• Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Arts and Culture

UK Asian Film Festival: Breaking barriers with cinema

Festival director and co-founder Dr Pushpinder Chowdhry MBE discusses the annual event on its 25th anniversary

A scene from ‘Bhagwan Bharose’

By: Asjad Nazir

The annual UK Asian Film Festival returns for another action-packed line-up in May. The longest running celebration of south Asian cinema globally, previously known as Tongues On Fire, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year with film premieres and special events.

Dr Pushpinder Chowdhry

Festival director and co-founder Dr Pushpinder Chowdhry MBE has been there since the very beginning, as a driving force to showcase the work of top talents. She has enjoyed the amazing journey filled with challenges, which has enabled her to support unique work and  use cinema to break down barriers. This year’s festival, running from May 4-14, was proceeded with special screenings and a 25th birthday celebration.

Eastern Eye caught up with the self-confessed film fan to discuss UK Asian Film Festival’s distinguished journey and what this year’s line-up has to offer.

Which of the many UK Asian Film Festival achievements are you most proud of?

Providing a platform for south Asians to promote diversity and harmony has been of great pride. At 25 years, it’s the longest-running festival, despite facing massive crunches financially.

We have consistently showcased new films and top talent accessible to UK audiences like the Bachchan family, Zeenat Aman, Farah Khan, Karan Johar, and Mahira Khan. We have also screened impactful films like Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy’s Oscar winner Saving Face. All this has been inspirational, especially to all south Asian women.

Working with BFI has been a huge achievement. Our diverse board includes academics, industry professionals, community workers and young people, representing our values and ethos.

How has the festival evolved since the beginning?

What started as an Asian women’s film festival transformed into an inclusive feminist festival. With few diverse stories in mainstream media, we aim to fill that gap by showcasing captivating and inspiring films. We train and upskill young people to curate, critique films and be on the jury panel who participate with industry professionals for choosing the award  winners. The festival has become ambitious and is now UK wide.

What can we expect from the festival this year?

We are 25 years old. To celebrate, we have a mix of exciting feature films, documentaries, short films, panel discussions, workshops and stimulating live events across 10 days. This year’s theme is ‘celebrating our stories’ – that reflect the power of sharing cultures, futures, heritage, and roots.

Tell us about that?

Cinema is about storytelling with the perspective and narrative shifting. We are celebrating our stories of shared identity, culture, future, heritage, and roots. We are looking forward to another 25 years and working with institutions who actively work hard to fight racism and lack of representation.

Tell us about the opening night movie?

A scene from ‘Sanaa’

Sanaa is a sensible and emotionally rich film. It responds to inequalities that still exists for women in the workplace, addressing issues of systemic abuse, and regulations of control exerted over their bodies, which impact their careers.

These topics needing meaningful conversation are instead hidden by shame and silence.

What can we expect from the closing night film, Bhagwan Bharose?

Bhagwan Bharose is a brave film. It looks at faith and science from the eyes of innocent minds. This film is stirring and speaks of south Asian issues of this time.

The film stars talented actors like Vinay Pathak from films like Bheja Fry and is a directorial debut by Shiladitya Bora, who had dared to dream. These people are taking risks and this festival is for people who are bold, question the status quo and come out with stories that encourage us to think and debate.

Is there a hidden gem screening you would recommend?

Pakistani film Kamli, poetically written by Fatimah Sattar, revolves around the story of a young woman whose husband has been missing for the last eight years. The film shows the woman’s struggle between loyalty to her husband and carnal desire to move on. The multi talented Sarmad Khoosat has beautifully directed the wonderfully shot film, with a stand-out performance from Saba Qamar.

What is the the Goodness Gracious Me event all about?

We have a special screening of one of the most-loved episodes, Going for an English, from the iconic series, celebrating the power of comedy. It is followed by a fascinating discussion with the lead stars Nina Wadia and Kulvinder Ghir, giving audiences a rare chance to hear their story, first hand.

Tell us about the festival’s Jhoom Barabar Jhoom concert?

This live music and dance party is an ode to Bollywood with the talented 515 Crew, singers Chirag Rao, Shama and Surojoy Bhowmik; dances choreographed by dynamic duo Shruti and Rohan Shah. The show at Beck Theatre Hayes on May 7 also enables Bollywood lovers to dress up as their favourite star and walk the red carpet.

You have Shabana Azmi attending for a live discussion event with her husband Javed Akhtar. What makes her such a special talent?

A brilliant and versatile actor, she has been a supporter of who we are, and what we do. She was instrumental in our early days to make the festival what it is now. Over 25 years she has helped us with content, events, and advice on how to grow the festival. She has been a real champion of the festival with her wisdom and foresight.

Why do you love cinema?

Cinema enables you to have a lifetime experience in two hours. It’s entertaining, inspiring, fun, educational and so much more. It has the power to make you laugh, cry, feel emotions and even change how you think, with friends and strangers in a dark auditorium. It is like a dream coming to life in front of your eyes.

The UK Asian Film Festival runs from May 4-14.

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