Equality in cinema: Indian Film Festival Melbourne 2015

THE Indian Film Festival of Melbourne is back with its new theme “Equality”, focusing on issues of freedom and equality in our contemporary world. Nicole Tee recommends a selection of films worth watching. 

The Indian Film Festival of Melbourne (IFFM) returns this August and looks to challenge existing cultural norms, conventional power and gender stereotypes under it’s theme of “Equality”.

Exploring the interplay between the powerless and the powerful in India, the festival celebrates diversity across more than 45 films this year and offers audiences the latest films in Bollywood alongside arthouse classics and new documentaries.

Honouring the festival’s focus of “Equality”, we’ve narrowed down four films from the IFFM that explore this theme in their own particular way.

Umrika: Finding hope through another country 

Opening night film Umrika explores equality through a small Indian village’s collective dream of a new and better future.

When one of their own decides to leave for America (or Umrika), the villagers begin to live vicariously through the young man’s life abroad. Receiving gifts and letters, they see snippets of America and become invigorated with hope but once these stop arriving, it is up to the man’s young brother Rama (Life of Pi‘s Surjah Sharma) and his best friend Lalu (The Grand Budapest Hotel‘s Tony Revolori) to find out what has happened to the missing resident.

Winner of the World Cinema Dramatic Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Umrika also highlights the cultural divides of India and America.

Unfreedom: A struggle of identities against inequality 

Unfreedom explores the lack of freedom embedded within the highly democratic Indian state.

Inspired by Faiz Ahmad’s Faiz’s 1947 poem “Ye Dagh Dagh Ujala” (Freedom’s Dawn), the film is a frank depiction of two parallel plots: a Muslim fundamentalist in New York who kidnaps a liberal Muslim scholar, and a closeted lesbian who kidnaps her bisexual lover. Both come together to portray the violent struggle of identities against their repressive situations.

Banned in India, Unfreedom is a powerful portrayal of cultural and political provocation in the country.

PK: Finding meaning and equality in religion

When an alien PK finds himself stranded on Earth, he has no choice but to learn how to deal with “human rituals” and emotions in order to successfully convince God to give him back the remote control to his space ship.

Its plot may sound incredibly bizarre and out of this world but this satirical sci-fi film was a big hit in India and to date is the highest grossing Indian film of all time.

Despite what you might think, PK manages to take audiences through courageous and bold discussions of religion and religiosity in the country. Challenging existing religious and cultural superstitions, characters in PK are forced to re-define generations’ worth of rituals when they perceive it through the innocent viewpoint of PK.

Haider: Exploring political realities, crime and revenge with Shakespeare

A Bollywood adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Haider is a film filled with intense drama, crime and revenge.

Set during the 1995 Kashmir conflict, Haider returns home to Kashmir only to find his father has disappeared and his mother has found herself in a new relationship with his uncle. Determined to find his father, Haider goes on an arduous journey only to be dragged into the state’s politics.

The bold portrayal of torture in Indian army camps and human right abuses in India has raised huge controversies in India itself. Nonetheless, the film attempts to address the political reality of Kashmir, a territory claimed by India and Pakistan, and a flashpoint for conflict between both countries.

Haider has bagged numerous awards domestically and internationally, including the People’s Choice Award at the Rome Film Festival.

Other events to visit

The Festival will also play host to the annual Indian Film Festival of Melbourne Awards, featuring Slumdog Millionaire star Anil Kapoor. Taking place on August 15 at the National Gallery of Victoria, the gala event will also feature a panel of Indian and Australian film experts to honour winners.

Alongside the awards, a glamorous fashion show featuring the work of iconic Indian designer Anamika Khanna will also be held. Garments in the show will be auctioned off with all proceeds being donated towards the Royal Children’s Hospital.

The Indian Film Festival Melbourne will take place from August 14 – 27  at select venues (Hoyts Melbourne Central, Hoyts Highpoint, Federation Square and National Gallery of Victoria). Tickets are for currently on sale

For more information on other films, ticketing prices and venues, please visit the IFFM’s official website

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