NEW DELHI: The Marathi film Fandry by Nagraj Manjule centering around a romance between two people of different castes has been chosen for the grand prize of the best feature film at the Twelfth Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles which concluded in Hollywood this week.
The Grand Jury Prize for best documentary went to Powerless, directed by Fahad Mustafa and Deepti Kakkar.
The prize for best short, which included a cash grant from HBO, was presented to Alchemy, directed by Pranay Patwardhan, Shivangi Ranawat and Janmeet Singh.
Honourable mentions were awarded to the narrative feature Siddharth directed by Richie Mehta, and the short film Love.Love.Love directed by Sandhya Daisy Sundaram.
Audience awards were given to Richie Mehta’s Siddharth, the documentary Faith Connections by Pan Nalin’s and the short film Kush.
“All of the films were a pleasure to watch,” the jury said in a statement. “We are in awe of and inspired by the stories that the filmmakers brought to us. Many of the films dealt with the exploitation of children, such as child labour. The film we chose - Fandry - features stunning cinematic quality and powerful story-telling, capturing the inner life of its young hero, and providing a detailed and intimate illustration of the social power structure of his village.”
The jurors were Variety critic David Chute, Crackle and Sony Pictures Television head of digital development John Orlando along with actresses Shohreh Aghdashloo and Meera Simhan.
Powerless is about India’s struggle to get electricity to its people. “For its portrayal of a community faced with a power struggle over limited resources and its complex web of stories, the jury gives the documentary award to Powerless,” the documentary jury said.
Filmmaker Brian Knappenberger, festival programmer Dilcia Barrera and producer Chris Salvaterra served on the documentary jury.
The short Alchemy.received the award for being “Culturally rooted and formally inventive, this film used mixed media to create a one of a kind film-going experience,” said the jury comprising HBO’s Gena Desclos, festival programmer Heidi Zwicker, and filmmaker Kamal K.M.
The Festival had concentrated on films made outside the Bollywood studio system to Hollywood. The six-day event screened 33 feature films, documentaries and short films by filmmakers from nine countries exploring Indian stories.
Festival director Jasmine Jaisinghani said the IIFLA aims to be “the Sundance of Indian cinema”, with films that contrast Bollywood’s often glamorised escapism with vivid realism. “A lot of our filmmakers are interested in telling stories of people that are not represented,” Jaisinghani added, “The films we curate are dealing with touching on various aspects and concerns of the filmmaker’s own society.”
The festival began with Sold, a gritty drama by director Jeffrey D. Brown about a 13-year-old girl sold into prostitution in India. Brown said he wanted the film to be a call to action globally for people to take a stand against child prostitution and slavery, which as of 2013, involved 115 million around the world, according to the United Nations.
Sold, starring young actress Niyar Saikia who turned 13 while filming explores the harsh, terrible reality of child prostitution in India, but with a pinch of song-and-dance to “get the audience through” the dark themes, Brown said.
Brown, who won an Oscar in 1986 for best short live-action film, said India is experiencing a “golden age” as filmmakers from the subcontinent breakout into the wider film industry. “It’s a new wave of Indian cinema,” he said. “This is really mainstream, global cinema. It’s not art house exclusively.”
Others included Liar’s Dice about a rural village woman who sets off to find her missing husband. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah in January, the largest gathering for the independent film community in the United States.
In Siddharth, a father and mother go in search of their 12-year-old son who disappears after leaving home to find work in Delhi.
Bombay Talkies is an anthology of short films from four celebrated Indian directors, exploring love stories of ordinary people. The Auction House: A Tale of Two Brothers is a documentary of two Kolkata brothers who own one of the oldest auction houses in the city.
The festival’s closing night film was Jadoo by British director Amit Gupta, a light-hearted comedy about a British-Indian family, and two food-loving brothers torn apart over the sale of a recipe. Set in Leicester, a city in the East Midlands of England, Gupta mined his own experiences of growing up in a family-run restaurant to tell “a simple story” about family and cuisine.
Jadoo, starring Amara Karan as the daughter trying to repair the rift between her father and her uncle, works as both a glimpse into the British-Indian community of Leicester, and the bigger theme of family feuds and culinary traditions, which the director believes will resonate with a larger audience.