Set against the backdrop of the 2008 recession, For Here or To Go? is a comedy drama about the many personal battles faced by immigrants living in America. • Courtesy Photo
Set against the backdrop of the 2008 recession, For Here or To Go? is a comedy drama about the many personal battles faced by immigrants living in America. • Courtesy Photo

From October 15 to 25, TASVEER presents the 10th Seattle South Asian Film Festival with screenings of 59 films from nine countries including Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. This year’s theme is “Coming Home.” To those who’ve left their birthplaces for better opportunities, it poses the question, “What is Home?” There’s also a retrospective of four films by director Prasanna Vithanage, a focus on stories from Sri Lanka, and the appearances of dozens of filmmakers over the 12-day festival.

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Opening Night offers the dramadey For Here or to Go, an examination of the Indian Diaspora through Silicon Valley “desis.” Wondering if their temporary work visas will be extended beyond their typical three years, young Indians live precariously not knowing when they’ll have to return to India. Anxious over their transitory circumstances, they hesitate to get involved with potential friends or lovers, co-workers; and even balk at buying furniture.

It’s 2008 and talented Vivek Pandit (Ali Fazal) thinks America is “a land of amazing possibilities.” Yet, he worries about how long he’ll be allowed to stay and pursue his dreams. He longs to create a startup, but only has an H-1B with less than a year remaining on it. With a job that no longer excites him, and hoping to extend his time, he applies for others. But, he’s a high risk that no employer wants to take a chance on.

When Vivek is turned down for his dream job because of his visa status, he seriously considers going home to India. Then, at a Bollywood Speed Dating event, he meets Shveta (Melanie Chandra) and sparks fly between him and the ABCD (American Born Confused Desi). Meanwhile, his various roommates grapple with their own issues, including one who’s hiding his illegal status.

There’s a notable performance by award-winning actor Rajit Kapur as an author urging Indians to go home to build a version of Silicon Valley there. For Here or to Go screens October 15.

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Among the Believers is a shocking documentary that goes deep inside the Red Mosque madrassahs, or Islamic seminaries, of Pakistan. There, young children are sent by their impoverished parents to be fed, housed, and educated for free. Unfortunately, the only studying they’re permitted is memorizing the Quran even though they aren’t told what the words actually mean.

According to a 12-year old student, Talha, studying is done from one hour before dawn until to 9:00 p.m. each night. But he doesn’t mind because he believes that when he becomes a jihadist, he will go to heaven. That’s what Islamic cleric Abdul Aziz Ghazi, who runs the Red Mosque network, preaches. He also teaches that only strict Shariah law will make Pakistan whole again.

So effective is Aziz’ curriculum that even when Talha’s moderate father asks him to come home, the boy won’t budge. In contrast, female student Zarina has escaped the Red Mosque madrassah where she was previously enrolled and attends a school built by a villager, Tariq, who also donated the land. Studying a variety of subjects, she and her classmates are under the constant threat of the Taliban. Meanwhile, Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy speaks out publicly against Aziz and his chilling agenda.

Reclaiming Pakistan is a short documentary that delivers a lot of information in just a few minutes, and spotlights the 141 murders of Peshawar Army Public School students by Taliban terrorists. Shortly after the film was made, one of its participants was assassinated. Among the Believers with short Reclaiming Pakistan screens October 18.

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With You Without You is a stunning narrative that exposes the dark underside of a newlywed couple. Based on a short story by Dostoyesvsky, this memorable film directed by Prasanna Vithanage stars Anajali Patil as Selvi, a beautiful Tamil orphan in her 20s whose expressive wide eyes and lush lips dominate the movie. Shyam Fernando as Sarathsiri is the pawnshop owner with whom she exchanges her gold jewelry, piece by piece, for money. But when another man wants to marry Selvi, Sarathsiri’s maid intercedes and convinces him to take her for his own bride. Although the two barely know each other, Sarathsiri and Selvi attempt to create a life together.

Serious and secretive, the unsmiling Sarathsiri exists inside a strict daily routine: working in his pawnshop, eating his unpretentious meals and watching WWE on TV afterwards. With the dreamy and quixotic Selvi in his life, nothing changes except he now owns another valued possession.

Slowly, Selvi gets Sarathsiri to open up, even convincing him to take her to a movie. She’s overjoyed until he tells her it was a waste of money. Their lives are disparate, he’s Buddhist and she’s Catholic. Nonetheless, Sarathsiri rides her on his motorcycle to church although he doesn’t stay. Eventually, he grows relaxed enough to show her how to run the pawnshop, but then criticizes her empathetic disposition towards their impoverished customers. Sarathsiri’s merchant-class sensibilities drive him towards future plans of owning a tea plantation while Selvi simply yearns to watch romantic cinema. Still, he promises her a trip to India to see a real Bollywood film.

In their apartment above the pawnshop, they hobble towards being a twosome in the place where Sarathsiri has always been a solitary soul, hiding from his haunted past. But one day, it returns to confront him in the guise of a former fellow soldier leading to complications in the marriage. The 30-year long civil war that divided Sarathsiri’s and Selvi’s people persists in separating the couple.

Nuanced performances and a strong plot color this film. And, like Sarathsiri and Selvi’s melancholic love, everything is washed in blues–the sky outside, the walls of their house, the clothing they wear and, most of all, their grieving hearts. With You Without You screens October 18.

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The First Session is a short film included in the Centerpiece Gala and featuring two modern Indian women meeting with a therapist. One of them, comedian and filmmaker Fawzia Mirza, will perform live on October 22.

For tickets and more information, visit ssaff.tasveer.org/2015/.

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