Asia Society Embraces Moviegoers in Fifth Year of Indian Film Festival
By Jawahar Malhotra
HOUSTON: After screening its run of movies over the last four years at the Studio Movie Grill in City Centre, the Indian Film Festival of Houston shifted its venue this year to the Asia Society on Southmore in the Museum District. Both Festival Founder and Director Sutapa Ghosh and Asia Society Houston Chairman Charles Foster were at hand for the three day long festival (October 4 through 6) which concluded with Awards Ceremony this past Sunday, October 6.
Foster and Ghosh had expressed their delight at the alliance which brought another artistic event celebrating Asian culture to the Society’s minimalist but elegant building and exposed the art of Indian filmmaking (which is celebrating its 100th year) to those who appreciate Asian life. Out of a crowded filed of films submitted for the festival, seven made the cut and were screened in the Society’s Auditorium over the three days.
These selections were three feature films – Goynar Baksho (The Jewelry Box) by Aparna Sen, The Good Road by Gyan Correa and Celluloid by Kamaluddin Mohammed; two short films – Silvatein by Arati Raval Pandey and Afterglow by Kaushal Oza and two documentaries – The Golden Hour by Jessica McGaugh and Roma Sur and When Hari Got Married by Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam.
The Awards Ceremony at the Society’s Auditorium was preceded by a VIP cocktail reception in the lobby area where over 120 guests and local celebrities mingled over appetizers catered by the Great W’kana Cafe, whose chef and owner, Sunil Srivastava was on hand to supervise his staff as they handed out quarter plates of delicacies to lined up guests.
The affair was decidedly less glamorous than the red carpet, black-tie and star-studded ceremony of last year. The chief guest, Calcutta-based director Aparna Sen, had to bow out at the last minute due to illness but the actor Ajay Gehi of The Good Road was on-hand, as was one of the festival’s perennial supporters, Houston socialite Carolyn Farb dressed, as usual, in resplendent finery and a colorful salwar-kameez.
Emceeing the event this year were KRIV TV Channel 26 long time news anchor Jose Grinan dressed in a aquamarine embroidered sherwani coupled with the much younger news reporter Rashi Vats who has moved two months ago to 26 from KBTX 3 in Bryan/College Station. Vats is the daughter of long time Houstonian Raj Vats and was born in the Bayou City. The entire Vats clan, including Rashi’s fiancé Daniel Gotera who is a sports reporter for KHOU TV Channel 11, and his parents.
Grinan shared his depth of knowledge of the Houston scene to move the ceremony along through its paces, at times drifting into long narratives of his own personal experiences. Indian Consul General Parvathaneni Harish, who has been an ardent supporter of this year’s festival, spoke about the landmark shift in moving to the Asia Society. He commented on the impact of the Indian cinema which “portrays life in India, not a caricature or stereotype”.
Ghosh expressed her thanks for the support of the festival-goers especially given the steep learning curve in her difficult year as Festival Director. “Now in its fifth year, my vision of the festival has become a reality,” she said. She acknowledged Foster’s support and added that “our mission is to build a first class festival for Houston”, though it is “challenging, often maddening, not easy, but the show must go on”. Ghosh disclosed that, starting next year, the festival would give out scholarships to students in mass communications and film.
As in previous years, performers from Rhythm India, the local dance company provided entertainment in three short numbers encompassing a medley of Bollywood songs, during breaks between the awards presentations, with Company Director Arzan Gonda dancing in the last one. The awards for best documentary went to The Golden Hour with directors Jessica McGaugh and Roma Sur onstage to accept. Best Short Film went to Afterglow with Drew Wilson accepting for the director Kaushal Oza who could not attend.
Best Feature Film went to The Good Road with Ajay Gehi accepting for director Gyan Correa. Ghosh was delighted that the film had been nominated for the Oscars next year and Gehi encouraged everyone to lobby through social media and personal contacts for the film to win.
Other Awards presented were for Philanthropy, going to Sam and Omana Abraham who have stood by the growth of the festival since it began and for Leadership to Charles Foster, who quipped that he may have won since his wife Lily had made 20 films in China years ago.
The ceremony and the evening ended with a raffle drawing for round-trip tickets on Etihad Airlines, the new upstart airline from Abu Dhabi, whose Dallas-Based Manager Ken Bapu made the presentations. By luck of the draw, IFFH Director Amey Prakash won two economy class tickets and Sutapa’s husband Atul won the business class ticket.