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The Reeler Blog

In With the New at South Asian Fest

By Ben Gold

In a crowded New York film scene filled with countless festivals with every conceivable theme, the chance of survival depends on how one sets itself apart. Take the South Asian International Film Festival, which begins its fourth annual event Wednesday with both a tone of exclusivity and the appeal of cinema from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka -- much of which Western audiences have never had the opportunity to see.

From their Loins: (L-R) Ajay Naidu and Kory Bassett is the American Idol send-up Loins of Punjab Presents, the opening-night selection of the 2007 South Asian International Film Festival (Photo: Horn OK Please Entertainment)

"India, as we all know, has a very big film industry, but you rarely hear about films that come out of those other four countries," said festival director Manjri Srivastava. "So one thing we like to do is ensure every single country is covered in terns of the best that's coming out of there." The program includes the New York premieres of the Sri Lankan drama The Fisherman's Daughter and the Pakistani documentary Shame as well as the world premiere of a rare New Zealand/India co-production, How to Save the World.

Ironically or not, the festival's opening-night selection is an NYC/India co-production. A riff on the American Idol phenomenon -- but from a decidedly Bollywood point-of-view -- Manish Acharya's Loins of Punjab Presents follows the comedic adventures of six Indian Americans (and one Jewish Indophile) as they compete in the first Desi Idol. "One of the things we see as a trend is that there are a lot of South Asian filmmakers out there who are crossing over," Srivastava said. "They aren't just making South Asian films; they're making films with South Asian themes that will reach non-South Asian audiences."

Other notable films in this vein include Dharm, by first-time filmmaker Bhavna Talwar; the story revolves around a Hindu Brahmin priest whose life is changed when he realizes his adopted child is Muslim. Meanwhile, John Jeffcoat's festival hit Outsourced, about a Seattle man who is fired from his job, then forced to go to India and train his replacement, screens at the festival Oct. 4. The SAIFF also features a strong emphasis on international shorts, including the documentary Q2P (about, as the title implies, public toilets in Mumbai), Santana Issar's autobiographical family study Bare and the Afghan-themed double bill Massoud: Destiny's Afghan and Are You All Right, Afghanistan?

The South Asian International Film Festival runs Oct. 3-9 at venues around Manhattan. Tickets for all screenings are $15 and are available through the festival's Web site.

Posted at October 2, 2007 11:34 AM

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