It Could Be Sweet: 2011 Third I South Asian Film Festival
This Wednesday sees the opening of the 2011 Third I South Asian Film Festival here in San Francisco, which is one of the best chances to see local theatrical screenings of films from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Tibet, and the South Asian diaspora. The festival primarily focuses on movies outside of Bollywood’s massive scope, including documentary, narrative, experimental and short films.
According to 2010 U.S. census data, South Asians are the fastest growing Asian American subgroup and have surpassed Filipino Americans as the second-largest Asian American ethnicity. In California the Indian American community grew an amazing 68% between 2000 and 2010, to more than half a million people statewide. This population growth is reflected in the increasing desi flava in pop culture, from banal TV sitcoms like Outsourced to Das Racist showing up on the cover of Spin magazine.
Not to conflate an entire subcontinent’s creative outlet, but since Slumdog Millionaire won big at the Academy Awards back in 2009, the profile of South Asian films has also increased here in the US. Of course Indian-centric theaters such as the Big Cinemas multiplex in Fremont have been showing Indian movies for years, but since Slumdog ran the table at the Oscars, Hindi-language movies have been making more appearances at mainstream cinemas. Just last week, Shah Rukh Khan’s deliriously escapist sci-fi superhero movie Ra.One opened in select theaters across the U.S. and scored the highest per-screen gross of any film that weekend, beating out Puss In Boots and other Hollywood releases.
The Third I festival brings an eclectic mix of films to the Roxie and Castro Theaters. Opening night film Big In Bollywood is a fun, energetic documentary that captures some of the star mania of the commercial Indian movie industry. The movie looks at the experiences of Indian American actor Omi Vaidya, whose meteoric rise to fame in India follows a supporting role in Aamir Khan’s 3 Idiots, the highest grossing film of all time in India. Vaidya’s small but popular role allowed him a taste of the fanatical devotion Indians have for their film stars as the documentary follows Vaidya from his home in Los Angeles to the Mumbai premiere of 3 Idiots. The doc captures the rapid escalation of Vaidya’s public profile as the film smashes Indian box office records. At one point Vaidya makes an appearance to what looks like about 5,000 cheering fans lining several city blocks, reprising some of his lines from the film as the massive throng wildly cheers him on.
The festival’s centerpiece movie, Delhi Belly, exemplifies a new breed of Bollywood movies far removed from the conventional Hindi-language film industry. A hilarious, fast-paced, and vulgar flick, Delhi Belly follows the misadventures of three twenty-something slackers as they chase down jewel smugglers, gangsters, and other marginal denizens in India’s capital city, with one of the main characters fighting the severe gastrointestinal dysfunction that gives the movie its name. Running a tidy two hours, the film has none of the song-and-dance numbers for which Bollywood is reknowned (except for one tongue-in-cheek OTT production over the end credits that guest-stars executive producer Aamir Khan) and owes more to The Hangover than Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.
Indian American actor-director Ajay Naidu debut feature Ashes gives a desi spin to the venerable gangster genre. Set in New York City, the film follows a small-time pot dealer (also portrayed by Naidu) as he struggles care for his mentally ill brother while trying to resist falling deeper into the vortex of New York’s underworld.
Closing the festival is the awesome-looking Tamil-language crime thriller Pudhupettai, starring the intense and feral Dhanush, which follows the rise of a Chennai gang lord. As seen in the clip below, the film manages to be gritty and realistic while also including outstanding dance numbers. Also notable are Vipin Vijay’s surreal feature length experimental narrative The Image Threads, and A Letter of Fire, Asoka Handagama’s gorgeous drama of a wealthy, twisted family in Sri Lanka. The festival also features two programs, The Boxing Ladies + Shorts: Gender/Sexuality in Frame, and The Family Circus: Local Shorts, which showcase often-overlooked short films.
While South Asian films have yet to completely break through to the mainstream in the U.S., the Third I festival is an excellent opportunity to see the wide range of production from the region and beyond, reflecting the growing desi influence in this country’s cultural landscape.
The 9th Annual 3rd I San Francisco South Asian Film Festival (SFISAFF),
November 10-13, 2011
Roxie Cinema & Castro Theater
Tickets, complete schedule, and film descriptions here.
Brilliant dance number from Pudhupettai, 2011 Third I South Asian Film Festival