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The 16th annual IFFLA opens with a pensive, ‘In the Shadows’ starring Manoj Bajpayee

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Left to Right: Director Dipesh Jain (In The Shadows), Actor Manoj Bajpayee (In The Shadows)

LOS ANGELES (Diya TV) — The 16th annual Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles took the audience on a journey into the decent of one man’s mind with the opening night film, Gali Guleiyaan or ‘In the Shadows’. The director and writer, Dipesh Jain along with lead actor, Manoj Bajpayee were in walked the opening night red carpet and stayed till the end of the movie for an insightful Q&A session moderated by IFFLA’s Director of Programming Mike Dougherty.

The film is set in the heart of New Delhi and deals with a recluse, Khuddoos (played by Manoj Bajpayee), who watches the world through the lens of CCTV cameras that he has set up around his densely packed neighborhood in Dehli. His best and only friend, Ganeshi (played by Ranvir Shorey), tries to get Khuddoos to get out more but something is just a bit off with him. Khuddoos has been the voyeur for so long that when he suspects his next-door neighbor’s young boy is being abused, he must gather the courage to become a participant instead of just being a bystander.

During the Q&A, Jain mentioned he had snippets and scenes in mind for this film for years. The idea of entrapment and people being trapped had been on his mind since childhood because his grandparents lived in a similar area to that presented in the film. Later on, Jain started researching child abuse and the connection to abused individuals suffering from schizophrenia. This concept then developed in to the idea of a man trapped in this city and his mind. There is a line in the film that says the city is like a maze and once you are in it, you are stuck there.

When asked what he thought of the script/story, Bajpayee said he found it quite fascinating and that this character and script would take his craft to another level. The character of Khuddoos has a lot going on under the surface and Bajpayee played this complex character superbly. One audience member even asked what was wrong with the character because he is so peculiar. Bajpayee explained this is not dealing with a disease but rather dealing with the mind. and he wanted to portray a conflicted mind where the character spirals downward while looking for himself.

Khuddoos loses track of time, seems distant yet fixated on trying to help this young boy. Bajpayee said it was a challenge going in and out of character and that “the deterioration of the mind and how to achieve that” would be difficult to come out of. He went on to say that preparation for each actor is personal and for him, he did not tell any family or friends that he was filming in Dehli. Recalling a story, Bajpayee talked about how the director showed him candid photos that had been taken of him and elaborated that, “you don’t know when you slip in the character. You become one. That’s the way to become this complicated character.” He went on to say that the mind of the character has so many things going on and that is part of the enjoyment of being an actor.

When asked to compare the experience of portraying this character to his character in Aligarth, Bajpayee said that the role in Aligarth was not that complicated. That is a man who knows who he is unlike In the Shadows, where he does not, and the search to find out continues to break his mind down. Bajpayee commented that he likes as an actor, “you get to play so many minds”, and that you need to play the mind not the profession. If you have two lawyers, they may be alike in profession but it is their minds that makes them different.

As you can tell, the concept of the mind in a large theme with this film but to elaborate further would be to spoil the intriguing journey the film takes.

On returning to Dehli, Jain said the city never changed. The character of the city, the people, their talks and their culture have stayed the same. It is like a time trap but this aided in the telling of the primary and secondary story. Each story has different film styles to make them stand apart from each other.

The other story that the film focuses on if the young boy that Khuddoos wants to help. Jain told the audience that the process of casting the young boy was tedious but satisfying. They found him in an orphanage and learned he was a victim of child abuse who left home and lived on the streets. Jain talked about how he and the young boy worked together on scenes such as if he should cry or not while his father beat him. Jain wanted to and succeeded in earning the boy’s trust because some of these scenes were like relieving the trauma. The audience was happy to learn the boy had been struggling with his studies before they started filming but now he has more confidence and is working to get into a good school.

The Q&A wrapped up with Jain elaborating on one of the challenges of filmmaking in this area was that of interrupting people’s lives and having them stop and wait while filming. He knew this script would be a challenge and attributes much of the success of the film to his team; a team that was so much in sync. Jain said, “it’s a tough film and these guys made it easy.,”

The film addresses many different forms of voyeurism from the main character watching the outside world through video cameras, to the young boy spying on neighbors with his friends, and to the people who all gather when something is going on and just stand and stare.
The question one has to ask, do you just sit back and watch or do you step in to help?

During a heated moment, Khuddoos exclaims that all the kids in the neighborhood get beaten but no one does anything about it. Is this a reflection on society where we sit back while so much happens in the world but what are we really doing about it? If this character is any parable for the audience, we cannot sit locked up at home and hide away from the world. Even if it is painful, we must face our inner demons and not let them snuff us out.

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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