The world’s longest running South Asian film festival outside India, UK Asian Film Festival, has announced its Full Programme for its 23rd edition.
At a time of global unrest and displacement, the curation of this year’s festival is inspired by the theme Ray Of Hope. This year’s line-up highlights stories of resilience and bravery, celebrating those who take a stand against oppression and injustice. At a time of great division and inequality, this year’s festival content will feature characters, stories and storytellers that strive for a better world through films that highlight inclusivity, kindness and, above all, empathy.
UK Asian Film Festival, presented by Tongues on Fire, historically showcases South Asian feminist films and the work of pioneering female artists and auteurs. The festival will run from 26th May – 6th June 2021 in venues across London, Leicester, Coventry and on the Modern Films website. UKAFF is supported by the BFI and Arts Council England using funds from the National Lottery and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). #HereforCulture
The Opening Film will be the UK Premiere of Raahgir (The Wayfarers) (UK/ India, 2019, Dir: Goutam Ghose) on Wednesday 26th May at BFI Southbank. Featuring Adil Hussain, Tillotama Shome, Neeraj Kabi, this epic and elemental journey through relentless monsoon and breath-taking nature tells the story of a man and woman driven by hunger to search for work in the nearest town. Nathuni leaves behind a paralytic husband and two children, while Lakhua is a permanent wonderer who lives on the fringes of society. In sharing their difficult journey, they exchange life stories and find themselves drawn into a life and death struggle. The screening will be followed by a recorded Q&A.
The Closing Film will be the World Premiere of The Beatles And India (UK/ India, 2021, Dir: Ajoy Bhose, Co-Director Peter Comption) on Sunday 6th June at BFI Southbank. A unique, historical chronicle of the enduring love affair between The Beatles and India that started more than half a century ago. Rare archival footage, recordings and photographs, eye-witness accounts and expert comments along with location shoots across India bring alive the fascinating journey of George, John, Paul and Ringo from their high octane celebrity lives in the West to a remote, Himalayan ashram in search of spiritual bliss that inspires an unprecedented burst of creative song-writing. It is the first serious exploration of how India shaped the development of the greatest ever rock band and their own pioneering role bridging two vastly different cultures. The screening will be followed by followed by a Q&A and the presentation of the UK Asian Film Festival Awards.
Screening highlights include the UK Premiere of Zindagi Tamasha (Circus Of Life) (Pakistan, 2020, Dir: Sarmad Khoosat) on Thursday 27th May at Genesis, London and Friday 28th May at Belgrade Theatre, Coventry. Directed by one of Pakistan’s most lauded auteurs, whose previous credits include the iconic drama series Humsafar (2011) and feature film Manto (2015), Zindagi Tamasha tells the story of Rahat, a struggling cleric: he sings hymns to the Prophet; takes care of his bedridden wife; and is considered a pillar of a conservative community. But he has a guilty pleasure – enjoying old Punjabi movies. At a wedding, edged on by friends, he breaks into a dance paying homage to his film idols. The video of a bearded man dancing effeminately goes viral and Rahat’s life unravels as he is shunned by friends and shamed by family.
The award-winning film has been caught up in a blasphemy controversy, with its theatrical release in Pakistan suspended while the federal government referred it to the Council of Islamic Ideology, despite being cleared by the country’s censor board. Islamist political party, Tehreek-e-Labaik Pakistan, warns of unrest if the film releases due to what it perceives as the ‘blasphemous’ content of the film. Despite the banned status in its country of origin, Zindagi Tamasha still went onto become Pakistan’s official entry for selection for the Best International Feature category at this year’s Oscars.
Documentary Feature, I Am Belmaya (UK/ Nepal, 2021, Dir: Sue Carpenter, Belmaya Nepali) will be screening on Thursday 27th May at Watermans, London and on Thursday 3rd June online at Modern Films. I Am Belmaya is the rousing documentary about a young woman’s transformational journey from oppressed wife to pioneering filmmaker. Born as a dalit in a patriarchal community, orphaned at the tender age of nine and trapped in an abusive marriage with a baby daughter at 21, Belmaya has had a difficult life. Yet during her darkest days, she decides to return to her love of photography and filmmaking, as we witness a young woman take charge of her own destiny and prove what can be achieved if we allow every human being the opportunity of becoming. As Belmaya grows in confidence and ability, she turns from subject to co-director of her own story in this fascinating tale of how making a documentary about a young girl’s inspiring story becomes itself a defining part of her journey to award-winning filmmaker. Screenings will be followed by a Q&A with the directors.
The World Premiere of Toofan Mail (India, 2021, Dir: Akriti Singh) takes place on Thursday 27th May at Belgrade Theatre, Coventry and Friday 28th May at Rich Mix, London. This was a heist like no other. There was no gun, no elaborate escape plan, and they almost got away with the whole thing. It also happens to be a true story. In 1974, a woman landed at the New Delhi Railway station and asked to meet Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by claiming she was the Queen of Awadh; a story which quickly became a media sensation. Director Akriti Singh’s film is a fictional retelling of the crazy events that followed, which remain a living, breathing testament to the idea that truth is, in fact, far stranger than fiction.
The UK Premiere of Fireflies (India, 2019, Dir: Prakash Deka) goes live on Friday 28th May online at Modern Films. Jahnu lives in a remote village in rural Assam and dreams of getting an operation to become a woman. The villagers mock him for his femininity and treat him as an outcast. In a world where you’re made to deny your identity to protect your family’s reputation, Jahnu has no chance at living freely. Fireflies, a battle cry for acceptance and sensitivity, follows his journey of embracing his truth. In a world where there are thousands of Jahnu’s who struggle every day to fight for basic acceptance and self-respect, Fireflies offers a turbulent yet beautiful tale of resilience and embracing who you are rather than conforming to the limited views of society.
The UK Premiere of Gutter Boy (India, 2020, Dir: Anupam Khanna Baswal) takes place on Friday 28th May at Watermans, London and online at Modern Films on Tuesday 1st June. When we hear terms like ‘gutter’ and ‘sewage’, we picture dirty, underground tunnels that we have the privilege of never having to see or experience. But not everyone has that privilege. Some are made to live in it and risk their lives as a means to earn a living. Sandeep belongs to a poor, lower caste family. Struggling to earn a living, he moves to the big city in the hopes of a better life. Instead he is merely reminded of his place in society when the only job he’s offered is of a sewage cleaner. Gutter Boyis the piercing story that examines the caste divide, societal segregation and how we dehumanise those we see as lesser to have them do the jobs no one else would.
The World Premiere of Khape (India, 2020, Dir: Suchita Bhhatia) takes place on Saturday 29th May at Belgrade Theatre, Coventry; Thursday 3rd June at Watermans, London and online at Modern Films; and Saturday 5thJune at Piccadilly Cinema, Leicester. Aditya Lakhia (Lagaan) stars in a moving Gujarati drama about Ali, a young boy who works as a labourer to help support his poverty-stricken family. Despite living in a community where education is frowned upon as a waste of time, Ali’s father insists he be educated for the opportunities it offers. Khape explores the power of education to break down barriers and help people rise above their circumstances to aspire to a better life.
The UK Premiere of Nirvana Inn (India, 2019, Dir: Vijay Jayapal) takes place on Saturday 29th May at Rich Mix, London. What is it like to be haunted by your past? Boatman Jogiraj Chakraborthy (Adil Hussain) acts on his suicidal thoughts and capsizes his vessel mid-journey, killing every passenger on board. Months later, he signs up to be the caretaker of Himalayan resort, Nirvana Inn, only to find that the guests who check in are the very people he presumed dead. Are these literal ‘ghosts’ or projections of Jogi’s guilt? Or is the inn a kind of purgatory, a layover he will only be able to move on from once he atones for his sins? Nirvana Inn depicts Jogi’s descent into paranoia amid the increasingly unsettling atmosphere but offers no easy answers.
The UK Premiere of Not Today (India, 2020, Dir: Aditya Kripalani) takes place on Monday 31st May at Rich Mix, London. A 24-year-old from a traditional Muslim family in Mumbai goes to work secretly as a suicide prevention counsellor. On her first day, she encounters a 52-year-old man standing atop a high-rise, wanting to jump. In trying to bring him down, she discovers that he too has been a Suicide Prevention Counsellor for 15 years. But what happens when those who are tasked with listening and supporting have the largest burden to bear themselves? At a time when mental health is arguably more important than it’s ever been with so much of the world struggling through unprecedented times, Not Today seeks to foster important discussions with warmth and compassion.
The Short Film Screening of this year’s shortlisted competition films, themed Ray Of Hope, takes place on Monday 31st May at Soho Screening Rooms, London and online at Modern Films on Friday 4thJune. Shorts comprise Baang by Junaid Imam Shaikh; Hiding by Nirusha Wijayamohan; Incredible Insight by Dr. Kushal Dasgupta; Last Night In Vegas by J. Nicholas Meese; Look At Us by Hussina Raja; Passport Ladakh by Sean Whitaker; Refrigerate After Opening by Kevin Ung; The End by Adeel uz Zafar; Uchki by Bharat Mohan Sunita; and Untouchability by Haresh Narayanan.
The Feature Presentation of The Great Indian Kitchen (India, 2020, Dir: Jeo Baby) takes place on Tuesday 1stJune at Rich Mix, London. There have been many films that discuss patriarchy but you’ve never seen patriarchy brought to life in such an impactful and cinematic way. The Great Indian Kitchen is a singular and uniquely immersive experience that takes you into the life of a newly married girl, as you witness her day-to-day routine of tending to the needs of her husband and in-laws. What begins as routine and responsibility slowly becomes nothing short of a harrowing ordeal. Not only is it phenomenal filmmaking, The Great Indian Kitchen is a penetrating portrait of the life that too many women in India lead.
The Feature Presentation of Granada Nights (UK, 2020, Dir: Abid Khan) takes place on Wednesday 2nd June at Rich Mix, London. Who among us hasn’t wanted to escape into the unknown in search of adventure and distraction to mend a broken heart? After his girlfriend leaves him, a British-Pakistani tourist (Antonio Aakeel – Tomb Raider) seeks closure and connection in the vibrant city of Granada, Spain. There, he befriends an unlikely group of international students and learns to heal from the old and open himself up to the new in this sparkling coming-of-age tale of love, loss and new beginnings that marks the directorial debut of British-Pakistani writer-director, Abid Khan.
In relation to UK Asian Film Festival 2021, Founder and Director, Dr Pushpinder Chowdhry MBE says, “We are thrilled to bring the magic of the cinema back again! After a year of virtual living, we are proud to be working with our partners to create safe spaces for our audiences to enjoy films in person. We have shifted our dates during this exceptional time to adhere to government regulations and to take into account religious festivities to make sure we continue to serve all South Asian communities. We have also curated a selection of online premieres to make sure we reach new, UK-wide audiences.”
UK Asian Film Festival Creative Director, Samir Bhamra says, “Cinema has been a ray of hope for all of us during this pandemic. Its power to entertain, provide escapism and boost our wellbeing has held us all together during this pandemic. And just as characters in films go on a journey of growth, UKAFF has expanded to Coventry this year. Working in partnership with Belgrade Theatre, we are delighted to be one of the key headline events during the UK City of Culture to celebrate the best of South Asian culture, positivity and creativity.” The National Lottery raises £30 million each week for good causes across the UK.