Mumbai: The Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA) has always been more than just movies; it’s an immersive experience that takes audiences on a journey through the rich tapestry of Indian cinema. IFFLA will return 11 to 15 October and has announced an impressive lineup of official selections for the 21st annual edition.
The festival will showcase 24 films (6 narrative features, 2 documentary features, 16 shorts) from 13 countries and in 14 languages. Opening and Closing Night Galas will take place at the historic Harmony Gold Theatre in Hollywood with other screenings and the masterclass will be at the Regal LA Live.
“We are thrilled to enter IFFLA’s third decade offering a unique and much needed platform for emerging South Asian storytellers, and bringing a highly curated program to Los Angeles audiences,” said IFFLA executive director Christina Marouda.
IFFLA’s Opening Gala selection, Vishal Bhardwaj’s Khufiya, is based on the novel Escape to Nowhere written by a former chief of Counter Espionage agent, Amar Bhushan. This riveting espionage thriller follows operative Krishna Mehra (Tabu) whose dangerous mission leaves her juggling between her dual identity as a spy and a lover. The film stars Tabu (Drishyam 2, Andhadhun), Ali Fazal (Mirzapur, Victoria & Abdul), Wamiqa Gabbi (Jubilee, Eclipse), and Azmeri Haque Badhon (Rehana).
During the festival, renowned Indian film director, screenwriter, music composer, and producer Bhardwaj, will host an exclusive master class, where Bhardwaj will dive into his filmmaking journey and multi-faceted creative process across disciplines. Known best for his clever adaptations of Shakespeare to the Indian reality with Maqbool (2003), Omkara (2006), and Haider (2014), and having recently adapted Agatha Christie in Charlie Chopra (2023).
Bhardwaj will also discuss his book to screen transitions. Lauded also for his priceless contributions to music for films, with hits like “Sapne Mein Milti Hai” (Satya) and “Beedi” (Omkara), Bhardwaj will delve into the impact music has on films.
Making its LA premiere, action-packed Joram by IFFLA alum Devashish Makhija (Ajji) boasts a cast of A-listers that includes Manoj Bajpayee in the leading role, as well as Tannishtha Chatterjee, Mohammed Zeeshan Ayyub, and Smita Tambe. This adventure thriller follows a young couple who has fled their tribal battleground for a peaceful life in Mumbai, when a ruthless shadow from their past shows up at their slum and sends them clinging for dear life.
The Closing Gala selection will be the North American premiere of All India Rank by writer, filmmaker, comedian, and lyricist Varun Grover, that premiered at the 2023 Rotterdam Film Festival (IFFR). This charming coming-of-age dramedy, brimming with ‘90s pop culture paraphernalia, follows a turbulent year in the life of fresh-faced Vivek as he preps for India’s toughest undergrad exam at a coaching center far away from home. Grover will be in attendance opening the evening with an exclusive stand-up performance.
Among the six feature films which will have major premiere screenings is IFFLA Alum Atul Sabharwal’s world premiere of Berlin, a spy thriller mystery set in the early ‘90s in Delhi starring Rahul Bose, Aparshakti Khurana, and Ishwak Singh.
IFFLA’s co-director of programming Thouly Dosios said, “We’re profoundly inspired to have such a wide range of generations of South Asian storytellers join together in conversation under one roof over these five extraordinary days. From maestros whose oeuvre continues to expand in dynamic ways, to singular emerging voices who make leaps with their second films or feature debuts, to absolute newcomers whose striking entryways into the cinematic form have us longing for more.”
The two films making their North American premieres at IFFLA are the dark supernatural tale Rapture by Dominic Sangma, a Locarno premiered Garo language film set in a remote Meghalayan community where a Christian pastor desperately struggles to maintain his grip over his congregation; and Aattam (The Play) by Anand Ekarshi, a scathing Malayalam chamber drama starring Vinay Forrt, about the havoc that ensues amidst a twelve-man theater troupe when their sole female member is groped by one of her colleagues.
IFFLA will host the US premieres of two documentary features: The World is Family by legendary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan (Reason, War and Peace), his most personal film to date, that pays tribute to his parents whose lives were closely linked with India’s independence movement; and The Golden Thread by Nishtha Jain, a lyrical homage to one of the last remaining jute mills in West Bengal, once home to the world’s largest jute industry, now ravaged by mechanization.
Co-director of programming Ritesh Mehta added, “We remain deeply committed to championing women directors, the forces behind 50% of our shorts program. Additionally, we are enthralled by how well the shorts represent the rich diversity of diasporic stories, from immigrant to second generation and mixed race experiences, from America to New Zealand, and beyond.”
Of the 16 short films presented in IFFLA’s main competition lineup half of them are US productions, with seven countries and 13 languages represented. This section boasts three world premieres including IFFLA alum Sushma Khadepaun’s Places I’ve Called My Own, starring Aditi Vasudev, about an Indian woman returning from the US and navigating fragile threads of family and unrequited queer love; Jhanvi Motla’s Mirage; and Aleem Hossain’s On the Blue Table.
Other highlights include Vibirson Gnanatheepan’s Anushan from France, about a teenager reconciling with his Tamil identity when an uncle arrives from Sri Lanka with wounds of war; the award-winning Bangladeshi documentary, Fantasy in a Concrete Jungle by Mehedi Mostafa; the DGA student winner Men in Blue, by Sachin Dheeraj Mudigonda; Reema Maya’s Sundance premiered Nocturnal Burger; and Running, a playful hybrid documentary written and performed by Danny Pudi and directed by Arpita Mukherjee, that follows Pudi as he sets out to uncover the story of his late estranged father.
“Los Angeles has become home to countless artists with roots across South Asia and its diasporas. IFFLA has long been a vital touchstone for filmmakers due to both the platform it provides for their work to be seen in the heart of the American film industry as well as the support and networking it has offered the directors, actors, and other film artists who have been a part of the IFFLA ‘family,” stated Marouda.
Seven features and 16 shorts will compete for the Grand Jury Prize Awards, which will be announced by the Jury members during the Awards Ceremony at the Closing Night Gala, along with the Audience Choice Awards.
One of the most notable aspects of IFFLA 2023 is its continuing commitment to diversity and inclusivity. The festival not only showcased films from different regions of India but also celebrated the voices of Indian diaspora filmmakers from around the world. This inclusivity highlighted the global reach of Indian cinema and its ability to resonate with audiences of various backgrounds.