Three to see at LFF 2015 if you like... films from India and South Asia

Three hot tickets at this year’s BFI London Film Festival: a film by an established director, a great debut, and a wild card.

Cary Rajinder Sawhney
Updated:

The new film from an established director…

Aligarh

Aligarh (2015)

Aligarh (2015)

What’s it about?

A young journalist uncovers a homophobic conspiracy behind the case of an Indian college professor who is caught by the press in bed with his gay lover. The journalist helps the closeted academic find a voice and fight injustice.  

Who made it?

Director Hansal Mehta has a track record of challenging issue-based films. His last film, Shahid (2013), won national awards for best director and best actor for Rajkummar Rao, who now plays the journalist in Aligarh. Manoj Bajpayee gives a career-defining performance as the under-pressure Professor Siras. Screenwriter Apurva Asrani wraps these complex characters together in a riveting plot.

What’s special about it?

Director Hansal Mehta’s feature is probably the best ever film on LGBT experience from India. Aligarh is a gentle yet hard-hitting tale, drawn from the real-life battle in the Indian courts and streets for queer rights around 2010. Unlike many films on gay experience, it isn’t a standard love story, it’s about a young career-driven hack who chases a report but then becomes fascinated by his subject. This film’s emotions are subtle as it depicts a struggle for dignity and humanity in the face of unrelenting prejudice. 

The breakthrough…

The New Classmate

The New Classmate (2015)

The New Classmate (2015)

What’s it about?

A loving single mother, Chanda, battles to get the best for her child, whether her daughter Apeksha wants it or not. When Apeksha fails in her studies, her mother makes an extraordinary decision to motivate her daughter.

Who made it?

This is the debut feature by female director Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari. Her previous career in advertising led to short filmmaking. Her short film What’s for Breakfast? won best film and best director at the Indian Dadasaheb Phalke awards.

What’s special about it?

The New Classmate is a delicately composed and compelling story of a battle of wills between a mother and daughter, with a real ring of truth about it. The script explores the stereotypical image of the Indian domestic servant, and the fond relationship between the mother maid and her female boss. Totally enchanting, it’s a must-see family film.

The wild card…

Kothanodi

Kothanodi (2015)

Kothanodi (2015)

What’s it about?

With echoes of Pan’s Labyrinth and Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, this edgy film enters the world of dark fairytale and magical realism. We are presented with a gruesome quartet of traditional folk fables from Assam, which follow its characters into a surreal world.

Who made it?

Assamese writer-director Bhaskar Hazarika received his masters in film and drama at the University of Reading. He has since written for film and television in India, and his partly crowd-funded first feature Kothanodi (The River of Fables) has received the Asian Cinema Fund’s post-production award.

What’s special about it?

Supported by a cast of accomplished actors including Seema Biswas (Bandit Queen) as a cruel mother and Adil Hussain (Life of Pi, Sunrise) as a traveller trying to solve a mystery, Hazarika’s film takes us on a series of four journeys based on favourite children’s fairytales from the Assamese compendium Grandma’s Tales. Here these tales are forced in a darker, more unorthodox direction, where magic and horror overlap exposing raw, visceral emotions of love, envy, hatred and fear. The fact that the main protagonists are mostly women on the verge of insanity is particularly intriguing; the film’s narrative resonates with the underlying theme of patriarchal cultural values and beliefs.  

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