San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival
ByRas H. Siddiqui
The 3rd i organization (www.thirdi.org) has now become a prominent part of the South-Asian culture scene in the San Francisco Bay area. Founded in the year 2002 by Ivan Jaigirdar, Shilpa Mankikar, and Camille Ramani, the focus of this effort has been monthly film screenings and an annual film festival which this time around was its 11th, held between November 6th and 16 at three venues, at the New People Cinema and the Castro Theatre in San Francisco plus the Aquarius Theatre in nearby Palo Alto.
This year the San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival (SFISAFF) featured over 20 films originating from India, Sri Lanka, US, Canada and Pakistan. The spotlight on Pakistan was important here because the feature film industry in that country is slowly and steadily emerging during the last decade from near extinction.
It is not possible to focus or even mention the over 20 films screened at the SFISAFF in a single article here but just a few, beginning with The Revolutionary Optimists on November 6th and These Birds Walk on November 7th, both capturing street life in Calcutta and Karachi respectively. I did try to get in to see These Birds Walk but the show was completely sold out, possibly due to this documentary’s deep focus and association with the work of Pakistan’s leading humanitarians Abdul Sattar Edhi and his wife Bilquis. Filmmakers Bassam Tariq and Omar Mullick will have to bring this film back to audiences here in Northern California soon so more of us can see their work.
Peddler from India and Simple Superstar by Wilbur Sagunaraj from Canada mirrored Mumbai and Southern India at the festival on November 8th. Cricket started off November 9th at the Castro as the documentary Beyond All Boundaries highlighted the “religion” associated with the sport. Ladies in pink ushered in their own revolution on screen against gender violence in India via the Gulabi Gang thanks to Nishtha Jain, and Sabiha Sumar’s Good Morning Karachi followed with a screening which we could attend and will focus on here.
Sabiha Sumar was here in person at San Francisco’s premiere of Good Morning Karachi and so was one of our favorite performers from Pakistan, Beo Zafar, who plays the role of Aunt Rosie in the movie. Sabiha deserves her past accolades because of her absolutely brilliant partition feature film Khamosh Pani (Silent Waters) released almost 10 years ago and her association with the documentary Saving Face which earned Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy an Oscar and more recently was also awarded an Emmy. Introduced by local film maker Saquib Mausoof, Good Morning Karachi received very mixed reviews. Local film enthusiast Mike K did not like it at all. Another named Ahsan wrote, “The director avoids --- wisely, I think --- any temptation to send out messages, remaining sympathetic to all of the characters. She has a story to tell and she tells it as she envisions it. What you take away from the movie is up to you."
Good Morning Karachi is the new name given to the original 2011 effort Rafina based on a novella by writer Shandana Minhas. The main character in the movie is Rafina (Amna Ilyas) a young woman from a humble background soon to wed Arif (Yasir Aqueel) a worker for then Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). But Rafina dreams of loftier heights, to be in the limelight in the modeling world of Karachi where extremists lurk to attack billboards. In this quest and against her mother’s wishes (along with resistance from Arif) she, with the help of Rosie Khala (Beo Raana Zafar) heads to Radiance, a beauty salon where women come in to get waxing and massage (and apparently to get discovered as models). Here she becomes an interest for Jamal (Atta Yaqub) and pursues her dream while making some very difficult choices on the way. All the essential ingredients are there in this story to make a powerful film especially in the background of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. Unfortunately, although the film is watchable it lacks the punching power it could have had. The high expectations one brought to the theatre knowing Sabiha Sumar’s track record were not met as another movie-goer Farah expressed her disappointment. After the movie Sabiha shared the stage with the Director Anusha Rizvi, maker of the immensely successful and troubling movie Peepli Live. They sat down for a chat and to answer some questions from the audience and segment presenter.
3rd i’s Castro Reception with the filmmakers following the stage chat did not reveal much more. The place was packed and full of life (and noisy) so the questions that I asked Sabiha did not get through correctly. Beo Zafar was as usual in her elements, full of confidence and it was good to see her again, a few years after she floored us with her comedy act (watch out Bollywood) at a fundraiser for The Citizens Foundation. And speaking of comedy, the grand finale of the evening at the Castro Theatre was Shudd Desi Romance, a seriously funny film starring Sushant Singh Rajput, Parineeti Chopra and Vaani Kapoor, with Bollywood veteran Rishi Kapoor also playing an interesting role.
Sunday November 10th started with Celluloid Man, a celebration in film of 100 years of Indian Cinema by Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, which interviewed the “Who’s Who” of the industry, including P.K. Nair, the founder of the National Film Archive of India. With You, Without You by Prasanna Vithanage focused on relationships impacted by the Sri Lankan civil war. The documentary Alice Walker, Beauty in Truth by Pratibha Parmar closed the day at the New People Cinema.
The last day of the festival was at the Aquarius in Palo Alto which started with the documentary Without Shepherds by Cary McClelland, which focused on six people in Pakistan, including cricketer and now politician Imran Khan and model Vaneeza. Also slated were a short film From Melody Queen to Muslim Madonna by Fawzia Afzal-Khan and repeats of Beyond All Boundaries and Gulabi Gang with the critically acclaimed Ship of Theseus closing the film festival 2013.
In closing some words of appreciation for 3rd i are in order here for keeping all of South Asia in mind over the years in their quest to bring alternate cinema from the region to the San Francisco Bay Area. Indian Bollywood’s success is well known all over the world today and it is movie makers from Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka who need more encouragement. And lest we forget that the celebration of 100 years of the Indian film industry includes the contribution of those who moved across the border at or after partition in 1947. One name that immediately comes to mind is the late singer Melody Queen Noor Jehan and a movie by the name of Anmol Ghadi (1946) directed by Mehboob Khan, featuring the music of Naushad and additionally famous for launching the career of a then little known singer by the name of Mohammad Rafi.
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