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Daring to unshackle, ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ opens 15th annual IFFLA

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Director/ Producer Shirley Abraham (Film: Cinema Travellers), Director Alankrita Shrivastava (Lipstick under my burkha), Actor Aahana Kumra (Lipstick under my burkha); names left to right
Director/ Producer Shirley Abraham (Film: Cinema Travellers), Director Alankrita Shrivastava (Lipstick under my burkha), Actor Aahana Kumra (Lipstick under my burkha); names left to right

(Left to Right) Director/ Producer Shirley Abraham (Film: Cinema Travellers), Director Alankrita Shrivastava (Lipstick under my burkha), Actor Aahana Kumra (Lipstick under my burkha); Courtesy: Twitter

LOS ANGELES (Diya TV) – The 15th annual Indian Film Festival kicked off Wednesday evening with the opening night film Lipstick Under My Burkha. One of the words that stood out during red carpet interviews was ‘bold’. This is absolutely the case with the opening night film. It is apparently so bold that it is currently banned in India because according to the Censor Board, it is “too lady oriented”.

The director Alankrita Shrivastava and one of the lead actresses Aahana Kumra were in attendance and talked about the film during the Q&A after the screening. Kumra reminisced in front of a sold out crowd, her first thought about Shrivastava when she read script, “Man! This woman has guts to write a film like this!”

The film is set in the old town part of the city of Bhopal in Central India and the story follows the public and private lives of four women – two Hindu, two Muslim, living in close proximity sharing more than they know, in common.

The world around them and their circumstances stifle their lives but they all rebel in their own ways to follow their dreams. “It represents a lot of truth of the existence of women in India…there is a lot of discrimination against women” explained Shrivastava. The film blends these characters well by switching between them in a way shows how different and similar they all are.

Although entirely fictional, Shrivastava says, the film exposes the real truths of the life of women in India. The four women despite their different lives, lead a very similar existence, one that is shackled by societal expectations suffocating their dreams.

(Left to Right): Plabita Borthakur, Aahana Kumra, Konkona Sen Sharma, Ratna Pathak in the movie, 'Lipstick Under My Burkha', the contraversial film that opened the 15th annual Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles on April 5th, 2017

(Left to Right) Plabita Borthakur, Aahana Kumra, Konkona Sen Sharma, Ratna Pathak in the movie, ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’, the controversial film that opened the 15th annual Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles on April 5th, 2017

A widow and a matriarch is expected to be there for managing financials affairs and protecting the family property from greedy builders, but never again to dream of sex let alone, love or romance. A teenager in college who hides her Rock’n’Roll persona under a burkha. A young woman who is being forced into a marriage with man she does not love. A young mother in a loveless marriage with an oppressive man.

The film shows how each one of these women in their own secretive and bold ways try to unshackle themselves, daring to dream as they gasp for freedom against the contrasting backdrop of Bhopal. A city that suffered a huge tragedy in 1984, caused by a gas leak causing thousands of deaths and long term injuries leaving the city divided with no development in the old city and a newer more modern and developed part of town.

The young and gifted director shines when you look at the contrast in Bhopal as analogy to the the old traditions and societal norms these women abide by and the new world they want to build and live in. When asked why was the film set in Bhopal, Shrivastava shares, “I wanted a place where Hindus and Muslims live in close proximity because two of the characters are Muslim and the other two are Hindu”. She adds, “I liked how the small town aspect captured the essence of old and new and the changes that are reflected in the town as well as the characters.”

While a crowd of nearly 500 film-lovers filled the theatre to watch this film at the Regal LA Live in Los Angeles, the film might never see the light of day in India.

Currently the film cannot be distributed or shown in India, without the appropriate approval and certification by the Censor Board, Shrivastava says, she is hopeful. When the Censor Board wanted to label the film ‘pornographic‘, Shrivastava and Kumra point out how this reaction is really telling of the “patriarchal society in India trying to control change”. They even went on to talk about how the censorship of their film was similar to Amazon’s unfair censorship of other content that deals with matters of identity politics and sexuality.

However Shrivastava is not backing down, screening the film world wide, showing at festivals and with the support of her producers, fighting the Censor Board through a legal course of action. When asked if she feels scared or concerned about her safety, to be taking on hundreds of year of Indian patriarchy, Shrivastava responds with a sublime clarity, “there’s no other way!”

She also takes comfort in the fact that so far the film has received a lot of positive reaction and she notes that wherever it screens, “people feel a heart to heart with the film.” She believes, even though the film is set in India, viewers, especially women anywhere can associate with these characters because what women go through transcends culture and race.

Arts & Culture

IFFLA celebrates 20 years with a focus to mentor the next generation

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IFFLA celebrates 20 years with a trip down memory lane

LOS ANGELES (Diya TV) — IFFLA celebrated their 20th anniversary with familiar faces, overwhelming excitement and new additions to Southern California’s largest Indian and South Asian focused film festival.

Pan Nalin opened the festival with his film Last Film Show, a love letter to cinema and loosely based on his childhood.

“I think IFFLA over the years, it has been like a home in Hollywood. So I was always able to come here and invite people from the industry to see these movies,” said Nalin. “There are producers who usually don’t go to see Indian cinema. So I feel that it’s really important.”

Director Anurag Kashyap returned to host a MasterClass — a way to give back to the festival and fellow filmmakers.

“It is always good to be back here because for me this is where it all started from. And it’s amazing to see that this festival has grown so much and has been sustaining for so long,” said Kashyap.

New filmmakers were honored to be part of the lineup this year, especially after no in-person IFFLA for the last two years.

Hena Asraf, Director of The Return, shares “it feels a little unreal. It feels great! I think especially to be at a festival in person, after over two years.” 

“The community is amazing. The welcome is very warm. It feels just so honoring to be a part of this festival and amongst these filmmakers. I can’t wait to see all the other films,” said The Return Editor Esther Shubinski.

It’s that family feeling that makes IFFLA special and keeps filmmakers, attendees, and staff keep coming back.

Actor and director Ravi Kapoor is “just so grateful for this festival. It has been such a supporter of me. And they’ve helped bring the South Asian diasporic community here in LA together as well. Thank god they’ve lasted 20 years.”

Actor & musician Monica Dogra points out “what’s wonderful about IFFLA [is] it’s super niche, South Asians in LA of all places. [And] it’s small enough so you actually see people anyway.”

Actor Pooja Batra added, “I think they’ve always been eclectic with their mix of selection that they bring around here — smaller budget, smaller sort of productions also need a shout out.”

One of the new additions this year is the Spotlight on South Asia.

Festival founder Christina Marouda added this vertical to present films from different countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nepal. “We’re putting a spotlight on projects we want to support,” said Marouda.

The other major new change this year was a live table read of IFFLA alum Kahlil Maskati’s feature script, Alim Uncle, rather than a closing night film. Fawzia Mirza directed the piece.

These changes reflect IFFLA’s commitment to supporting filmmakers while giving audiences more than a viewing experience. In fact, they are able to be part of the filmmaking process.

Marouda says after 20 years, this is IFFLA’s direction moving forward — a full effort to mentor budding filmmakers, while showcasing new films.

Ravi Kapur and Deepti Dawar contributed to this report.

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Garcetti’s ambassadorship to India in limbo

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Garcetti's ambassadorship to India in limbo | Diya TV News

WASHINGTON DC (Diya TV) — Republican Senator Chuck Grassley has lifted the “hold” on the Senate confirmation of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has been nominated by US President Joe Biden as the country’s next ambassador to India. Initially, Grassley planned to object to the nomination, saying Garcetti failed to properly investigate sexual assault allegations and harassment by a close advisor.

Protesters in Sri Lanka have burned down homes belonging to 38 politicians as the crisis-hit country plunged further into chaos, with the government ordering troops to shoot anyone caught destroying property. Even the former Prime Minister had to be evacuated from his home. Angry Sri Lankans continue to defy a nationwide curfew to protest against what they say is the government’s mishandling of the country’s worst economic crisis since 1948.

Internationally recognized Indian American energy expert Arun Majumdar will head the new Stanford University Doerr School of Sustainability, which aims to tackle urgent climate and sustainability challenges,

Ravi Kapur contributed to this report.

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Arts & Culture

LA Kings host first Indian cultural night

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LA Kings host first ever Indian Cultural Night

LOS ANGELES (Diya TV) — The Los Angeles Kings hosted their first Indian Cultural Night at the Crypto.com Arena, a new initiative intended to broaden their appeal to a growing demographic. Many of the guests in attendance and the special invitees on hand talked about what the representation of the evening means to them.

Robin Bawa, the first South Asian NHL Player, said “this is great. This is a good idea that the Kings are doing. The first Indian Cultural Night here in the US, and they did a good job – coming down here to be part of this was also a great honor. You know it is all about spreading the word and getting the Indian community involved in these types of things and bringing them out to games.”

“We are here to grow the game, and this allows other people to understand the game and really get embraced by it,” said Dampy Brar, APNA Hockey Co-Founder. “So there’s a lot of South Asian families and population here. When they have nights like this, more will come, more will get introduced to hockey, educate themselves. So to be part of this night and to be able to do what I did today was special.”

Amrit Gill, host of Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi Edition, concurred. “If you can see it, you can be it, as cliche as it sounds. It is one of the most powerful tools in helping create more inclusion not only in sports, but in society as well. So I am over the moon to be here, but this is just the beginning.”

Indian American TikTok stars Kiran and Nivi sang the National Anthem. Kiran explained that this is their “first time attending a game and performing the national anthem.” Nivi added she was “just so grateful to be part of this.”

Indian American actress Sway Bhatia says representation matters in sports and media. Bhatia portrays a hockey player on Disney’s brand new Mighty Ducks TV show.

“Seeing so many people with faces of color, and to be one of those people, is just so empowering,” said Bhatia. And you know, other people in the stadium are able to see who we are and see what we do. I mean we had two amazing brown people of color sing the national anthem, which was so beautiful.”

Organizers are calling the evening a success after a larger than expected turnout and hope this continues to expand the popularity of the game.

Randip Janda, Hockey Night in Canada Punjabi Edition Host, points out that “this is a moment where not only hockey fans are able to celebrate what’s going on tonight but this is a community coming together and celebrating those common bonds whether you’re Indian, whether South Asian or not. A celebration like this, it shows you something. That the rink, where you go and you might be having a bad day but you’re going to celebrate. Win, lose or draw, it should be a party every single time. I think this helps us understand people around us and our communities and hockey can be a vessel of that.”

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