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India Currents gave me a voice in days I was very lost. Having my articles selected for publishing was very validating – Shailaja Dixit, Executive Director, Narika, Fremont

An annual treat that comes with  nippy, autumn weather is the 3rd i Film Festival, featuring movies from India, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Pakistan, Tibet, Sri Lanka and the South Asian diaspora.  Marking its 16th year, the Festival was held in San Francisco between November 1 and November 4.  Watching these movies that afforded fresh perspectives and brave, new voices, cemented for me the fact that independent cinema needs to be encouraged and supported.  Among other attributes, these movies are unafraid to explore issues that are uncomfortable, give voice to the oppressed and shed light on matters often overlooked or even ignored.


A Suitable Girl

A Suitable Girl is a snapshot into the lives of three young women whose families are looking to arrange a match for their respective daughters.  The documentary follows the lives of the middle-class Indian families for over a year, detailing the ups and downs of finding a groom in a culture that still places a lot of importance on marriage, especially for women.

Dipti, a simple and sweet-natured pre-school teacher, who has advertised for a groom in a local newspaper, puzzles over why she hasn’t got a response.  Time is ticking for her as she is close to turning 30.

The independent and matter-of-fact Ritu, who is nearly 25, has no real desire to marry thus making it challenging for her matchmaker mother to find a groom for her own daughter.   

Super-social Amrita who likes to shop and party is betrothed at the time she is introduced to the viewer.  She marries into a high-profile family and finds that she has to keep a low profile in order to fit in.

The film has won the Albert Maysles Award for Best New Documentary Director at the Tribeca International Film Festival.

Directed by:  Sarita Khurana and Smriti Mundhra

Running Time:  1 hour 28 minutes

“A Suitable Girl” will be screened on Saturday, November 17th at the Palo Alto Art Center.

Showtimes:  2.30 p.m. and 4.15 p.m.

1313 Newell Road, Palo Alto, CA 94303

Phone: (650) 329-2366.

The following is a snapshot of movies that were featured in the 4-day festival held earlier this month in San Francisco.


A Better Man

The subject of this documentary is grim, the mood somber, and the attempt to return to face a traumatic past is beyond brave. Facing a tormenter willingly takes guts, and a certain desperation.  Twenty years after having fled from an abusive relationship with her high school boyfriend, Steve, Tiya runs into him by chance and invites him to a dialog about their relationship that scarred her, quite literally.   

Tiya takes the opportunity to get some much-needed answers to questions that have gnawed at her for years and soon finds herself listening to her boyfriend justifying why she deserved to be beaten or spit upon.Together, the interracial couple revisit their time together, as well as the scene of the crime: their high school and the apartment where Tiya had once lived in constant terror that she might be killed.   

Physical wounds may heal, but what of the ones that stay hidden in the mind? Long after she has broken away from her abuser, Tiya tries to find healing in acupuncture and meditation to shake the ghosts and memories of inflicted trauma. Steve is not without contrition. “I don’t understand that cycle for me,” he says at one point in the movie, referring to the shame he feels after an episode when he assaults Tiya, along with apologies and promises that such a thing would never happen again.  

Glimpses of the abuser’s warped rationale emerge, though he claims not to fully understand the trigger for the assaults; ; he surmises that he was so afraid of losing her at that time that he went to great lengths including intimidation  to keep her by his side.

Indeed, it is arguable as to who the better man is – the ever-supportive, sensitive husband who champions women’s causes, or the abuser himself, who is willing to be placed in the hot seat to face the demon within. Forgiveness is a powerful tool for healing, for the victim and abuser alike; as much as Tiya needs to confront the past to come to grips with all the questions that have nagged her over the decades, so too does Steve who needs her forgiveness to become a better man.  

Written and Directed by:  Attiya Khan and Lawrence Jackman  

Running time: 1 hour and 15 minutes  

Good Guy Bad Guy

Director Indu Krishnan is on her annual trip to Bengaluru, where viewers join her in her search for Zakhir, a poor man from the streets, who has mysteriously vanished. Having met him on a previous visit to the city, Indu  is puzzled at the disappearance of the soft-spoken young man and tries to track down his whereabouts.

A victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, the hapless Zakhir must go through imprisonment and a system of justice that works at snail’s pace.  For the impecunious, it is practically impossible to extricate themselves without a benefactor.

Good Guy Bad Guy explores the life of the poor in India and is told with sensitivity.  The protagonist, Zakhir, who collects and turns in recyclables for a living, shares the tribulations of a man on the streets – one who is practically homeless, trying to find a place to sleep each night while worrying about being chased away by the cops or being stoned by someone.  Alcohol is a favorite friend for keeping his worries at bay.

It is easy to feel a connection with the gentle and compassionate Zakhir, who feeds the monkeys in the park every day and nurses an impossible dream of getting a break in the movies – composing songs, a small role acting, or even writing the screenplay. However creative and appealing his story, we as viewers realize that it is not sufficient to launch an illiterate man on the streets onto the silver screen.   

Zakhir is as practical and resigned to his lot as he is creative, and hopes to make others  understand what hardship really means someone who is at the bottom of the food chain. He has a back-up plan.  If he is unable to get support for his dream of making a movie, then he would like to get a cart and sell vegetables, much like  his father did, and, wander the streets, “like the street dogs,” he says woefully.

What the viewer sees, longer after Zakhir’s hope of making it to the movies is gone, is that there is an  irrepressible dream that stays with him. As the film ends, the scene is one of a few street dogs watching the High Court in suggested anticipation of Zakhir’s judgement – one that is not likely to be handed down any time in the near future.

This scene is a particularly poignant one of the wretched man – the man understood and accepted by the animals that he has communed with, than the society that he lives in.  

Directed by: Indu Krishnan

Running time: 1 hour 18 minutes

Ask the Sexpert

A 91-year-old sex columnist gives advice to people who write to the Mumbai Mirror with questions on intimacy and intercourse.  A retired gynecologist, Dr. Mahinder Watsa is quite the celebrity and is often followed  by young women who find him non-threatening to speak to about intimate matters.

The nonagenarian, whose approachability lies in his advanced age finds that what he does best is to help people open up to talk about a potentially embarrassing subject.  He answers questions about sexual performance, porn, conventional and unconventional methods of birth control, as well as some astonishingly ignorant and repugnant questions, with tongue in cheek answers.

He is, however, up against Indian societal norms and has found himself in the middle of a lawsuit filed against him by a women’s and children’s activist, Dr. Pratiba Naitthani, who would like to see censorship of the content published by magazines that are accessible to all ages.

Says the sexpert of his work of demystifying the birds and the bees: “All human beings are sexual. Going through life is a wonderful journey full of excitement and surprises. Learning about sexuality begins from the time a child is born. And continues until the end of life.”

Directed by: Vaishali Sinha

Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes


The Fish Curry

“The Fish Curry (Macher Jhol)” is an animated short with a story that suggests careful consideration of the moment that the protagonist picks to tell his father that he is gay.  With a backdrop of old Hindi songs filled with love and yearning, and over his father’s favorite dish of macher jhol, Lalith comes out to his conservative, Bengali father.   

The snippet is told without drama and the film is atmospheric. The crisp audio is more noteworthy than the animation itself, though some parts are niftily done.  Verma has done a nice job of handling a heavy moment fraught with emotion, which when translated in animation, can be challenging.

Animation and Direction: Abhishek Verma.

Running time:  11 minutes

In the Land of my Ancestors

Very relevant to the current day and age when man has lost connection to Mother Earth, comes this documentary, which is a tribute to Native Americans.  Ann Marie Sayers, an elder of the Ohlone tribe belonging to the Indian Canyon in California, tells of the atrocities committed against the Native American peoples in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, where thousands were killed by genocide and disease.   

Indian Canyon is considered sacred and has served as a safe haven for Indigenous peoples from time immemorial, when the Ohlones were forced into a life of servitude by the California Missions, effectively destroying their indigenous culture.  Sayers says that Ohlone descendants are still hurting from that action today. Sayers hopes to educate the youth on their connection to the land. A force to reckon with, this dynamic tribes woman wants people to pause and think before making a decision – how will an  action in the present day affect seven generations in the future?

Directed by:  Rucha Chitnis

Running time: 10 minutes

 Meera Prahlad is a freelance writer, community organizer and volunteer with a wide variety of interests.  She wears several hats, but finds that the style that suits her best is one where she takes on a cause close to her heart, to make a meaningful impact on the community around her.