The rarely depicted topic of child trafficking is the subject of director Jeffrey Brown’s Sold, which opens this year’s London Indian Film Festival (LIFF). Executive produced by Emma Thompson and based on Patricia McCormick’s bestselling novel, it details a young Nepali girl’s attempt to escape her life in a brothel in Kolkata, India. Gillian Anderson and David Arquette star alongside an Indian and Nepali ensemble cast including Seema Biswas and Tillotama Shome.
Now in its fifth year, the festival is Europe’s largest platform for independent Indian cinema, showcasing the most innovative and challenging new work from the subcontinent over eight days of screenings, events and Q&As.
The centrepiece gala is the UK premiere of Million Dollar Arm, a Walt Disney production starring Mad Men’s Jon Hamm and scored by Oscar and BAFTA winner A.R. Rahman. Based on a true story, Hamm plays a US sports agent who travels to India to recruit two prodigious young cricketers to take back to major league baseball in America.
Other UK premieres at the festival include Anup Singh’s Rotterdam Film Festival headliner Qissa: The Tale of a Lonely Ghost and Kaushik Ganguly’s Apur Panchali. In Qissa, Irfan Khan is a rural Punjabi father obsessed with the ‘ideal’ of having a son and heir; and Apur Panchali traces the real life of Subir Banerjee, the great child actor who played Apu in Satyajit Ray’s classic Pather Panchali (1955).
Also screening is Slamdance Audience Award winner Hank and Asha, and Praveen Morchhale’s Barefoot to Goa, two films which explore different ways of communicating in an increasingly globalised culture. They both make their European premiere alongside another story of changing worlds, Rajiv Pochareddy’s Ilai, in which a young girl from the countryside moves to the big city, mirroring the experiences of thousands of Indians every year.
The festival celebrates a diverse range of south Asian experiences in their own countries and within the diaspora. In addition to films in the Hindi, Punjabi, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam languages, and UK/Pakistani film Anima State, in Urdu, the festival previews its first Bangladesh-based film, Shongram, directed by Munsur Ali.
The programme of special talks this year includes India’s foremost and most decorated cinematographer Santosh Sivan, who will present a unique masterclass at BFI Southbank on 11 July. This is to be followed on 16 July with a screentalk from singer, actor and director Farhan Akhtar, one of the biggest stars in Bollywood, also taking place at BFI Southbank.
Meanwhile, eight shortlisted films will compete in the Satyajit Ray Foundation Short Film Competition. This annual competition recognises ambitious and engaging films from young filmmakers who are committed to putting a real picture of life on the subcontinent on screen, just as Ray did in his work.
The winner of the £1,000 award will be announced at the festival’s closing night gala on 17 July, when audiences can also enjoy the world premiere of director Samruddhi Porey’s Hemalkasa, a biopic of the revolutionary human rights leader Prakash Baba Amte, played by Bollywood icon Nana Patekar.