“Today’s niche is tomorrow’s mainstream”

Indian cinema has always been a representative of its complex web of social, political, economical and historical threads. With constantly changing social interactions, growing urban boundaries, polarizing political ideologies and increasing burden of glorious past – Today, Indian cinema is telling stories only we can tell. The kind of stories that go beyond the national context and have a global connect. These stories don’t try to mock and shock, but show the world what we have to offer. Our independent cinema community is getting bigger and better at home and stronger in the international circuit. Regional independent cinema has become a powerhouse of talent and experiments. There’s a strong representation of unique stories and young voices from various regions of India that are finding takers in the global space.

Since it’s inception in 2003, the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA) has been a core supporter of Indian independent cinema. Founded by Christina Marouda, IFFLA has been a strong proponent of independent cinema for years. Films it featured once have gone on to become cults of the new-wave of Indian cinema. IFFLA alums are now hugely lauded and leading filmmakers of the Indian cinematic scene. In the heart of Hollywood, this platform has helped Indian indies in cultivating new audiences. The 14th edition of IFFLA concluded a few days ago and here are the highlights of the festival for Pandolin readers.


Session underway at IFFLA 2016

Session underway at IFFLA 2016

As always IFFLA had an impressive lineup of films this year as well, with a record number of films by women filmmakers. The lineup consisted of films that were appreciated by audiences across the world over the last year – Hansal Mehta’s Aligarh, Q’s Brahman Naman, Leena Yadav’s Parched, Deepa Mehta’s Beeba Boys, Neeraj Ghaywan’s Masaan, Prashant Nair’s Umrika, to name a few along with an excellent variety of short films.


Team of Angry Indian Goddesses

Team of Angry Indian Goddesses

The festival opened on April 6, 2016 with a star-studded red carpet featuring the cast of Angry Indian Goddesses. IFFLA alum Pan Nalin returned with Angry Indian Goddesses which was the Opening Night Gala movie. The screening was followed by a Q&A with the leads and producer of Angry Indian Goddesses — Sandhya Mridul, Pavleen Gujral, Sarah Jane Dias, Rajshree, Anoushka Manchanda and Gaurav Dhingra. Following the terrific start, the festival ride continued to enthrall audiences. Ruchika Oberoi’s Island City brilliantly showed three different tales in her debut feature. Ottaal, Aligarh, Kirumi, Kothanodi, CRD, Parched and Umrika showcased some top-of-the-game performances by their respective casts. Masaan and Brahman Naman continued to win hearts in their LA premieres. From The Manliest Man to Daaravtha, we saw the promising exploration of themes through short films. The Closing Night Gala was Waiting — starring Naseeruddin Shah and Kalki Koechlin. Kalki made an appearance on the closing night red carpet with the director of the film Anu Menon.


Kalki Koechlin at IFFLA 2016

Kalki Koechlin at IFFLA 2016

The year 2016 marks the 50th death anniversary of one of the finest filmmakers — Bimal Roy. In the honor of the legend, IFFLA showcased the classic Sunil Dutt – Nutan starrer Sujata. It was indeed a visual treat watching the re-mastered version of this classic. Bimal Roy’s fine observation of childhood and relationships with genius use of little animation to travel into the fantasy world of a prejudice-free society feels relevant even today and appeals to contemporary audiences.

Another highlight of this year was the Filmmakers Roundtable that had nine feature film directors in attendance and was moderated by John Nein – Senior Programmer at Sundance Film Festival. Filmmakers in presence were Anu Menon, Ruchika Oberoi, Q, Hansal Mehta, Sami Khan, Leena Yadav, Kranti Kanade, Bhaskar Hazarika, Vetri Maran. Catch the full discussion here where these filmmakers talk about the current state of independent cinema in India, distribution models, role of film festivals and censorship.

The film programming team’s amazing work was evident through the selection of films and responses from the audience. From terrific female buddies in Angry Indian Goddesses, quizzing nerds of 1980’s Bangalore in Brahman Naman, Indo-Canadian and Asian gangs in Beeba Boys, fascinating tales of Rajnikant’s fans in For the Love of a Man, Assamese folktale horror in Kothanodi, – the themes were vivid and setup against the backdrops we don’t see often on screen. The Shorts Program consisted of some amazing short films by young filmmakers representing new voices and hitting the right notes – be it visually or thematically.

Lines were huge to get into screenings and with the presence of filmmakers, it made the experience even more meaningful and memorable. Apart from the screenings and Q&A sessions, the IFFLA lounge was the creative hub throughout the festival with lots of insightful chats with filmmakers and writers. It was quite fun and exciting to hear the behind-the-scenes stories of Brahman Naman from the writer Naman Ramachandran himself, or how Saqib Pandor put together his directorial debut short film Mochi, or why Joyojeet Pal decided to produce For the Love of a Man, or how Shimit Amin believed in the visually strong short film Bunny.

The closing night of the festival also witnessed the presentation of the festival’s Grand Jury and Audience Choice Awards presented by HBO.

(L-R) Winners Hansal Mehta (ALIGARH), Leena Yadav (PARCHED), Manish Mundra (MASAAN)

(L-R) Winners Hansal Mehta (ALIGARH), Leena Yadav (PARCHED), Manish Mundra (MASAAN)

Best Actor: Sanjay Mishra for MASAAN
Best Actress: The cast of PARCHED: Tannishtha Chatterjee, Radhika Apte,
Surveen Chawla, and Lehar Khan
Feature Honorable Mention: ALIGARH
Feature Honorable Mention: MASAAN
Best Short Film: PLAYGROUNDS
Short Film Honorable Mention: LEECHES
Short Film Honorable Mention: THE MANLIEST MAN

Best Feature: PARCHED

All in all, we witnessed an excellent lineup of films, sold-out screenings, well-managed venue, an army of extremely helpful volunteers, enthusiastic and friendly staff and amazing hospitality which bring a unique energy to this festival. Once again IFFLA shows us how to create more immersive experiences around the cinema. Our best wishes to IFFLA and more power to the filmmakers who are representing our stories in a new light – It’s empathetic, it’s powerful, it’s connecting, it’s re-inventing, it’s working!

Photos Courtesy: Javeed Shaik

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Pandolin's throwback to the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA) 2016
An excellent lineup of films, sold-out screenings, talented filmmakers and a well-organized event brought unique energy to IFFLA 2016