forest, river, mountains and roads – bigger than any he’s ever seen, and valleys lain to waste by the mining industry… until he reaches the large, cold, chaotic, blinding city. When he emerges from the play he believes he has become Rama! But he is now returning not to the warm confines of his little village, but to a battlefield where the ‘company’ will do anything to take the adivasi’s land away from them. Only, Oonga doesn’t know it yet.

Director: Shashwati Talukdar, P. Kerim Friedman
Country: India, Hindi, Bhantu and Gujarati with English Subtitles
United States Premiere 

Over 60 million Indians belong to communities imprisoned by the British as “criminals by birth.” The Chhara of Ahmedabad, in Western India, is one of 198 such “Criminal Tribes.” Declaring that they are “born actors,” not “born criminals,” a group of Chhara youth have turned to street theater in their fight against police brutality, corruption, and the stigma of criminality — a stigma internalized by their own grandparents. ‘Please Don’t Beat Me, Sir!’ follows the lives of these young actors and their families as they take their struggle to the streets, hoping their plays will spark a revolution.

PUNE 52 (2012) 121min
Director: Nikhil Mahajan
Country: India, Hindi with English subtitles
United States Premiere

The life of a private detective undergoes a dramatic change when he takes up a case that is deeply personal and highly complex. Set in the year 1992, against the backdrop of the finance reform policy that spiraled the Indian Middle Class in a tizzy of consumerism, reforming everything, including their relationships, PUNE 52 is an heartbreaking love story blended in a edge of the seat thriller.

SHUNYO AWNKO (2013) 128min
Director: Goutam Ghose
Country: India, Bengali and Hindi with English Subtitles
United States Premiere

Are these two tales of one country?  Or, are there two countries — distinct and different?  Two Indias, one…confident, vibrant and growing.  Where liberalism is the order of the day, where consumerism tells the last word, where the future shines bright.  Another pushed to the margin. Poor, helpless, denied of even basic necessities of existence. The two ‘countries’ stare at each other. With hope and despair, belief and suspicion, joy and tears manifest in the faces of their people. Against this backdrop, we find six principal characters that every now and then recall their past memories, are bound by daily compulsions, yet have dreams of varying colours and shades. At the same time issues of insurgency, infiltration and proxy wars co-exist in tandem.

The film, set in stark contrast through a maze of visual imagery, complex characters and changing landscapes, wakes us to a lofty realization —–“One whom you keep beneath will only tie you down … One whom you keep behind will also drag you backwards.”

Director: Tenzing Sonam, Ritu Sarin
Country: United Kingdom, India, Norway, English with Foreign Subtitles
United States Premiere 

When Hari, a small-town taxi driver, has an arranged marriage to a girl he has never met, the result is an intimate and humorous look at the changes taking place in India as modernity and globalization meet age-old traditions and customs.

source: New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF)  

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