The 13th Annual Indian Film Festival returns to ArcLight Hollywood April 8-12, and this year is an amazing eclectic selection of films representing a lot of new voices in Indian cinema. If you think the Indian film industry and Bollywood are one and the same, think again. Bollywood refers to the Hindi film industry and some of the strongest contenders at this year’s festival, like Killa, are Marathi films from the western region of the country. In fact, a recent Mid-Day article argues Marathi cinema is doing much better than Bollywood. Many of the directors of this year’s films are making their feature directorial debuts and here are my top 10 must-see films, in order of appearance at the festival:
Miss India America – Ravi Kapoor’s feature directorial debut was successfully crowdfunded, filmed in LA and OC, and follows a scorned young woman’s attempts to validate herself by entering the world of Indian American beauty pageants.
Four Colors (Chauranga) – Bikas Ranjan Mishra makes a powerful feature directorial debut with this drama about the lives in a rural Indian village, dictated by patriarchy and the caste system. Based on true events, it’s a damning look at the continuing injustice suffered by those condemned as Dalits (untouchables).
Labour of Love – Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s debut feature is set in Calcutta, amid rising unemployment and income inequality, where a husband and wife have differing day and night shifts. The movie with no dialogue is an intimate portrayal of their daily routines and solitude as they make ends meet with little time for each other.
Killa – Avinash Arun’s feature directorial debut is a coming-of-age story about a boy trying to fit in at a new school in the rural coastal countryside. His mother has moved them there from the big city, following his father’s death.
Jai Ho – If you saw Slumdog Millionaire, then you know the song…now meet the man who won 2 Oscars and is a household name in India: A.R. Rahman. Director Umesh Aggarwal’s documentary takes us through his long, storied career.
Elizabeth Ekadashi – A heartwarming story of 2 siblings trying to save their beloved bicycle named Elizabeth during the family’s financial hardships in their poverty-stricken neighborhood.
Tomorrow We Disappear – If you think gentrification in LA is bad, take a look at the plight of the vibrant artist community of Kathputli in Delhi and their forced relocation in the face of modernization, which threatens their way of life.
Amma and Appa – Cultures collide in this charming documentary about the filmmakers’ transnational romance: Franziska, a Bavarian German journalist and Jayakrishnan, a Tamil artist and the hilarity that ensues when their parents meet.
Tigers – Oscar-winning writer-director Danis Tanović’s latest feature is a morality tale about transnational globalism and what one man, Ayan, is moved to do as a pharmaceutical salesman when he finds out his products are killing children. Based on a true story regarding the false promises of infant milk formula sold in Third World countries.
Dhanak – What better film to close the festival than one as uplifting and enchanting as Dhanak? It’s a tale of a sister who takes her blind brother on a journey to fulfill her promise to restore his eyesight, and the adventures and people they encounter along the way.