Few films to date have featured GLBT characters from India, but that’s changing tomorrow with the release of The World Unseen (from Regent Releasing/here! Films) and Loins of Punjab Presents (Emerging Pictures).
The World Unseen is a lesbian-themed drama set in 1950’s South Africa. As the conservative government’s apartheid policies are being implemented against the country’s black residents, members of its small Indian community are also living in fear. Matters become increasingly controversial and potentially dangerous when local café owner Amina (the lovely Sheetal Sheth) begins a romance with Miriam, a traditional Indian housewife and mother (played by Lisa Ray, the acclaimed star of Deepa Mehta’s Water) who begins questioning her sexuality.
Writer-director Shamim Sarif (whose debut film, I Can’t Think Straight, is scheduled for release later this month) has crafted an interesting story and a visually ravishing movie, but it ends up being too small-scale for the numerous political, historical, sexual and cultural issues it raises. Too many of these complex topics are introduced and then dropped. Most compelling but also short-changed is a secondary romance between a white woman and a black man (played by Grethe Fox and David Dennis, who are excellent). While it is worth a look, I was left wanting much more at the end of The World Unseen.
Manish Acharya’s comedy Loins of Punjab Presents is a focused and unmitigated delight that reminded me of such Christopher Guest improv comedies as Waiting for Guffman and Best of Show. In it, Bollywood collides with American Idol when a pork-exporting company (hence the film’s title) sponsors a live singing competition, Desi Idol, in a small New Jersey town.
Chaos initially ensues as would-be contenders audition to be one of ten final contestants. While virtually all are of Indian origin or descent, there are two wild cards in the mix: an American, Bollywood-loving Jew named Joshua Cohen (the amusingly earnest Michael Raimondi) and a culturally confused rapper, Balraj Deepak Gupta, who calls himself “Turbanotorious B.D.G.” (a hilarious Ajay Naidu). The B.D.G. is also G.A.Y., and there are some sweet scenes of his boyfriend encouraging him to heights of Desi Idol glory.
I’m not sure how wide a release Loins of Punjab Presents is going to receive, so be sure to seek it out; you don’t have to be Indian to find it thoroughly enjoyable.
Watch the trailers here: The World Unseen and Loins of Punjab Presents.
UPDATE: Loins of Punjab Presents is available on DVD and The World Unseen is available on DVD now from Amazon.com.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.