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Heaven on Earth to open New York fest

Arthur J Pais | October 24, 2008 15:21 IST

A still from Slumdog Millionaire.

With the works of veteran film makers such as Shyam Benegal [Images] (Bose, the Forgotten Hero) and Deepa Mehta (Heaven on Earth), as well as first-timers such as Sooni Taraporevala (Little Zizou), the 2008 edition of the Mahindra Indo-American Arts Council Film Festival in New York has a menu of beguiling features and documentaries to suit all tastes.

Among them are tributes to composer Rahul Dev Burman and to director Chetan Anand, who started with the iconoclastic film Neech Nagar nearly 60 years ago and went on to make classy Bollywood films such as Heer Ranjha.

Crossing Lines is a poignant and touching documentary on well known scientist and community activist Satu M Somani and his Indian connections which keep growing despite his busy life in America. The documentary film follows his daughter Indira Somani's efforts to understand her late father better by getting to know his family in India and the various charities he founded there.

Preity Zinta in a still from Heaven on EarthFor history-minded film buffs, A Throw of Dice, a landmark film first released in 1929, will have a lot of appeal. The film, recently released on DVD, is being offered for the first time on the big screen in New York after its first screening over seven decades ago.

The festival that runs November 5-9 is a collaboration between the IAAC and the industrial house of Mahindra, and will open with Mehta's Heaven on Earth, show Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire as its centrepiece, and conclude with Taraporevala's Little Zizou.

Taraporevala, who has written the script for several of Mira Nair's films including The Namesake [Images], tells the story of Xerxes, an 11-year-old football-crazy boy who wishes that his dead mother should bring French soccer star Zinedine Zidane [Images], known to fans as Zizou, to Mumbai.

Xeres lives with his pompous father who is a religious bigot. Xeres's brother Artaxerxes is a quiet, talented cartoonist in love with the daughter of his father's archrival, a social and religious reformer and owner of a community newspaper.

Among the newcomers bringing their films to the festival is Nistha Jain, whose Lakshmi and Me is the story of a young housemaid in Mumbai whose life is being filmed by one of her employers. In the process of making the film, the film-maker starts her own inner journey into the immediate world around her, questioning many things she might have taken for granted.

Several films such as Ketan Mehta's Rang Rasiya (Colours of Passion) are having their American premiere at the festival. Mehta says his film is the story of Raja Ravi Varma [Images] of the Kerala [Images] royal house of Thiruvananthapuram, 'who imprinted the iconography of Hindu gods and goddesses upon a billion minds.'

A still from Little ZizouThe film, which features Paresh Rawal [Images], Nandana Sen [Images] and Deepti Naval [Images], also focuses on Varma's trial for blasphemy because of some of his eroticised work. In the background is the story of the first steps taken by Indian modern art, the dawn of Indian cinema and the stirrings of the Indian Independence movement.

In search of mystic poetry that can try to erase the sectarian borders between Islam and Hinduism is Bound-Unbound: Journeys with Ram and Kabir. Film-maker Shabanam Virmani looks at the work Kabir who, in the 15th century, spread songs of wisdom invoking the names of Hindu gods.

Virmani shares her encounters with singers and lay people in India and Pakistan in her mission to 'probe the forces of history and politics that have created disputatiously diverse Rams even as it has spawned many Kabirs.'

A fable for all times, A Throw of Dice was produced by the legendary Himansu Rai and directed by the German immigrant Franz Osten. Inspired by an iconic episode in the Indian epic Mahabharata, the film tells the story of Ranjit and Sohan, two kings with a passion for gambling who are crazy over the same woman, Sunita. The film, with spectacular scenery and battle scenes, features Himansu Rai as King Sohan.

Adoor Gopalakrishnan's Naalu Pennungal, an award-winning saga of four women caught in a man's universe, is inspired by the stories of eminent Malayalam writer the late Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, and features an ensemble cast of Nandita Das, Geetu Mohandas, Padmapriya [Images], Manju Pillai and Kavya Madhavan [Images].

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