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Surrey festival forgoes Bollywood blockbuster and opens with comedy

Forty plus films on the program for 13th International South Asian Film Festival

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The vibrant and expanding world of South Asian cinema is set to take centre stage at the International South Asian Film Festival (iSAFF), which takes place in Surrey from Sept. 28 to Oct. 1.

Now in its 13th year, iSAFF will showcase six feature films, four documentaries and 30-plus short films in its program.

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Opening the festival — and making its Canadian debut — on Sept. 28 is Lord Curzon Ki Haveli. The dark comedy about four South Asians in London who meet for an unplanned dinner party marks the directorial debut of actor Anshuman Jha and stars Arjun Mathur and Rasika Dugal.

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“It’s very contemporary,” iSAFF producer Mannu Sandhu said of the feature film. “A lot of the new-age directors and producers are wanting to do off beat films … They are doing it because they want to be able to tell their stories.

“This is a mysterious film coming to us and we are taking the risk to make it our opening film instead of doing a big Bollywood film. If we don’t take that risk, then we don’t know what the audience is going to want. I think the audience is going to love this film.”

Photo of mannu Sandhu
Mannu Sandhu is the festival producer for the International South Asian Film Festival (iSAFF). Photo by Courtesy of iSAFF /jpg

The theme of this year’s festival is Pathbreakers.

“We wanted to reflect on individuals that have done path-breaking films,” said Sandhu. “One of the films we are bringing is called The Lunchbox. Ten years ago, when it came to TIFF, it really opened up a lot of other doors for South Asians to present their work … It was a very path-breaking moment for that industry at the time. We are continuing to see so many of those path-breaking moments right now with South Asians coming into the Hollywood space.”

The wonderfully sublime and heartwarming The Lunchbox is a Hindi-language drama written and directed by Ritesh Batra. Irrfan Khan and Nimrat Kaur star in the story of a mistaken delivery in Mumbai’s lunch box delivery system that turns into a deep and often fantasy-filled connection between a young housewife and older man.

“It is a retrospective we are doing on that film, so kind of taking people back to what the film was all about,” said Sandhu, adding the director will be doing a post screening Q&A and a panel event.

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The Pathbreakers idea is also a way to remind and educate filmgoers that South Asian cinema is much more than the big Bollywood productions.

Sandhu said: “Bollywood will always be Bollywood with the glitz and glam” and it will continue to hold strong in the South Asian film canon. But it’s becoming clearer every year that there is an appetite to tell and view stories that reflect contemporary themes and day-to-day life.

“I have seen a large increase in the number of films we have been receiving,” said Sandhu. “I remember our first festival it was can we get this student film. We were trying to pull films from everywhere but now when we open submissions, we have hundreds of films that come. So, it is a really exciting time.”

The festival will close with the Pakistani Canadian supernatural thriller In Flames from director Zarrar Kahn. The film is only the second Pakistani film to premiere at Cannes Film Festival. It also screened at the recent TIFF.

“We’re fortunate enough the producers have given it to us because it has been doing the rounds of all the big festivals,” said Sandhu.

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The festival will also host a series of events, including Q&A sessions with filmmakers and social media influencers, industry panels, workshops, and networking opportunities for attendees to engage with the creatives behind the films.

“Our aim is to provide a platform for the voices and stories of South Asia and its diaspora to be enjoyed by the B.C. audience and beyond. Each film in our lineup offers a unique perspective from the massively diverse and complex South Asian communities, addressing contemporary issues, challenging the status quo, and flexing the artistic prowess of South Asian filmmakers,” said Pulkit Datta, iSAFF Artistic Director in a statement.

“We look forward to celebrating the artists who have changed the game and will inspire future generations.”

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