London Indian Film Festival: must-see films and events with the likes of Aparna Sen and Anurag Kashyap

·8-min read
 (Selection Courtesy of London Indian Film Festival / Handout)
(Selection Courtesy of London Indian Film Festival / Handout)

London Indian Film Festival, the UK and Europe’s largest South Asian film festival, returns this week, with a packed roster of films and conversations taking place across London, Manchester and Birmingham.

New films in this year’s programme - which runs from 23 June to 3 July - include the world premiere of acclaimed director Anurag Kashyap’s Dobaaraa, alongside old favourites such as Richard Attenborough’s 1982 epic Gandhi and Christopher Morris’ 2010 Four Lions, and talks including Bengali legend Aparna Sen chatting to audiences at the BFI.

There is a big emphasis on female filmmakers this year, including the European premiere of The Rapist by Aparna Sen, Rebana Liz John’s Ladies Only and Irja Von Bernstoff’s Girls For Future.

The UK premieres of Pan Nalin’s Chello Show and Anik Dutta’s Aparajito will also be in the line-up.

Overlapping Pride month, LIFF has two dedicated spots in the programme for the exploration of South Asian LGBTQIA+ communities and queerness: Too Desi Too Queer 1 and Too Desi Too Queer 2, which include the works of Ash Mukherjee, plus a collection of shorts.

With more than 40 films shown across the country, it’s hard to narrow down the list to just a handful. Nevertheless, here’s our round-up of the London films and events to pencil in your calendar.

Anurag Kashyap’s Dobaaraa (Selection Courtesy of London Indian Film Festival)
Anurag Kashyap’s Dobaaraa (Selection Courtesy of London Indian Film Festival)

Opening and closing nights

Opening night

Anurag Kashyap’s supernatural thriller Dobaaraa will receive its world premiere on the opening night of the festival. Starring Taapsee Pannu, Saswata Chaterjee and Rahul Bhatt, the internationally acclaimed director tells the story of a young nurse who moves in with her husband and daughter, next to a derelict house.

They discover an old camcorder which, during an electrical storm, somehow connects them to a boy who lived in the house years ago, but then died. In trying to prevent his death, the nurse disrupts time and, in turn, her own life. Afterwards, there will be a Q&A with Kashyap and special guests.

June 23, 18:00, BFI Southbank

Closing Night

To close the festival, audiences can look forward to Superfan: The Nav Bhatia Story by Amar Wala. It’s an uplifting documentary about the Toronto Raptors ‘biggest fan’, Nav Bhatia and the impact he has had on the city’s basketball community.

It follows his journey from being a low-income immigrant worker arriving from India to Canada, to how he built his career as well as his passion for basketball. After the screening, there will be a Q&A with Bhatia and producer Rinku Ghei.

July 3, 15:00, BFI NFT and July 3, 16:00, Picturehouse Central

Rebana Liz John’s Ladies Only (Selection Courtesy of London Indian Film Festival)
Rebana Liz John’s Ladies Only (Selection Courtesy of London Indian Film Festival)

Pride Month

As part of Pride Month, the festival has two programmes about queer lives, with a focus on experiences from South Asian LGBTQIA+ communities.

Too Desi Too Queer 1

This programme of short films is on for one night only, and will be “exploring images of the lives, experiences and well-being of South Asian LGBTQIA+ communities in the Subcontinent and diaspora”. The five shorts are in Maylayalam, Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi and English and are from directors including Radhika Prasidha, Pradipta Ray and Shiva Raichandani.

July 1, 18:00, BFI NFT1

Too Desi Too Queer 2

The second part of LIFF’s queer programme is an Arts Council England-funded live performance called Vishnu’s Got My Back by dancer and storyteller Ash Mukherjee. Alongside a few LGBTQIA+ short films (the collection is still being confirmed but so far Naman Gupta’s Coming Out with the Help of a Time Machine and Tanmay Chowdhary and Tanvi Chowdhary’s Madhu are in the line-up) Mukherjee will be exploring his youthful inspirations and his queerness.

June 29, 20:30, Ciné Lumière

Americanish by Iman Zawahry (Selection Courtesy of London Indian Film Festival)
Americanish by Iman Zawahry (Selection Courtesy of London Indian Film Festival)

In Conversation

One of the most exciting elements of the festival is the number of talks lined up for audiences: there are an astonishing number of acclaimed Indian directors, producers and actors meeting audiences for special Q&A sessions.

Aparna Sen

Sen is one of India’s greatest and longest-standing female writer-directors, which makes this screening of her latest film The Rapist, followed by a conversation with her an absolute must. Sen is known for her honest views about navigating the male-dominated film industry, plus filmmaking in Bengal. Her new work tackles the difficult but ever-pressing subjects of rape and violence in India.

July 2, 17:00, BFI NFT1

Konkona Sen Sharma

Sharma, who is one of Bengal’s favourite actors, stars in Sen’s film The Rapist. The multi-award-winning actor, who made her directorial debut in 2016 with Death In The Gunj, will appear at the festival in the In Conversation strand.

July 1, 18:00, Ciné Lumière

Taapsee Pannu

Dobaaraa star Taapsee Pannu, who has been lauded for roles including in Baby, The Ghazi Attack and Manmarziyaan, will also appear at LIFF. She won the Filmfare Critics Award for Best Actress for her work in Anubhav Sinha’s drama Thappad in 2020.

June 25, 20:30, Ciné Lumière

Nandita Das

Nandita Das has twice served as a Cannes jury member, speaks numerous Indian languages and has performed in over 40 films. She’s also a director of two films, Firaaq and Manto, which premiered at Cannes Un Certain Regard.

She was the first Indian to be inducted into the International Hall of Fame International Women’s Forum in Washington. Now audiences in London get the chance to listen into a conversation with the trail-blazing actor and director.

June 30, 18:00, Ciné Lumière

Gandhi by Richard Attenborough (Selection Courtesy of London Indian Film Festival)
Gandhi by Richard Attenborough (Selection Courtesy of London Indian Film Festival)

Barbican

BOMgAY

Two of director Riyad Vinci Wadia’s pioneering short films from the 1990s feature at the festival. BOMgAY is “a searingly explicit insight into Mumbai’s secret gay world” and A Mermaid Called Aida is about being a transexual in India. Wadia died in 2003, but his important work lives on in Indian LGBTQIA+ cinema.

Following the screening, there will be a panel debate on Wadia’s work with his brother Roy.

June 25, 18:00, Barbican

Dug Dug

From director Ritwik Pareekh comes Dug Dug, a satire about faith and the commercialisation of religion. In a freak accident, a man is killed and the motorcycle he was riding is taken to the police station. The next day it has returned back to the scene of the accident. This event keeps occurring, whipping up ideas and rumours in the local village.

The screening will be followed by a Q&A with Pareekh.

June 28, 17:50, Barbican

The Road to Kuthriyar

Director Bharat Mirle brings us a documentary-style adventure story about Dhruv, a young wildlife surveyor who is conducting a survey of themammals in the Kodaikanal Wildlife Sanctuary in Tamil Nadu. The film focuses on the friendship that develops between Dhruv and the tribesman guide Dorai.

June 27, 18:10, Barbican

BFI

Gandhi

It’s been 40 years (yes, 40!) since Richard Attenborough first released his film about the Indian independence movement leader. Starring Ben Kingsley, John Gielgud and Rohini Hattangadi, the film won eight Oscars following its release in 1982. To celebrate its 40th anniversary, the film is being screened at LIFF. It’s a rare opportunity to see this epic on the big screen.

June 25, 18:45, BFI NFT1

Once Upon a Time in Calcutta

Following its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, director Aditya Vikram Sengupta’s Once Upon a Time in Calcutta will premiere in the UK at the BFI during LIFF.

Starring Sreelekha Mitra, Shayak Roy and Bratya Basu, the film tells the story of Ela, a failed actress who has recently lost her daughter. She faces a ton of setbacks but doesn’t lose hope and sets out to search for herself – or a new identity – on the streets of Calcutta.

June 30, 18:00, BFI NFT2 and July 1, 20:00, Ciné Lumière

Chhello Show

In another UK premiere, director Pan Nalin tells the story of a mischievous nine-year-old boy, Samay, living in a remot Gujarat village who discovers film for the first time. Although forbidden by his father, he visits the local cinema, becomes friends with the projectionist and watches the movies for free. The film, which was an audience favourite at the Tribeca Film Festival, stars Bhavin Rabari, Bhavesh Shrimali and Richa Meena.

The screening is followed by a Q&A with Nalin.

June 26, 15:00, BFI NFT1 and June 28, 18:00, Ciné Lumière

Chhello Show by Pan Nalin (Selection Courtesy of London Indian Film Festival)
Chhello Show by Pan Nalin (Selection Courtesy of London Indian Film Festival)

Little English

The UK premiere of Little English will be shown as part of the Great British Asians Gala. Director Pravesh Kumar brings together a packed cast including Rameet Rauli, Viraj Juneja, Seema Bowri, Goldy Notay, Ameet Chana, Nikki Patel, Simon Rivers, Shereener Browne and Madhav Sharma.

Kumar’s debut feature is a comedy about a Punjabi family in West London in “the pressure cooker life” of a terraced suburban home. Simmy has just arrived from India to marry Raj, the eldest son. But when Raj does a runner, chaos ensues.

Audiences can look forward to a Q&A with Kumar and members of the cast and the crew after the screening.

June 24, 20:30, BFI NFT1 and June 30, 18:30, Picturehouse Central

No Land’s Man by Mostofa Sawar Farooki (Selection Courtesy of London Indian Film Festival)
No Land’s Man by Mostofa Sawar Farooki (Selection Courtesy of London Indian Film Festival)

Ciné Lumière

No Land’s Man

Director Mostofa Sarwar Farooki is building a name for himself as one of the leading figures of new Bangladeshi cinema. Here he tells the story of Naveen who disappears from a memorial park in Sydney while travelling with his girlfriend Cathy.

The story flashes back two years to New York; Naveen is a migrant in the city and is struggling to come to terms with his new identity. His lies begin to catchup with him, his relationship is put to the test, and his own existence is questioned. It stars Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Eisha Chopra and Megan Mitchell.

The screening follows with a Q&A with Farooki.

June 24, 18:00, Ciné Lumière and June 25, 20:45, Picturehouse Central

Americanish

Part of LIFF’s Young Rebels programme, Americanish by Iman Zawahry tells the story of a first-generation immigrant Pakistani mother, who is still recovering from being abandoned by her husband years ago. Now she’s trying to get her grown daughters, Maryam and Sam, married to suitable Pakistani boys. The comedy, which enjoys its European Premiere at the festival, stars Aizzah Fatima, Shenaz Treasury and Lillete Dubey.

There is a Q&A session with Zawahry and guests after the screening.

June 26, 15:00, Picturehouse Central and June 29, 18:15 Ciné Lumière

London Indian Film Festival runs across London, Manchester and Birmingham 23 June – 3 July. The full line-up can be found at londonindianfilmfestival.co.uk/.

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