Nine Unique Movies Splash Through the City in 4th Indian Film Festival
By Jawahar Malhotra
HOUSTON: Just four weeks ago at a red carpet reception at the Marque Houston in CityCentre off Beltway 8 and the Katy Freeway, the Board of the Indian Film Festival of Houston gave a glimpse of what audiences could expect in the upcoming five day Fourth Annual Festival to be held October 3 through 7. Festival founder and Director Sutapa Ghosh promised some rare treats for Indian film lovers and dedicated this year to Celebrating 100 years of Indian Cinema.
The lucky ones who managed to catch the nine movies that were screened at the Studio Movie Grill, also in CityCentre, saw a cross section of feature films (Gattu, Shobhna’s Seven Nights and Shanghai), three short films (Jameela, Mumbai and An Unknown Guest) and three documentaries (Decoding Deepak, Pad Yatra and White Knight), that are on the Indie circuit and may otherwise never get a screening in the Bayou City. (Two in the originally announced line up – Sarsa directed by Jatinder Mauhar and Saving Face directed by Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy – had to drop out due to last minute hitches in post-production work, and Shobhna’s Seven Nights directed by Sudipto Chattopadhya was a late submission.)
That has been the formula for the Festival since its inception; to be able to showcase not only Indian cinema, but also movies about India and what Indians across the global diaspora have to offer. It is not limited only to the perspective of Indians – as in Pad Yatra which is by Taiwanese-American writer, producer, director Wendy J. N. Lee, born and raised in Los Angeles but drawn every year to the remote region of Ladakh from which the film took form. But the festival aims to present the unusual angle by which Indian movie makers view their own country and culture and give their finished product a chance to be appreciated in a manner that the film may otherwise not experience in India itself.
Just as importantly for the Bayou City is the cross-cultural exchange that comes from the festival, a point made by Ghosh as she came to the stage last Sunday evening at the colorful and elegant awards ceremony at the Hotel Sorella in CityCentre to mark the end of this year’s festival. “The IFFH is like no other festival in Houston as it appeals to cross-over audiences,” Ghosh said in her brief appreciative remarks, beaming at the select group of about 130 guests who included an early supporter; socialite and philanthropist Carolyn Farb, radiant in a mirrored, deep-red lenga-choli (“its so heavy,” she proclaimed) and matching heavy jewelry.
Indian Consul General P. Harish and his wife attended the function and he paid compliment to Ghosh on her persistency with the festival. “She has pulled off the impossible,” Harish said admiringly, “to make this Festival mainstream, as is evidenced from the audience.” He appreciated the emphasis on the evolution of Indian cinema as “it shows how it has come about and also is a glimpse of Indian civilization.”
The evening started with a social hour in the small but tasteful lobby outside the banquet hall on the first floor across from the hotel. Emcees for the event, Pooja Lodhia, reporter for ABC Channel 13 and Fox 26 news anchor Jose Grinan guided the program along with humor and appreciation as they called out the three award winning movies as well as the tradition of recognizing five people for their talent in the arts, philanthropy, business, literature and film (see box for the winners). Presenting the awards were Harish, Indian film actress Raveena Tandon who starred in Shobhna’s Seven Nights, Ghosh and Farb.
This year’s program had two added attractions: a medley of dances to snippets of songs from Indian movies over the past fifty years performed by the dancers of Rhythm India, featuring its founder and Director, the energetic Arzan Gonda and a live auction of four items, which became five with the spontaneous inclusion of a dress by Tandon. Rhythm India tailored the dances to fit the small stage, limiting the dancers to small groups, each performing in period costume to match the song and trailing off as the other group came onstage for their performance; eight groups in all told the story of Bollywood (from when it was just Bombay Talkies) down to the last gunshot fired during the “Laila, oh Laila” number.
The auction started with bids for a Drive Your Dream Car from Houston Motor Club to a catered dinner at home by Chef John Sikhattana of Straits Restaurant; necklace and earrings from India and a dinner with Raveena Tandon. Tandon threw in a designer dress (by Amita Dougre) that she was wearing the night before at the screening of her movie to up the ante, and the dinner-dress combo were scooped up by local businessman Sanjay Rao.
Winners of the 4th Annual IIFH:
• Short Film: An Unknown Guest, directed by Durba Sahay
• Feature Film: Gattu, directed by Rajan Khosa
• Documentary: Pad Yatra, directed by Wendy J. N. Lee
IFFH Special Recognition Awards
• The Arts: Rathna Kumar, Houstonian; Dancer, Teacher, Choreographer
• Literature: Chitra Divakaruni, Houstonian; Novelist, Poet, Professor
• Philanthropy: Drew Wilson, Houstonian; Community Activist, Public Service
• Business: Craig Dehmel of Los Angeles; Sr. VP, 2oth Century Fox International
• Film: Raveena Tandon, Bombayite; Actress