South Asia Cinema Rising: The Subcontinent at L.A. Asian Pacific Film Festival

LOS ANGELES—The 35th annual Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival returns to Tinseltown, which nine days of Asian American films screening at a smorgasbord of theaters in the shadows of the Hollywood sign. Amongst the ambition lineup of features, documentaries, shorts and special screenings are a handful of films representing the Indian subcontinent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives).

            Most of the films tackling Indian/Pakistani (or Indian/Pakistani American) themes are making their world premieres at the fest, allowing the L.A. Asian Pacific Film Festival to position itself as one of the most visible venues to showcase Indian or South Asian talent, both behind and in front of the camera.

            Opening the festival on May 2 is Yellow Rose, which narrates the tale of a Filipino teenager who finds herself separated from her family and dreams of leaving Small Town, USA in order to pursue her country music dreams.

            Go Back to China and Ms. Purple are the festival’s two centerpiece films. Emily Ting directs Go Back to China, a 96-minute feature about a trust fund baby who is literally forced to leave the United States for Mainland China (at the doing of her father, not the government). The film stars Anna Akana, Richard Ng, Lynn Chen and Kelly Hu and screens Saturday, May 4 at Aratani Theatre (5 p.m.).

            Justin Chon directs the 85-minutes Korean American narrative, Ms. Purple. Chon, true to his cinematic form, explores the nuanced and varied cultures of Los Angeles’s many neighborhoods, which often operate as fiefdoms. The two neighborhoods on display in Ms. Purple: South Central and Koreatown. Ms. Purple also screens at Aratani Theatre on May 4 (8 p.m.).

            Empty By Design, which is directed by Andrea A. Walter and presented in English and Tagalog, makes its world premiere as the festival’s closing night film (May 10). The film weaves a tale of two lonely millennials who tackle a variety of issues against the backdrop of urban Manila.

            In between these four films are several titles narrating topics from the South Asian Diaspora. The capsules below give a little preview of what each film is about and who was behind the production. AH1 will follow-up with individual stories about some of the films throughout the festival, which runs May 2-10.

            Visit festival.vcmedia.org/2019/ for more about the festival, including information on tickets, screening times and dates, and theater locations.

Feature Film

NORMAL. (91 minutes, English/Hindi, World Premiere)

            Mragendra Singh presents Normal., a coming of age film exploring the state of a couple’s relationship shortly after the birth of their daughter. (And yes, the period at the end of the film’s title is intentional.)

            Aniket struggles to be intimate with his wife, Leah, after watching her give birth. Complicating matters: Aniket wishes for his wife to be a stay-at-home mother, even though Leah seeks to work again. These storylines pose the question: what is normal?

            Aseem Tiwari and Suzanna Akins star as Aniket and Leah, respectively. The film is co-presented by Silent River Film Festival and USC’s Asian Pacific Cinema Association. Mav Viola and Cynthia Strahan also co-star.

Normal.

Normal.

            Normal. screens at Regal L.A. Live on Wednesday, May 8, at 9:15 p.m. The screening is preceded by Singh’s short-film, The Night Before, which also makes its world premiere. The Night Before is presented in American Sign Language (subtitled) and is 10 minutes in length.

Special Presentations

STAYCATION (61 minutes, English)

            Anthony Ma, Grace Su, Mousa Kraish and Karin Anna Cheung star in this South Asian directed film about a millennial couple dealing with toxicity, sexuality and … bad Indian food. Tanuj Chopra, a regular at the L.A. Asian Pacific Film Festival, directs and co-writes.

            Staycation screens on Sunday, May 5 (9:30 p.m.) at the Downtown Independent cinema hall.

Staycation

Staycation

GIRL ICON (8 minutes, part of festival’s Mobile VR program)

            L.A. Asian Pacific Film Festival’s REORIENT: Emerging Media program features the 8-minute short film Girl Icon, which is directed by Sadah Espii Proctor.

            The film’s protagonist is Rani, an Indian girl selected to be a part of the Milaan Foundation’s Girl Icon program, an initiative inspired by Malala Yousafzai’s movement to reform education opportunities for women.

            The Mobile VR program plays several times during the festival, and at different locations. Visit https://festival.vcmedia.org/2019/movies/girl-icon/ for timings and locations.

Short Films

THE FOB AND I (8 minutes, English, L.A. Premiere)

            An Indian American with westernized ways shares a Hollywood apartment with a FOB from India. They have similarities. They have differences. The Fob and I, which is directed by Meenakshi Ramamurthy, explores this roommate relationship. Shefali Deshay and Uttera Singh co-star.

            The Fob and I screens at Regal L.A. LIVE on Thursday, May 9, at 6:45 p.m.

GANJA MAMA (7 minutes, English, World Premiere)

            The “I Gotchu Fam, Always” shorts program includes a short film by Mukesh Vidyasagar (who he also co-produced with Indian American actor Aseem Tiwari). Ganja Mama explores what happens when according to the film’s synopsis on the festival website, “an Indian mother discovers her daughter’s stash.” The daughter, upon realizing her mother’s discovery, “takes things into her own hands.”

            Vidyasagar’s film is 7 minutes in length and is making its world premiere at the L.A. Asian Pacific Film Festival. Ganja Mama screens at the Downtown Independent on Sunday, May 5; screening time is at 7 p.m.

HALWA (15 minutes, English/Hindi, World Premiere)

            Halwa will screen at the festival as part of its invite-only HBO APA Visionaries 2019 program. The short film, which broaches issues such as marriage, social media and human interaction, is co-directed and co-written by Gayatri Bajpai and Nirav Bhakta. It stars Vee Kumari, Asit Vyas, Sanchita Malik, Aishveryaa Nidhi, Samiya Khan, Renu Razdan, Puja Gupta and Sonal Shah.

            Bajpai and Bhakta will present their film at the Pacific Design Center on Friday, May 3.

SPINSTERHOOD (English, 11 minutes, World Premiere)

            A 29-year-old Indian American woman fears coming out to her parents. Her parents, just the same, fear for relationship status (“single”) at age 29. Spinsterhood, which is directed by Jhanvi Motla, weaves a tale of tradition, matchmaking and identity.

            The short film is featured as part of The Tipping Point shorts program, which screens Monday, May 6 at 8:30 p.m. (Regal L.A. Live).

DIFFICULT PEOPLE (19 minutes, Hindi, L.A. premiere)

            Sohil Vaidya writes, directs and produces Difficult People, which narrates a son’s relationship with his stubborn father in the wake of his mother’s death. Abhay Mahajan and Chittranjan Giri star in this short film challenging societal expectations of how men deal with the emotions of loss and grief.

            Difficult People makes it’s Los Angeles premiere at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 8; the film screens as part of the Parentals shorts program at Regal L.A. LIVE.

RANI (14 minutes, Urdu)

            Writer/Director Hammad Rizvi sheds light on the struggles of being LGBTQ in one of the most conservative countries on the planet: Pakistan. Kami Sid portrays Rani, the eponymous transgender character of Rizvi’s Rani. She is a social outcast who comes across an abandoned child. Rani – which literally means Queen – takes on the abandoned child and, in her care of the young one, confronts many challenges.

            The cast includes Maaz Khan and Hina Pathani. Rani is part of the Blooming Colors shorts program, which screens Tuesday, March 7 at 9 p.m. Blooming Colors plays at Regal L.A. LIVE.

MASKS (22 minutes, English/Farsi)

            Also playing in the Blooming Colors shorts program is Masks, which was inspired by the Orlando nightclub shooting in June 2016. Mahaliya Ayla O, a lesbian and mass shooting survivor, directs and writes this film.

            Saba, the film’s lead character, is a closeted medical school student who faces the prospect of outing herself after being targeted in a mass shooting at a gay nightclub.