Plenty of tasty movies are featured on this year’s menu for Tasveer: 9th Annual Seattle South Asian Film Festival. From lighthearted shorts to heavy dramas, offerings include films rich in culture, languages, and religious rituals. Spanning from Afghanistan to Sri Lanka to the United Kingdom, the countries represented provide both emotional satiation and delectable insight into their particular regions. Watch for a short made by Seattle filmmaker Monish Gangwani.
Among the narratives are films that include a family of coarse men who appear clueless about women; a road trip with two crooks, a puppy, and a boy whose family inadvertently left him at a truck stop; and, a tender story about a tween’s first love as he navigates his family’s low caste.
‘Fandry’: At 12 years-old, Jabya longs to be in school studying like the other boys in his Maharashtra State village, but he’s at his father’s command working menial jobs to help his impoverished family survive. For fun, Jabya, along with his best friend and slingshot in hand, goes searching for the elusive long-tailed black sparrow. Informed by the local bike repair shopkeeper that sprinkling its ashes will make his dream come true, Jabya is driven to capture the creature.
Shalu is the name of Jabya’s dream, a lovely schoolmate who, unfortunately, is of a higher caste than Jabya’s Dalit (Untouchable) family. Besides tolerating villagers making fun of his father’s dialect, Jabya endures being called names like “blacky” because of his dark skin and “fandry” which means pig. Because of their Untouchable status, Jabya’s family is tasked with capturing the pesky wild boars that aggravate the villagers. Meanwhile, Jabya’s father worries about the dowry for his younger daughter’s marriage even as he begs for cow dung to patch their raggedy house.
When Jabya finally gets a chance to impress Shalu with his skillful dancing at the Village Fair, the local bully intentionally knocks him aside. Worse, Shalu is among the group watching when his family is ordered to capture several feral pigs.
Although all cast members are superlative in their roles, Somnath Avghade is especially gifted at playing Jabya. Director Nagraj Manjule doubles as the philosophical shopkeeper in this tale that explores colorism and caste through a boy’s coming of age.
‘Titli’: The Hindi word for butterfly is also the name of the youngest of three grown brothers in a family of career criminals living in Delhi. As carjackers, they brutally beat and rob their victims without remorse. Strongly hinted at is that the family matriarch’s death encouraged their dysfunction, immorality, and lack of finesse towards women. As the father listlessly sits around the house pitting his sons against each other, the oldest brother’s wife snatches their daughter and exits, weary of the men’s thuggery. The middle brother harbors a secret about his sexuality while Titli is offered a financially independent young lady as a bride, although she’s already in love—with a married man. All three actors are amazingly believable as the brothers with Shashank Arora giving a visceral performance as Titli. Lalit Behl, who plays the father, is director Kanu Behl’s real father and a director himself. Exceptional music by Karan Gour enhances every scene.
‘The Good Road’: Like the title indicates, this is a road movie about a trio of unlikely travelers. A bratty boy on his way to vacation with his parents becomes entranced with a puppy when they stop for gas. Slipping from the car unseen, he watches as his folks drive off. Soon, he’s hitching a ride with two smugglers who dodge police and an angry crime boss. In Gujarati language, this story with a tragic beginning has a surprisingly happy ending.
‘Soongava, Dance of the Orchids’: From Nepal comes a modern-day, middle-class drama about two women who fall in love. But one, Diya, a dancer, has already had her marriage arranged and feels powerless to stop it. Urged by her lover, tomboyish Kiran, she breaks off her engagement with deadly results. Nisha Adhikari is perfect as Kiran.
‘Frangipani’: In this Sri Lankan film, a love triangle involves two seemingly bisexual men and the woman they both desire for different reasons. When the threesome lays in the grass together, the female, Sarasi, pointedly tells them that the frangipani flower has five petals, but she’s found one with six. Visually rich with an abundance of cross-dressing scenes, this film features a strong performance by Dasun Pathirana as Chamath, one of the two men.
Documentaries on TASVEER’s bill of fare include the usual social issues, but some are nonetheless quite startling.
‘Without Shepherds’: A fast-paced documentary about six Pakistanis and their views of their country’s future, this film features among them a former cricket celebrity turned politician and a pro-feminist model. Declared by Newsweek to be “The Most Dangerous Country in the World” in 2007 when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, Pakistan has suffered a tumultuous history. The film’s participants explain why.
‘Goonga Pehelwan’: A deaf wrestler who fights the system so he can rightfully challenge professional wrestlers is the subject of this film. Because India’s athletic infrastructure won’t recognize him (he can’t hear the referee’s whistle), he’s omitted from competitions he could easily win. Although Pehelwan’s proven himself in matches and special Olympics, his pleas to wrestle professionally fall on, well, deaf ears. This film is all the more touching because Pehelwan never loses his winning smile.
‘The Plastic Cow’: While the cow is sacred to India’s Hindus, the bovine creatures are being forced from out-of-business dairies and left to fend on their own. Roaming city streets, they feed on garbage at landfill sites teeming with non-biodegradable items like plastic bags. In this documentary from India, environmental concerns are graphically illustrated by showing surgery performed on cows to remove plastic bags from their stomachs.
With so much variety, Tasveer will showcase another flavorful year of films.
For more information and a schedule of screenings, visit http://ssaff.tasveer.org/2014. SSAFF begins October 31.