The Third i organization (www.thirdi.org) has now become a prominent part of the South-Asian (desi) culture scene in the San Francisco Bay area. Founded in the year 2002 by Ivan Jaigirdar, Shilpa Mankikar, and Camille Ramani, the focus of this effort has been monthly film screenings and an annual film festival. The 11th San Francisco International South Aisan Film Festival was held between November 6 and 16 at three venues – the New People Cinema, the Castro Theatre and the Aquarius Theatre in nearby Palo Alto. This year the festival (SFISAFF) featured over 20 films from India, Sri Lanka, Canada, Pakistan and the US. The spotlight on Pakistan was important this year because the feature film industry there is slowly but steadily emerging from the last decade of near extinction.
Two of the films screened at the SFISAFF were The Revolutionary Optimists on November 6th and These Birds Walk on November 7th, one capturing street life in Calcutta, the other in Karachi. My attempt at getting in to see These Birds Walk was frustrated by the fact that the show was completely sold out, possibly due to the documentary’s focus on the work of Pakistan’s leading humanitarian Abdul Sattar Edhi and his wife Bilquis, universally loved and respected in Pakistan. Filmmakers Bassam Tariq and Omar Mullick will have to bring this film back to audiences here in Northern California soon so more of us can see their work.
On November 8 ‘Peddler’ from India and ‘Simple Superstar’ by Wilbur Sagunaraj from Canada represented Mumbai and Southern India at the festival. The sub-continental ‘religion’ of cricket kicked off November 9 at the Castro with a showing of the documentary ‘Beyond All Boundaries’. Gender violence in India was highlighted via the Gulabi Gang thanks to Nishtha Jain.
Sabiha Sumar’s ‘Good Morning Karachi’ followed this. The director was present in person for this premiere and so was one of our favorite performers from Pakistan, Beo Zafar, who plays the role of Aunt Rosie in the movie. Sabiha deserves her past accolades for of her brilliant partition feature film Khamosh Pani released almost 10 years ago and for her association with the documentary ‘Saving Face’ which earned Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy an Oscar, but introduced by local film maker Saquib Mausoof, ‘Good Morning Karachi’ received very mixed reviews. Local film enthusiast Mike K did not like it at all but another named Ahsan wrote, “The director avoids – wisely, I think – any temptation to send out messages, remaining sympathetic to all of the characters. She has a story to tell and she tells it as she envisions it. What you take away from the movie is up to you.”
[quote]’Good Morning Karachi’ is the new name given to the original 2011 movie, ‘Rafina’, based on a novella by writer Shandana Minhas[/quote]
‘Good Morning Karachi’ is the new name given to the original 2011 effort ‘Rafina’ based on a novella by writer Shandana Minhas. The main character in the movie is Rafina (Amna Ilyas) a young woman from a humble background soon to wed Arif (Yasir Aqueel), a worker for the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). But Rafina dreams loftier dreams, to be in the limelight in the modeling world of Karachi where extremists lurk to attack billboards. In this quest and against her mother’s wishes (along with resistance from Arif) she, with the help of Rosie Khala (Beo Raana Zafar) heads to Radiance, a beauty salon where women come in to get waxing and massage (and apparently to get discovered as models). Here she becomes an interest for Jamal (Atta Yaqub) and pursues her dream while making some very difficult choices on the way. All the essential ingredients are there in this story to make a powerful film especially in the background of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. Unfortunately, although the film is watchable, it lacks the punch it could have had. The high expectations one brought to the theatre knowing Sabiha Sumar’s track record were not met. After the movie Sabiha shared the stage with the Director Anusha Rizvi maker of the immensely successful and troubling movie ‘Peepli Live’. They sat down for a chat and to answer some questions from the audience and the host of the panel.
There was a reception with the filmmakers after this, organized by Third i. The place was packed and noisy and Beo Zafar was in her element here. It was good to see her again, a few years after she floored San Francisco residents with her comedy act at a fundraiser for The Citizens Foundation. And speaking of comedy, the grand finale of the evening at the Castro Theatre was ‘Shudd Desi Romance’ a seriously funny film starring Sushant Singh Rajput, Parineeti Chopra and Vaani Kapoor, with Bollywood veteran Rishi Kapoor also playing an interesting role.
Sunday November 10th started with ‘Celluloid Man’, a celebration in film of 100 years of Indian Cinema by Shivendra Singh Dungarpur which interviewed the who’s who of the industry including P.K. Nair, the founder of the National Film Archive of India. ‘With You, Without You’ by Prasanna Vithanage focused on relationships impacted by the Sri Lankan civil war. The documentary ‘Alice Walker, Beauty in Truth’ by Pratibha Parmar closed the day at the New People Cinema.
The last day of the festival was held at the Aquarius in Palo Alto which started with the documentary ‘Without Shepherds’ by Cary McClelland, focusing on six people in Pakistan including cricketer and now politician Imran Khan and model Vaneeza. Also slated were a short film ‘From Melody Queen to Muslim Madonna’ by Fawzia Afzal-Khan and repeats of ‘Beyond All Boundaries’ and ‘Gulabi Gang’ with the critically acclaimed ‘Ship of Theseus’ that closed the festival.
It was great to watch alternate cinema from the region come to the San Francisco Bay Area. Bollywood’s success is well known all over the world, so it is great to see initiatives that also support the relatively smaller industries of Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.