“Valley of the Saints” shot on the picturesque Dal Lake, directed by Musa Syeed.
Featuring films from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, Tasveer Seattle South Asian Film Festival is remarkably diverse. Yet, at least two movies this year highlight romantic triangles. In the Opening Night offering, “Miss Lovely,” two brothers vie for the attention of a seemingly chaste actress who effectively hides her sordid real life from the naïve younger sibling. For Sonu (Nawazuddin Sidiqui), there’s no question about his obeying big brother Vicky (Anil George). While Sonu directs their production company’s “horror and porn” films, Vicky produces them. Together, they carve out a precarious living in Mumbai’s C-grade porn industry — under constant pressure of police and criminals violently demanding a cut of their business.
Yearning for purity, Sonu dreams of making a real movie. And, when he meets Pinky (Niharika Singh), a woman emanating freshness in his polluted world, he’s quickly smitten. But Vicky has other plans, like recruiting more beautiful women to do ugly things on celluloid.
Directed by Ashim Ahluwalia, a known documentary filmmaker, “Miss Lovely” is told in the style of a film within a film. Although it’s a narrative, it often looks like the documentary Ahluwalia initially planned.
Most scenes are filmed in dark, murky shadows, but shot up close with no breathing space between the camera and its subject. This forces the audience into an uncomfortable intimacy with its squalid characters. At times, background events (scenes the brothers are shooting) are so intriguing — with lavish costumes, extreme makeup and elaborate sets of Egyptian pharaohs, Hindu deities and pink peacock-looking flamingos — that the main stage melodrama seems almost ordinary.
A love triangle is also the theme of “Valley of Saints,” a beautifully shot film about conflict — both inner and outer. The story of a woman, who unintentionally comes between two best friends, takes place in India-occupied Kashmir. When the brutal regime locks down the area on curfew, Dal Lake remains open. A friend stranded by the curfew asks Gulzar (Gulzar Bhat) to check on a tourist staying at his hotel boathouse. Immediately, Gulzar is drawn to the independent American ecologist Asifa (Neelofar Hamid).
With two of the three principle actors being amateur, this film directed by Musa Syeed is genuinely believable. Gulzar is a boatman in real life and Afzal (Afzal Sofi), a journalist. Cinematographer Yoni Brook does an amazing job illustrating life on the animated lake. One flawless scene depicts a boat gliding into frame among several docked ones.
Besides the two tales of triangulation, two documentaries are also noteworthy. Another film about romance, “Much Ado About Knotting,” follows several brides and grooms-to-be frantically searching for their “nearest and dearest.” A sobering pursuit in India, marriage is usually accomplished by age 25.
This fast-paced film directed by Geetika Narang Abbasi shows marriage candidates onstage, sitting with their parents, reduced to their “bio-data.” While some families employ matrimonial agents, others hire detectives for background checks on their intended. Still, some candidates seem to be their own worst enemy. One 37-year-old man laments about his baldness, yet will only consider a “young, short, slim, fair woman.”
“Physical appearance is the most important thing,” he says unsmiling. “She has to be good looking.”
A more serious subject is explored in “The Red Fairy,” featuring elected official Laal Pari. Living in a farming village, she’s a representative who accepts her position with pride while residing among a mob of misogynists.
“I’m not even scared of the police,” she says, while casually scratching her back with a machete.
Fighting domestic violence, child abuse and acts of sexism, she confronts the accused of such atrocities. The brave Pari even challenges several men who neglected to inform her of a previous meeting and, further, refuse to provide her with copies of its minutes. But when she complains that women are expected to bear babies, raise them, cook the family’s meals and work, too, their response is, “Women are born to those duties.”
Still, many positive moments glisten in this film directed by Sadia Halima. For instance, the previously illiterate Pari formerly used a thumbprint as her official signature. Since then, she’s taught herself to write her name by practicing tracing it on the ground.
Among Tasveer’s featured guests this year is noted director Mira Nair (via live chat), whose “The Reluctant Fundamentalist” will also screen. To read a review, see International Examiner archives: http://tinyurl.com/krnx2c4.
Check Tasveer’s website for show times and locations: http://ssaff.tasveer.org/2013/index.php/