The Bagri Foundation London Indian Film Festival enters its sixth year with a programme that spans languages, themes, styles and concerns. The selection of movies and documentaries that will be screened between July 16 and 26 include Labour of Love, Tigers, Gour Hari Dastan, Nachom-Ia Kumpasar, Kaakkaa Muttai and Haraamkhor as well as the documentaries The Master, Meet the Patels and Death of a Gentleman. The British capital already has the prestigious London Film Festival, but one of the aims of starting this diaspora-friendly event was to “break the commonly held stereotype that Indian cinema is Satyajit Ray or Bollywood,with nothing in between”, said founder-director Cary Rajinder Sawhney. The festival opens with Umrika, Prashant Nair’s second movie after Delhi in the Day. Like The Lunchbox, this one too involves an epistolary device. When his elder brother migrates to America and stops sending home letters, Rama takes it upon himself to correct the situation.
Among the entries is Shivaji Lotan Patil’s 31st October, set in Delhi on the night of the assassination of prime minister Indira Gandhi and starring Soha Ali Khan and Vir Das. Also being screened in London is Nagesh Kukunoor’s Dhanak, about a 10-year-old girl and her blind brother.
There’s more to the festival than off beat and arthouse Hindi films. Movies from other languages also feature in the selection, including Nirbashito, inspired by the travails of exiled Bangladeshi writer Tasmila Nasreen and starring and directed by Churni Ganguly.
“We actively search out non-Hindi titles, which are of course plentiful,” said festival director Cary Rajinder Sawhney. “I’d say that the selection of Indian cinema is there, it just requires looking at a lot of films and picking the right ones.” Another regional-national presence, Mani Ratnam, will mark 20 years since the production of Bombay through a masterclass.
The festival seems best suited for the Asian population in London and Birmingham, where some of the films will also be shown, but Sawhney claimed that the interest in independent Indian cinema extends beyond the usual catchment area. “Over 26% of our audience is non-Asian English people who want to come and see quality world cinema,” he said. “Of course there are nearly 1 million South Asians in London alone so plenty of audience to expand into.” For filmmakers choosing to send their films to the LIFF, theremore than prestige involved – there is the possibility of being noticed by distributors for regional cinema chains and television networks. “UK distributors are generally risk adverse to non-Bollywood content which is, of course,covered by a very few Asian majors,” Sawhney said. “That said, at least four films have been picked up for distribution directly from the festival and a number have had TV deals after their UK premieres with us. We also hold industry forums where UK distributors can meet Indian film producers and spaces where UK and Indian companies can explore co-production.”
The festival closes with Sam Collins’s Death of a Gentleman, which explores the decline of Test cricket and the effects of 20:20 events on the one-day game.