The 15th annual New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF) kicks off on Monday, May 4th and this year's lineup is a doozy.
The festival features everything from brand new independent features to North American premieres of Bollywood critics' darlings, to a retrospective of one of India's most revered working directors. There's so much going on that it can be hard to choose which films to give priority. Luckily, you've got us to help you decide on those can't-miss films, and here are our picks.
NYIFF 2015 opens with international festival favorite Margarita With A Straw.
Kwenton Bellette saw the film at Busan last year and his review was bursting with superlatives:
Margarita, With A Straw is masterfully directed and extremely clever, it manages to please the audience in a traditional captivating and tear-jerking way, while telling a ground breaking story that encourages open-mindedness. It is one of the best films of the year.
I finally got a chance to see the film in association with the Dallas IFF and I have to say that it's pretty amazing. Definitely something to put on your calendar
Vishal Bhardwaj is one of India's most respected Hindi language directors. While any new film from Bhardwaj draws a lot of attention, it is really his adaptations of Shakespeare that put him on the international map.
NYIFF will be hosting a retrospective of his Shakespeare trilogy over the course of the festival. The films include Maqbool (MacBeth) starring Irrfan Khan, Omkara (Othello) starring Ajay Devgan, Saif Ali Khan, Kareena Kapoor, and Vivek Oberoi, and the latest, Haider (Hamlet) starring Shahid Kapoor.
Bhardwaj's ability to connect Shakespeare's timeless ideas to contemporary issues in India is exceptional, and makes these films worth checking out.
Salman Khan is the macho king of Indian action cinema. The documentary Being Bhaijaan explores the effect of Khan's outsized macho film persona on average men in India through the stories of a few dedicated fans. This documentary has been in the works for a while, and is one of the films I'm most eager to see this year at NYIFF.
Alok Sharma's Haraamkhor recently had its world premiere at the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles and I loved it there. I highly recommend keeping an open slot on your schedule for the film at NYIFF.
Here's a snip from my review:
Haraamkhor is not a film for everyone. I can imagine the tonal shifts and often wildly different styles clashing will alienate some viewers, but the rewards for the remaining ones will be great. Shlok Sharma has done a wonderful job creating a film that is entertaining without being exploitative, thought-provoking without being preachy, and explosive without blowing up in his face.
The final scenes distill the film's tonal dissonance into a single pure idea that manages to feel completely true and yet just as schizophrenic as its hormonal characters' worldview. Look out for Sharma; with a debut like this, he's going to be one to beat in the coming years.
Tamil language cinema has undergone a massive change over the past five or six years. While the big name heroes still dominate the box office, there has been an increasing space in the market made for more intelligent independent cinema.
Among the leaders of this most recent wave of filmmakers is Karthik Subbaraj (Pizza, Jigarthanda). Subbaraj recently opened a new production house called Stone Bench Creations, and their first project is Bench Talkies, a showcase for six independent filmmakers that played in cinemas in India last month.
I know nothing about these films or the filmmakers, but with the recent Tamil language output quality, I'm excited to see what they've put together, and you should be too.
One of the first of the new wave of Tamil filmmakers to make a big splash outside of Tamil Nadu is Mani Ratnam (Dil Se, Yuva, Bombay, Guru).
He's also one of the most active non-native Hindi speakers in Hindi films. Ratnam draws big names to his Hindi projects, but it's the Tamil films that we all really wait for. His latest, OK Kanmani, is said to be a return to the Ratnam of old, a sweet romance in a modern world. I hope to catch this one as I'm a big Ratnam fan, and even when he's not at his best, he's better than most.
One of several great looking children's films in the NYIFF program, Kaaka Muttai (Crow's Egg) is the story of a pair of young boys who'll do anything to get a slice of pizza after seeing the delicious gooey mess on a TV commercial. Advanced word is that the film is wonderful and a great way to spend a couple of hours. Also in this vein, be sure to check out Elizabeth Ekadashi, another great kids' movie playing at NYIFF.
Closing out the festival is Bollywood critical hit, My Big Fat Bride (Dum Laga Ke Haisha). This was one of the rare studio films from Bollywood that didn't get a day and date international release, so I'm hoping I get a chance to see it for this festival.
NYIFF describes it like this:
Drop out cassette shop owner Prem is married against his will to overweight but educated Sandhya. Despite Sandhya’s honest attempts to get Prem interested, he is overwhelmed by embarrassment and mockery from friends and family alike. Tension and frustration mount on both sides, until divorce and separation are imminent. Husband and wife are forced to face the question: Can love come in all sizes?