A former “Good Indian Mother” regains her agency while running her own WhatsApp sari shop. A man travels across four Indian states as he compiles a dictionary of four languages- Malayalam, Kannada, Tamin, and Telugu. A persecuted Rohingya girl, and a boy from the contested Kashmir region, connect and dream of a life together.
These are all stories of films featured at the virtual DC South Asian Film Festival (DCSAFF), which began Sunday, January 16 and runs through the 30th. According to the festival’s website, DCSAFF’s goal is “showcasing the best in alternative cinema” in the “heart of America’s capitol.”
Per American Bazaar, the festival’s 37 film slate includes independent shorts, documentaries, and feature films from South Asia and the diaspora. These films represent a wide range of languages, such as Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, Bengali, Malayam, Tamil, and Marathi, and a variety of topics, from LGBTQ+ experiences of the South Asian diaspora to an autistic man navigating stigma in his Indian American community.
According to DCSAFF’s schedule, the featured opening film of the festival is Nepalese director Mohan Rai’s debut feature film Mahanagar, or One Night in Kathmandu. The deeply personal film features an unnamed “Girl,” a failed poet, and “Boy,” a stranger, as they spend a night in Nepal’s capital city together. As Rai told the Brooklyn Film Festival, the film was influenced with his own experiences of feeling like an outsider in the city, with each protagonist representing different parts of himself.
The award winning historical drama Sijou, directed by Vishal P. Chaliha, will close the festival. The Bodo language film follows Sijou, a young boy living in a village on the border of India and Bhutan, who becomes a slave due to the Feudal Land Tenure System that existed at the time. According to The Shillong Times, the film won four awards at the 2021 Golden Sparrow International Film Festival, for “Best Director,” “Best Debut Filmmaker,” “Best Screenplay Writer,” and a “Special jury award.”
Aside from screenings, DCSAFF features numerous live discussions with writers, directors, and actors. According to American Bazaar, the festival opened with a book discussion with writer, director, and actor Ananth Mahadevan on his book “Once Upon a Prime Time.” Other events include a special virtual live discussion with actress Poonam Dhillon in honor of India’s 73rd Republic Day, and a panel on “Ethics in Documentary Film Making” with filmmakers and professors from American University.
Notably, the DCSAFF will present an award from the International Association of Working Women (IAWW) to Sushmita Sen for “Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Series.” A former pageant winner turned actress, Sen was acclaimed for her performance as the title role in in Aarya, a Hindi language crime drama television series that debuted on Disney+ in 2020.
More info on the DCSAFF, including a schedule, film guide, and ticket and pass purchases, can be found at its festival link.
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