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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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HC4A Founder, Harish Kotecha receives Lifetime Achievement award from NAEHCY

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AUSTIN (Diya TV) — Harish Kotecha, founder and president of Hindu Charities for America (HC4A) received the Sandra Neese Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) at the 32nd Annual Conference.

He is the first Indian American to receive this national recognition.
Sandra Neese Lifetime Achievement Award is presented annually to honor individuals who have tirelessly worked to ensure that all children may have what most take for granted: safety, shelter, and a future; and that young people without shelter may find the promise of tomorrow.

NAEHCY’s Board of Directors were impressed with “your [Kotecha’s] ability to transform a singular movement into a replicable program that now is established in 4 major cities.”

In her award letter to Kotecha, Jimiyu Evans, President, NAEHCY wrote that, “We are glad to have an advocate like you in the field to meet the needs of children and youth experiencing homelessness – supporting and encouraging academic success – while implementing program
coordination and community collaboration.”

Kotecha, while beaming at the live video presentation at the virtual conference, mentioned that, “This award recognizes the impact of HC4A, all the volunteers, donors, sponsors and well-wishers of HC4A!”
Kotecha’s family was ousted from Uganda by its brutal dictator in 1971.

When he sought refuge in the US, there was not much by means of finances and housing. However, having a good education and determination to succeed, turned his life around. He turned all setbacks into a successful career in technology. Gratitude came full circle in his life when he resolved to serve the underprivileged through education.

He took an early retirement from IBM in 2001 and ever since has unwaveringly worked towards supporting children and youth of homeless families in their educational journey.

HC4A was founded by him in 2010 with the mission to ‘Bridge Income Disparities through Education.’ Ever since, the nonreligious and nonpolitical nonprofit has raised over $1 million to provide school supplies for elementary school children and vocational scholarships to nontraditional students. In response to the pandemic, HC4A also helped homeless students get internet connectivity for a year.

“He identified a huge social problem to solve that many assumed it to be government agencies’ or administration’s work. He and his volunteers have consistently delivered on the promises made to multiple school district administrations. More importantly, he has developed broader communities in his organization efforts,” says Alok Singh, Director, Global Strategy &; Transformation at Dell Technologies.

In addition to liaising with partner nonprofits to reach out to those in need, HC4A also brings the Indian American community together to volunteer and donate towards their cause with the motto of ‘Serve Where you Live.’ It now has chapters in four major cities: Austin, Houston, Dallas, and Los Angeles.

Rosie Coleman, Coordinator &; District Homeless/Foster Care Liaison, Austin ISD said, “This is so great! No one deserves this more than Harish and Hindu Charities. Thank you for everything you do for our Austin ISD students!”

Coming in an especially hard year, this award sends a wave of joy in the HC4A community. Kotecha has woven an intricate fabric of community members—from high net worth donors who have achieved their American Dream to below poverty line students who have often doubled their incomes soon after being able to complete their education. They now prepare for the next big event: a virtual gala in November to raise funds for vocational scholarships for low-income youth and adults. 

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Dive into the IFFLA’s virtual fest as you celebrate the 4th

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IFFLA Over the Years

LOS ANGELES (Diya TV) — In the digital age of streaming services where you can play every movie ever made, festivals too are changing. While in person festivals are going to be a while away, Virtual Film Festivals are booming.  IFFLA Over the Years is the festival’s response to the ongoing uncertainty in the film festival world. To that end, the previously announced 2020 lineup will be moved to 2021 so that filmmakers and audiences can join together and share the festival experience in person.

This year’s showcase is a special one, IFFLA Over The Years: 17 days celebrating 17 years of Indian cinema, is way of looking back all of those that have passed through the hallowed grounds. IFFLA brings you the best of yesteryear, with gems like Anurag Kashyap’s legendary godfather-esque Gangs of Wasseypur, the late Irrfan Khans shakespearean classic Maqbool, Lena Khan’s fresh immigrant tale The Tiger Hunter. The bulking roster ranges from narrative features, documentaries, to short films like Neha RT’s hilarious satire The Shailas, the oscar-nominated KUSH, the infuriating Bebaak.  With 17 days to fly through the virtual festival will span form June 19th to July 5th leaving you just enough time to experience every joy, ache, bellowing laugh, and uncle-inducing cringe.

 “We are beyond thrilled to be presenting this online showcase of alumni films,” said Christina Marouda, IFFLA’s founder. “Traveling through 17 years of programming has allowed us to reconnect with so many of our alumni with whom we share fond memories. We are excited with this opportunity to collaborate with them to offer new audiences worldwide the chance to discover some of the most visionary voices of Indian independent cinema in recent years. We also hope recent IFFLA attendees have a chance to catch up with films from our first decade, and early attendees who could not join us in recent years are able to discover some of the newer gems we’ve presented. There is literally a film for everyone’s appetite.”

A Female Lens features films made by and/or centering on women such as Karishma Dev Dube’s Devi (Goddess), starring Priyanka Bose (Lion); “This Is Not Fiction presents  award-winning documentaries including Faiza Ahmad Khan‘s hilarious Supermen of MalegaonStories of Youth” highlights children and adolescence in films such as Rima Das’ festival favorite Village Rockstars, which was India’s Oscar entry for 2019, and Shubhashish Bhutiani‘s Oscar-shortlisted short film Kush. “Diaspora Windows” shares stories of Indian characters living outside of India with highlights including Lena Khan’s The Tiger Hunter and Ruthy Pribar’s The Caregiver.

Over 70 short films are included in “Keeping it Short” with Neha RT‘s uproarious satire The Shaila(s) and Jennifer Rosen‘s piercing Laksh, making their online premiere with this virtual showcase.

Finally, Richie Mehta‘s India In A Day, Shonali Bose‘s Amu, Devashish Makhija‘s Taandav, Tanuj Chopra’s Pia, and Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya’s The Hour of Lynching are new additions to IFFLA’s programming by alumni.

Legedary fests such as Sundance and Cannes, set the trend for the virtual streaming fest and now we are seeing many Indian film festivals follow suit, IFFLA, NYSAFF & DYWSAFF.

Beat edging towards insanity by filling your days with more stories of hardship, of bliss, more tales of life just beyond the door, of lives just next door, and if they can get through it, so can you.

With 2020 being such an unprecedented year it’s easy to get caught up in the turbulence and feel overwhelmed. But we’ll get through this like we always have.  We’ve been through worse, our ancestors used to huddle together in the dark over bonfires in a fang and spear infested world speaking the first stories ever told. Wondrous adventures filled with heroes, villians, grim horrors, stunning beauty and everything in-between. These stories that brought us together, to feel safe around one another, these stories around the bonfire have transformed to become the projector and screens of today. A good story is what gets us through, inspiring us, enchanting us with dreams for tomorrow. So, feeling cooped up edging towards cabin fever?

We’re all right there with you so cancel your next Netflix binge there’s a long weekend of new movies ahead.

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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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