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Assamese language film Village Rockstars takes the Best Feature prize at 16th annual IFFLA

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LOS ANGELES (Diya TV) — The Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles concluded their 16th year Sunday, April 15 with nostalgia, thrilling mystery and light hearted optimism. The final day of the fest featured a tribute to the late Sridevi, with a special screening of Chandni, followed by the mystery thriller The Ashram which was preceded by the short Fifteen Years Later.

The closing night film was an Assamese language, coming of age story, Village Rockstars.

Before the final film, the awards ceremony honored the filmmakers for their achievements. The awards were decided by a jury as well as audience votes. When accepting the award for Audience Choice Award for Best Documentary (Lovesick), Priya Giri Desai said the best thing about IFFLA is the audience. During the week, the filmmakers in attendance participated in Q&As after their films and were blown away be the insightful and enthusiastic questions and comments from the audience. IFFLA is an intimate festival where the audience can easily approach the filmmakers and talk with them about their films. It really provides an inclusive atmosphere that celebrates the love of cinema.

Another thing that stood out to the filmmakers and festival attendees were the shorts. When asked what films they liked the most, many expressed how impressed they were by the shorts program this year. There were two shorts programs containing multiple films as well as a few features preceded by a short film. The fact that the shorts were so impactful in their short duration is also what made them noteworthy. At the start of the awards ceremony, the IFFLA programming team mentioned how they were blown away by the thrilling voices of the short films.

The Audience Choice Award: Best Short went to An Essay of the Rain directed by Nagraj Manjule. The Grand Jury Prize for Best Short was presented to The Caregiver, directed by Ruthy Pribar. Regarding the Grand Jury Prize for Best Short, the jury awarded, “a film that we loved for its elegant representation of the nuances between compassion and survival, and for its understated yet decisive storytelling.”

A special jury mention was made for Counterfeit Kunkoo, which the jury called “an incredible short film about apartment hunting in Mumbai that not only manages to be well-paced, gripping and bold but also a heart-wrenching perspective into gender inequality in metropolitan India.”

The audiences at this year’s IFFLA chose Take Off directed by Mahesh Narayanan as their favorite narrative feature film of the festival. Lovesick, directed by Priya Giri Desai and Ann S. Kim took the Audience Award for Best Documentary.

A special jury mention was made for Sushama Deshpande’s performance in AJJI. The jury stated: “Taking on difficult characters is always a challenge for an actor. It takes courage to humanize and portray a role that breaks the stereotypes. This actress demonstrated undeniable talent and commitment to deliver an authentic and grounded performance.”

Village Rockstars took home the Grand Jury Prize for Best Feature. In awarding the Grand Prize, the narrative jury stated: “This film explores gender expectations in a gentle manner. It blends beautiful cinematography with naturalistic performances in a fun and uplifting coming-of age story. Working as a one woman army, this director created an unforgettable portrait of childhood.”

Female filmmakers made quite the impression this year so it was only fitting that the award winning Village Rockstars was the closing night film. Rima Das not only directed the film, but she also was the cinematographer, art director, editor and more. When asked about the origin of the film, Das explained that she was not sure she was going to make a feature alone. Over the course of four years, Das took on the many roles primarily due to lack of funds. She expressed it was challenging but there was also a freedom to being a ‘one woman show’; there was no pressure. So she just took the challenge.

She filmed in the village of Assam, where she is from, and as the main characters are children, whom she filmed early in the morning and after school. A benefit to this constraint was that she was always filming during “magic hour” and the optimal lighting hours. Also, the weather in the area is unpredictable so she had to always be ready to film which is much easier when she is the only crew to organize.

This style of filming, gave the film a documentary type feel. There was no full script but there was a structure. She would write a scene and go shoot it. In the initial stage, the story did not change – a girl dreaming of owning a guitar. However, over the course of filming, a sweet mother daughter relationship story developed. After the film, an audience member asked if they are actually mother and daughter and Das confirmed they are. The mother character is a strong woman and recalling the inspiration for that, Das mentioned how her own mother is strong and it was from her own imagination. Referring to the relationship in the film, Das expressed she wants motherhood to be like that.

Regarding the initial inspiration, Das said she met some amazing children in her village who inspired her and she liked how, “Children, they can dream”. She casted the boys first and the lead girl was around while they were doing the initial filming. Das recounted how the girl was so naughty and climbing trees; she sounds just like her character. Then this girl slowly was overpowering the boys with her presence. “There was something in her face, she was so strong” said Das. The children and the way they were filmed gives the film an extremely natural and realistic feel which in turn adds to the documentary vibe. The pacing of the over all film is a bit slow but this is not so much a problem as you are in this world exploring it with the children.

In the film, there is flood which happens annually in the area. At the time of filming, it was not on Das’ mind to include the flood as part of the story. Then a flood happened but she did not want to film it because her film was not a documentary. Then, it flooded again and she found it did fit within the story – it is a part of the characters’ lives. After a couple weeks, they all go back to their lives and that is how Das felt it fit within her story.

After the full week of films, film discussions and meeting new people, seeing old friends, attendees and filmmakers bid farewell to IFFLA and went back to their lives. However, there was one last time of mingling and some dancing at the closing night gala. A few filmmakers commented how their were sad that the festival was over but they had such a wonderful time.
Film festivals bring people together to celebrate their love of cinema and IFFLA did that once again.
Until next year!

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Arts & Culture

An immigrant community’s gratitude, “serve where we live”

Founder of HC4A wanted to give back to where he lives: Austin. Hundreds of Indian Americans joined to open chapters across the US and raise over a million dollars for the cause.

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AUSTIN, Texas (Diya TV) — Indian Americans are the most educated and most affluent immigrant community in the United States. A recent survey conducted by Dalberg & Indiaspora shows that Indian Americans have the potential to give over 3 billion dollars annually. Harish Kotecha, founder of HC4A (Hindu Charities for America), came here with his family in 1972 when the dictator of Uganda gave all Indians a notice of 90 days to leave the country. His many successes in this country motivated him to build an organization that encourages philanthropy in the Indian American community with the motto ‘serve where we live.’

Organizations such as Akshaya Patra, Pratham USA, have raised millions of dollars over years within the US to to support causes in India and make a real difference. Stretching the dollar and making an enormous impact in the lives of millions of children in India. And even though Kotecha is well aware that a dollar remitted to India can create a big difference to a developing economy versus the US, he believes its importat to give back to the community we live in.

There is poverty here too. I thought it would be so great if the Indian community worked as one to serve those in need in the US,” says Kotecha. Hundreds of Indian Americans have been inspired to raise over a million dollars since the inception of HC4A in 2010. This is a small amount compared to nearly a half million raised in one night at the annual gala for the organizations funding education in India.

The HC4A mission is to ‘bridge income disparities through education.’ Two salient events raise funds for these endeavors: the HC4A Gala and Bollywood Meets Borscht Belt (BMBB). The Jewish community helps organize the BMBB event; leading Bollywood dance schools in Austin like Monsoon Dance and Agni lend the glitz and glamor to a high spirited night.

The HC4A Gala night
Attendees at HC4A Gala night in Austin

Schoolsupplies, backpack programs, and scholarships form the pillars of education-based giving for the volunteers at HC4A.

According to Dalberg, Education ranked at 61% as a passion cause for Indian American donors, followed by healthcare & Gender equality. “The Indian community is very successful, and we all came for one purpose, education, that was our driving factor. We know the struggle, so we are ready to support the cause for education,” says Vaishali Tendolkar, Secretary of HC4A.

Courtesy: Indiaspora & Dalberg Survey. Respondents were Indian American donors

Kotecha says that several Muslims and Jews fundraise and help organize events for HC4A. For him, the success of HC4A is the fact that people from all faiths and backgrounds come together to help the community they live in.

In 2017, Harish Kotecha was honored with the President’s “Lifetime Achievement Award.” As this model worked in Austin, Kotecha and his team worked on expanding HC4A’s presence to Southern California, Houston, and Dallas.

Nidhi Trehan, a sociologist, and a chapter leader for HC4A in Houston says, “If we reduce inequality here in the US, we will be working to reduce it globally.”

HC4A is asking us, that is Indian Americans, to reach out to other communities and give them a helping hand. We actually owe it to the pioneers that fought for civil rights in this country, to be in the position of privilege we are in today,” she added. Led by Sashi Konidena, President of the Houston chapter raised over $12,000 this past year.

The Southern California chapter began in late 2019 and has already presented $5000 to the Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD). Close to 50% of the students enrolled in the LACCD fall below the poverty line.

School supplies: More than 10,000 backpacks have been assembled adn given to local ISDs

Giving back is a metric of success for any individual or community, and it’s a great reinforcement of an immigrant population’s gratitude.

Karthik Pichai, a serial entrepreneur, helped start the Dallas chapter in 2019 and has already raised $10,000 for Dallas Community College. He is rallying successful entrepreneurs not just to give, but also potentially train the students in their tech companies. “I want to bring together affluent entrepreneurs with shared values. Along with our Indian American kids, we can set an example saying that we care about our local community and want to give back,” he says.

Teri Benge, who was pursuing a degree in hospitality management at ACC, while keeping a full-time job, writes in her thank you note to HC4A that, “I will always remember this gesture of kindness and will one day, pay this forward by helping students achieve their goals, just as you have helped me.”

Harish Kotecha, founder, HC4A

As HC4A volunteers celebrate 10 years of relentless hard work, at the Asian American Resource Center, Austin, none are ready to just sit on their laurels. They laugh and cheer on as they see a 2030 vision board of Shahrukh Khan and Jennifer Lopez coming for the Gala night celebrations and a fundraising goal of a 100 million dollars.

2019 was the biggest year for HC4A as they were successful in establishing an irrevocable endowment fund for scholarships. This year about $150,000 in fellowships will go to students of various ethnic communities. To Kotecha its important that the work continue beyond him, “If us go away, the charity goes away, the fund will still be there. Legacy of the charity and donors will remain,

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OPINION: 11 things you might have missed about this years OSCARS

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Asian Americans winners at the 92nd Academy Awards.

I’ve watched darned near every one of The Academy Awards since the early 1980s. Here goes.

1. BROADCAST: Compared to most Oscars broadcasts this millennium, this one was “pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good.” Of course, it runs long. By the time Billie Eilish finished singing “Yesterday,” it was practically yesterday when the ceremony began. Her rendition of the world’s most covered song ever was decent. It’s hard for that song not to sound good. And by reaching back to 1965, she more than made up for not knowing who Van Halen is… something far more understandable than it seems at first glance. (Subject of a future post.) Pretty cool that Tom Hanks announced the new Academy Museum at Fairfax and Wilshire, though that intersection rings ominously to us hip-hop heads. #RestInPeaceToMyMFBiggieSmalls

Billie Eilish reminded me of that Guinness Book of World Records Indian dude. #NailedIt

2. DIVERSITY: Perhaps it cannot be stated enough that when society swings too far one way, the response to the shift isn’t great, either. Not to kick things off with politics (since movie stars never include that in their speeches) but one of the most insightful lines I read in the last year is that Donald J. Trump has made everything worse. The Republican Party is in bad shape, but so are the Democrats, since they’ve collectively chosen to veer so far left to counterbalance the swing to the right. Similarly, when the Academy nominates almost all white people, Oscar Night itself feels it must overcompensate by giving people non-award stage time. It’s good that there’s diversity up there, but then you end up with weird, inane choices like Janelle Monáe’s opening number. I’ve long enjoyed her acting and her singing; I’ve heard first-hand that she’s incredible live and I can hardly take my eyes off of her because she’s so beautiful. But showcasing a relatively obscure film… dressing people up like Jokers and as soldiers… awkwardly putting (mostly white) people on the spot to sing along… this was just strange. Let’s showcase women of color for their talents onscreen so we don’t have to put us all in this uncomfortable position, including the anxiety I’ll now feel for critiquing (not even criticizing) a WoC.

J. Mo.

3. GLUE: Bring back a host. Even if one host did the first half and another the second or two people co-host, having that anchor is key. Sure, they largely disappear after their opening monologues, but they’re the through-line. This procession of one person’s introducing the next who sometimes even introduces a NEXT made for a weird chain of events. Beyond the functional value, there’s a strong case to be made for jokes. We can evaluate them immediately. I think a lot of us had no idea what to make of Monáe’s opening. Most people just go, “OK, I guess that was good.” But with comedy, at least you know where you stand.

4. NOSTALGIA: The longevity of stars who made their debuts as far back as the ’80s is incredible. Brad Pitt’s speech was a nice romp down Memory Lane to remind us of how lucky we are to have these people in our lives. Or at least on our screens. I don’t feel the same about most actors who’ve debuted post-2000. Although I loved Marilyn Manson as lead actor in Marriage Story.

5. SINGING, PART I: I looked up whether this was the worst year for Best Original Song. Maybe there was an exception in there, but collectively, they were atrocious. Even Elton John’s was so boring. And don’t get me started on Randy Newman. Once upon a time, he served a purpose. His voice is etched into my memory from many eighties movies but this man did not need to continue lulling us to sleep in yet another decade.

6. SINGING, PART II: The Oscars and Emmys face a unique challenge: they’re rewarding recorded acting, whereas the Tonys and the Grammys reward live performance. You can’t exactly make actors go up and act out a scene… though actually, I would like to see that. So, Elton and Randy notwithstanding, keep the live performances AND keep at least two montages: In Memoriam and some kind of themed glance-back. We movie-goers are suckers for nostalgia and investing a few minutes in this provides a substantial emotional ROI. (Remember when I talked about nostalgia…?)

I Thought It Was Over.

7. SHADY AFTERMATH: Eminem killed it. I found all of the snarky online dialogue infuriating. Indeed, the fast news cycle has ruined things. You used to read Oscars reviews all week, but if you don’t put out your thoughts within 24 hours, the world has moved on. There may be some upsides to that (though the lack of mentions of Australia show another downside), but one clear negative is that people go for the quick kill instead of even a shred of circumspection. It took me a long time to get into Eminem — I loathed him when he first debuted in 1999 — but then he quickly became one of my favorite all-time musicians. I’d still say JAY-Z is the greatest (even if the best is a Biggie/2Pac tossup) but Eminem is a close second. #TossItUp So, given that the man has more fame and success than most of the actors in that hall, yes, I think he’s the kind of evergreen personality we’re lucky to see anywhere, anytime… even if it is random. But it’s not random. He dropped a new album last week and became the sixth artist in history to debut 10 albums at #1. Dude’s a legend — and his performance was arguably the highlight of the evening. If you read the reviews, the Fake News would have you believe he bombed. In fact, most people of all ages, races, and genders were bobbing their heads and many were singing along to “Lose Yourself,” arguably the song of the 2000s. Again, it seems easy to throw shade at a straight white man… why is HE here? Well, why the hell was Blac Chyna there? Sure, she was on the Red Carpet and not onstage, but all she did was marry and divorce a Kardashian. The reaction to that? “You go, girl. Get it.” No. Divorcees of any gender shouldn’t be punished but that doesn’t mean we need to reward it, either. Sure, Eminem used the Other F-Word far too much early in his career, but he reconciled with Elton John (whose song from last night I do NOT want to hear 18 years from now). Joaquin Phoenix hit the nail on the head when he said that we’re at our best not when we cancel each other but when we help each other grow. Like how Janelle Monáe makes me grow.

A River Runs Through It.

8. PAIR: “I’m seeing Red.” — Rudolph. Give it up for Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig. Not sure why Wiig’s comedy career hasn’t continued to skyrocket. Bridesmaids is arguably the last great comedic movie; she and Rudolph both killed it in that as well as last night. Granted, they’ve worked together much more than Rock & Martin, but they had comedic chemistry in all the ways the men didn’t.

9. LAMESAUCE: Shame on whoever’s decision it was to include the line, “All women are superheroes!” I turned to Harsha, winced, and said, “Dude, that is SO patronizing.” Lo and behold, I read this online: “… immediately after making Brie Larson, Sigourney Weaver, and Gal Gadot stand onstage and say things like, ‘All women are superheroes!’ All women should not be forced to participate in pandering, infantilizing bullish!t!” I don’t know who forced whom and don’t know if it’s infantilizing, but it’s pandering… and patronizing… and demeaning. And it’s not true. No group of people is a bunch of superheroes. Not women, not men, not straight, not gay, not trans, not cis, not whites, not Indians, not Eskimos. Well, except the Justice League. And the people next to me on the plane who sit for six hours without getting up to go to the bathroom. WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE? They’re superheroes. Offer up something empowering like, “All women who go out there everyday and work and try to make this world a better place — whether you’re a bus driver or a Hollywood actor — even when you’re not being recognized and you have to work twice as hard as a man… you’re superheroes and we see you.” Maybe I didn’t nail the wording, and in typical Rajiv fashion, it’s longer, but at least make sure what you’re saying is true.

Kelly Marie Tran endured horrendous harassment at the hands of racist Star Wars fans. Just to mock them, she should start a site for Women of Color online and name it EWOC.

10. BROWN TOWN: South Asians performances weren’t featured onscreen, either, but it was dope to see Utkarsh Ambudkar’s freestyling. Dude once took a dump at my house. For more on that and more of his freestyling (including cutting me up pretty well), check out WatchRajiv.com. Fitting coincidence that Mindy Kaling handed out the award for Hair Love. Moments earlier, Chris Rock had appeared to “not-host”; it was his documentary, Good Hair, that told the world most black women’s extensions come from India. Dope to see some Ohio representation, too, with American Factory. OH-!

An appropriate arrow up from Priya Rai.

11. ENDING: Congratulations to Parasite! Loved 1917 (thought it would win) but Bong Joon-ho is this year’s Roberto Benigni. And that Asian auntie… my wife: “This is like having your Mom onstage.” What a way for the Oscars to remain relevant, address #OscarsSoWhite, and surprise us all… 92 years in. I heard Koreatown was going off last night… I can’t even imagine the parking situation. (No, that’s not an Asian joke… it’s a local LA joke.) In conclusion, we had no host but we did have a Parasite. A little biology humor for you.

“A very little humor.” — Spamboy on my FB Page.

And… just as I was about to hit Post, a news notification told me this year’s ratings fell to a record low. “That’s Life.” — Joker

#Oscars

Rajiv Satyal is a comedian and claims to be the world’s best movie quoter. He resides in Los Angeles.

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By 52-48 Vote, Senate acquits President Trump

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By 52-48 Vote, Senate acquits President Trump | Diya TV News

WASHINGTON (Diya TV)  — Along party lines as expected, President Trump was acquitted by the Republican-controlled Senate 52 to 48 on the two articles of impeachment brought forth by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives. An intriguing footnote to this partisan battle is that former Republican Presidential nominee and current Utah Senator Mitt Romney was the only member of the GOP to vote to convict Trump, the first Senator in American history ever to vote to remove a President in his own party.

59 year old Munir Hawara received 11 years and eight months in prison for hiring two people to set fires at a competing liquor store owned by Jaljit Singh Rana in Riverside, California. The two men hired to do the job, Willis Simmons and Randy Ramirez are already serving a prison sentence for throwing molotov cocktails into the store.

Tennis standout Rajeev Ram continues his stellar play, winning the Australian Open Doubles Title with his partner Joe Salisbury.

Ravi Kapur contributed to this report.

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