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Grand Performances at Eclectic Indian New York Film Festival

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Raj S. Rangarajan *

There was rhythm and resonance, music and melody, and it was pure joy for 156 minutes. And the audience loved it.

I am talking of Nachom-ia-Kumpasar, the award-winning 20-song Konkani (film) musical, set in the 60sand 70s in India. The pulsating voice of Palomi Ghosh (Bengali actor, Awakenings) and reverberating trumpet strains from Vijay Maurya (Black Friday, actor, director) carried the evening.

The occasion was the 16th anniversary of the New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF) in May, and the fare included independent, art-house and alternate films as also a couple of thrillers. The forty screenings and shorts included regional films drawn from eleven languages with English subtitles. Every year NYIFF showcases, promotes and encourages filmmakers to tell their stories of and about the Indian continent, viewed by highflyers, celebrities, regular film buffs and students.

Older Hindi films such as Anubhav (Basu Bhattacharya’s feature, with Sanjeev Kumar and Tanuja); Sujata (Bimal Roy’s feature with Nutan and Sanjay Dutt) stirred one’s love for nostalgia, and director Aparna Sen’s film Arshinagar, adapted from Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, about rivalry between two prominent families in Kolkata that spills into religious confrontations, had some seniors registering shock and dismay. The festival also hosted film industry panels and post-screening discussions on humor, love, lust and LGBT.

Nachom-ia kumpasar (translated as Let’s Dance to The Rhythm) is a tale set in the 60s and 70s – times when these rollicking musicians lived and died – unrecognized, unappreciated and unsung. The film is a fitting tribute to Goan music and two of the genre’s jazz musicians, – Chris Perry and Lorna. Directed by former ad guy from Mumbai, Bardroy Barretto, the film chronicles a bitter-sweet relationship between a young singer and her mentor set against the backdrop of the jazz clubs of Bombay and Calcutta of the 1960s.

Lawry, a young Goan musician playing in the nightclubs of Bombay, returns to Goa to find a singer for his band, and meets Dona. While Lawry moulds the impressionable young Dona into a talented singer, they fall deeply in love, and what happens later is a monument to their bond and music. Fun-loving Goans are known for their football teams and their well-known drink – feni – which is appropriately celebrated in many a scene in this film.

A week later, we were treated to a touching true story of an academician in Aligarh, a film with LGBT overtones and accompanying innuendo, instigated by close-minded voices. Manoj Bajpayee (Gangs of Wasseypur) as the professor and Rajkumar Rao (Love, Sex aur Dhokha) as a sensitive journalist (Deepu Sebastian), have done ample justice to their roles.

Set in a city in Uttar Pradesh, Bajpayee plays Dr. Shrinivas Ramchandra Siras, a professor of Marathi at the Aligarh Muslim University. He is fired from his position of Reader and Chair of Modern Indian Languages on charges of homosexuality. A sting operation conducted by a television channel shows the male professor in an embrace with a male rickshaw puller in the privacy of his house in campus.

Between the two main characters, the film plods along at gingerly pace, with mediocre legal arguments back and forth on the merits of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that deals with “unnatural offences”. The scene of the hearings is largely cluttered and haphazard, and professional cinematic touches would have helped.

Earlier, the NYIFF festival had launched the screening of the film The Man Who Knew Infinity (which was reviewed in these columns in May).

* Raj S. Rangarajan is a New York based independent writer. He covers trend stories on art, reviews films and books for media based in New York; Toronto, Canada; and India. He can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

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