“Sold” is the harrowing story of a trusting young Nepalese girl from an impoverished background whose dream of an exciting new life in the city turns into a living hell in the hands of sex traffickers. The film is based on a best-seller by Patricia McCormick who spent time in India and Nepal interviewing women in Calcutta’s red-light district who had been rescued from the sex trade. She also spoke to social service workers and others who had helped to liberate the women. The film is produced in partnership with a charity, Childreach International, which is launching a campaign, #TaughNotTrafficked, to keep children in school where they are less vulnerable to traffickers. “Sold” is one of the challenging movies being shown at the London Indian Film Festival (LIFF).
The organizers of the fifth edition of the festival from July 10 to 17 are showcasing a new wave of independent South Asian cinema which tackles gritty issues as well as quirky and amusing subjects. They want audiences to be entertained, informed and shaken out of stereotypical assumptions about modern cinema being produced on the sub-continent. Spurred by the international success of films like Lunchbox South Asian movie-makers are being given the space to experiment and move away from traditional Bollywood extravaganzas.
International stars have also been quick to spot the potential and join the party. Gillian Anderson has a pivotal role in Sold. In Million Dollar Arm, Jon Hamm, of Mad Men fame, plays the part of a US sports agent who travels to India to save his career by finding a young cricketer to turn into a baseball star. This film is both funny and uplifting.
The films cover a rich mixture of subjects and settings. Hemalkasa follows the lives of an inspirational couple, Dr. Prakash Baba Amte and his wife, Dr. Mandakini Amte, who dedicated their lives to the development of tribal people in the Indian state of Maharashtra. Barefoot in Goa, a hit at Indian film festivals, explores with great sensitivity the Indian middle-class dilemma of what to do with ageing parents and the strong intergenerational ties which bind families. Kanyaka Talkies is a compelling tale woven around a movie theatre in a sleepy Kerala village where the mainstay was the screening of soft porn. There are unexpected consequences when the theatre owner moves away and the building is converted into a church.
Not all the films are set in India. Hank and Asha tracks the courtship of two young strangers searching for a connection in an online world. Asha, a young Indian girl studying in Prague, bonds with handsome Hank in New York via video blogs, they eventually plan their first actual date in Paris but one of them has concealed a secret.
Anima State takes an unflinching look at contemporary Pakistan. In the film a man with a bandage mask across his face, goes on a shooting spree across a Pakistani city gunning down people at random. When he finds that his murderous rampage fails to attract the attention he craves he decides to go on live television with the intention of committing suicide on air. At this point the plot takes unexpected turns.
Shongram, a powerful romantic drama, focuses on the 1971 liberation struggle which led to the formation of Bangladesh. In the film, a London reporter interviews a British Bengali on his deathbed who, four decades later, is able to vividly recall and finally share his past.
The films open doors to fascinating worlds and experiences. One or two pay homage to the legendary Indian film-maker, Satyajit Ray, others are inspired by more contemporary trends and styles. At some screenings there will be opportunities for audiences to interact with actors, directors and producers. The London Indian Film festival exposes movie fans to the work of a new generation of creative film-makers who are not afraid to take risks and adopt an innovative approach to tough subjects like sex-trafficking as well as comedy, romance, thrillers and other genres – proving that there is more to South Asian cinema than hackneyed Bollywood song and dance routines.