Out of the movies I’ve seen thus far from 3rdi’s South Asian International Film Festival line-up only two have really stood out (The World Before Her and Okul Nodi), and both for different reasons. Granted, I’ve only seen 6 of the 17 feature-length films, but if those first 6 are any indication as to what’s in store for the rest of the festival then I think, overall, it will be a worthwhile week of South Asian cinema watching.
Follow the jump to see my capsule reviews on 6 of the 18 films; Big in Bollywood, Herman’s House, Lucky, Okul Nodi, Valley of Saints, The World Before Her
Big in Bollywood
There is not one iota of any emotion other than happiness to be found within the playful behind the scenes look at the overnight mega-success of Omi Vaidya. Now, unless you are one of the billion plus people living in India chances are you’ve never heard of Omi Vaidya. After a chance casting in a Bollywood movie, Omi, a struggling actor living in LA, catapults to a level of stardom in India equivalent to that of the Pope. Documenting the journey from zero to hero are his friends, which gives the film its sincere touch. I walked away from this film with the knowledge that fans of blockbuster Bollywood films are some of the most fanatical people on earth who will risk getting run over by a bus with baby in arms just for a chance glimpse at the latest big time actor. This movie exists to show people documentaries could be a lot of fun.
Showtimes for Big in Bollywood: September 30 – Camera 12 3:30pm (San Jose)
Herman is an imprisoned man who has spent an incredibly ridiculous amount of time unjustly locked in solitary confinement. Jackie is an artist, who after attending a lecture on solitary confinement, was inspired to do something for someone living under those conditions. She wrote a letter to Herman, thus starting a long-lasting and life-changing relationship. Being that Jackie is an artist she went about helping Herman the way she knows best, through art. Her idea, was to construct Herman’s dream house, as meticulously described to her by Herman. In forgoing such a daunting task, irreversible bonds are formed and inspirations from others are discovered. Even though I still think the ending – don’t worry, I’m not going to give it away – was a bit abrupt, I still would have a hard time finding much fault in Angad Bhalla‘s finely put together documentary.
Showtimes for Herman’s House: September 23rd – 1:45pm (Roxie Theatre)
Lucky is the story of a boy, whose name, Lucky, would suggest a life filled with good fortune. However, that is not the case, as we quickly find out from scene one. Throughout most of this film Lucky is seen traversing through an uncharted and dangerous territory, especially as seen through the eyes of a village-born African boy left orphaned in a cityscape he knows nothing about. Luckily for him, he meets an elderly Indian woman who gives new meaning to the word curmudgeon. The boy just wants to go to school, but other forces, mainly a meanie of an uncle, threaten to stand the way.
Will Lucky wind up being lucky in the end and having a life of happiness and education? Regardless of what fate has in store for young Lucky, that fact was I didn’t much care. In fact, I found it to be quite predictable, and not in a good way. Having said that, I still was on board with the story, mainly because I found both the acting credible, and the cinematography quite beautiful. I wouldn’t see this again anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t recommend it to those looking for a well put together movie on friendship.
Showtimes for Lucky: September 22nd 4:30pm (Castro Theatre)
Okul Nodi (Endless River)
Unless your related to a professional cinematographer, more than likely the act of sitting through somebody elses travel videos is going to feel more like a test of one’s endurance than an enjoyable way to spend quality time together. Such was the case while trying to sit through this pieced together jalopy-driven documentary on the river music of Bangladesh called Bhatiyali. The times where I was able to ignore the – I’ll call it disastrous – editing style, I was treated to quite a few metaphorical songs from region locals about the nature of one’s soul through lyrics focusing on boats and rivers.
Being that I consider myself first and foremost a fan of all things cinematic, I have to say, this was very hard to sit through, regardless of the fact that I learned something new about a culture I know little of. In the end, if you are the type who doesn’t mind spending their time watching amateurish vacation footage, and value content over highly distracting sound editing, then by all means, have a blast with this one.
Showtimes for Okul Nodi: September 23rd 4:30pm (Roxie Theatre)
Valley of Saints
“Home, is where I want to be, but I guess I’m already there” – David Byrne. No, The Talking Heads have nothing to do with this movie, and none of their songs were featured in it, yet that line seems to sum up the entire character arc of this movie’s chief protagonist perfectly.
Musa Syeed‘s esthetically documentary-looking fictional drama deals with the relationship between two friends living in a turbulent and beautiful Kashmir. While I no doubt enjoyed this movie, I would have enjoyed it even more had the high points of the story, being the photographed city and gritty realism, been further explored rather than wandering into a subplot of environmental awareness and bros-before-hos storyline. In a fitting analogy, being that the film deals with tourism, watching Valley of Saints was like taking a boat tour of a city where you are unable to enjoy all the pretty sites because your tour guide is constantly trying to push an agenda unrelated to the tour.
Showtimes for Valley of the Saints: September 23rd 6:30pm (Roxie Theatre)
The World Before Her
The sign of a good social/political documentary is when the discussed topic(s), of which I know little about before watching, stay with me for the entire week after the closing credits have come and gone. The sign of an outstanding social/political documentary is when it is able to illuminate broader issues than just the ones discussed within the movie, and continue to resonate within me well after the credits have rolled, making me want to re-watch it sooner than later. The World Before Us is an outstanding documentary.
This polarizing movie is about the roles in which females play in both India’s present and future, and the contradictory way in which these women live their lives. Through the careful direction of Nisha Pahuja we’re shown two viewpoints as to where India is perceived to be heading, and just like a good documentary should, equal time is focused on both positions. On the one side there’s Durga Vahini, a member of the Hindu fundamentalist movement who is vehemently opposed to those women who find opportunities and their voice through India’s beauty pageant. And on the other side, there’s the voice of those within the beauty pageant scene.
If, sadly you wind up missing this doc at the 3rdi festival, do yourself a favor and seek it out elsewhere. It is one not to be missed.
Showtimes for The World Before Her: September 22nd 2:30pm (Castro Theatre)