India - With 1.3 Billion People, What's It Like?

Smart And Spicy

t's gorgeous. Yet midst this exquisite beauty, current Indian movies dip into a dark side. The LA Indian Film Festival is intimate, in its 15th year. What a chance to learn. Perfumed with delicious insight, IFFLA feels relaxed. An assault on women's rights, does that still happen? You bet. And not just women. Muslims are still targeted, despite India's having the third-largest Muslim population in the world. "Lipstick Under My Burkha," the opening night film, is marvelous. I couldn't stop thinking about it. Banned from India’s big cities, director Alankrita Shrivastava said, "censors are trying to censor women’s voices." Four women, all different ages and situations, are desperate to escape restrictions forced on them by men, customs, and tradition. One’s forced to wear a burqua, one’s forced to hide her secret job, one’s forced to marry someone she doesn’t want to, one’s forced out on the street with no options when her family discovers her sexual yearnings. Is this really what happens to women, even today? Emotionally caged, each woman gets increasingly desperate. I was haunted by the movie; I kept asking Indian people at the festival: to what extent does this still happen to Indian women today? Everyone I spoke to told me this is what women still face. (possible exceptions: upper economic class or sophisticated locations.) "The film represents a lot of the truth for women in India. Women have very little space to actually live for themselves," Director/Writer Alankrita Shrivastava told me. "The situation still goes on in India," Chandrika Ravi, a South Indian actress, said. "It's shamed upon to do as you wish." Try to see “Lipstick” if you can; it's sophisticated, and gorgeously directed and acted. * * *

"A Billion Colour Story" reminded me of "Pay It Forward." It highlights the pure motives of a young boy, set against the horror of extreme racial hatred. Shot in black and white, the director said, "Black and white is the pure vision of a child." Hari Aziz, an extraordinarily bright, sweet 11-year-old, is raised to be optimistic and open-minded. He sees his parents face racial discrimination; his mother's Hindu, and his father's Muslim. In India, that's a problem. In India, 79.8% of the population are Hindu, with only 14.23% Muslim (2011 figures.) Still, 14% of 1.3 billion people is a lot of people. Hari's lovely parents, making a film about tolerance and acceptance, themselves face accelerating discrimination. Hari ultimately creates a solution. I promised the director, Padmakumar Narasimhamurthy, not to divulge the film's ending. How could I deny him? He told me to call him "Paddy." One in the audience man told the director: "If you wanted to see grown men cry, you should have turned the lights on." The audience clapped. Paddy: "Every effort must be made to influence people not to get carried away by hatred. Because the fuel is hatred, and we need to make sure we don't consume it." The film is brave, triggering deep emotions. I felt fried after watching it. * * * I wish I had room enough to write about all the other wonderful films at IFFLA. I can't help mentioning these: "An Insignificant Man" tells the behind-the-scenes story of what really happened ending 63 years of corruption in New Delhi. "Sometimes," is an intriguing film about HIV. "A Death in the Gunj" shows a family of privilege on holiday. "Hotel Salvation" is the strangest film. Chosen to close the film festival, it's a story about life, and the end of it. It's strangely charming. You meet such interesting people at a film festival. I got to talk with Nisha Ganatra, the lovely director of "Chutney Popcorn." Cross-cultural in her work, she's directed an episode of "Girls" and three episodes of "Transparent."


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