Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA) opens tonight, with red carpet festivities and five days of screenings taking place at the ArcLight in Hollywood. Among the films being shown are the Los Angeles premiere of the award-winning I Am Kalam and the closing world premiere Sunday of Disney's first Hindi-language production, Zokkomon.
In disappointing news for GLBT filmgoers of all nationalities, the controversial 2010 gay drama Dunno Y? Na Jaane Kyun is not included in the line up. It has been described as "India's answer to Brokeback Mountain" and reportedly includes the first gay kiss in Indian cinema's history. On the plus side, though, two other excellent GLBT-themed films will be shown during IFFLA.
One is the feature-length documentary I Am, which is not to be confused with the similarly-titled I Am... that is also screening during the fest. In Sonali Gulati's searching, partly autobiographical film, 21 GLBT individuals and their families are interviewed about their experiences dealing with homosexuality in conservative Indian society. While parents telling their openly GLBT children "You have shamed us" is a depressingly common refrain, a handful of courageous mothers and fathers have lovingly embraced their often ostracized offspring. As one father wisely asks, "If I don't accept my (gay) son, will that make him any more of a (heterosexual) man?"
Among those featured in the doc are Prince Manvendra, a former member of one of India's royal families who was publicly disowned and disinherited by his parents after he came out as a gay man. Never mind that he had already suffered a nervous breakdown after his heterosexual marriage failed because of his desire for men. Today, though, Manvendra is one of a slowly growing number of happy and respected public faces of homosexuality in India.
In a society where homosexual relations have historically been criminalized, doctors tout homeopathic "cures" for homosexuality, and most heterosexual marriages are still arranged, there is all the more pressure on GLBT people to conform. Gulati frames I Am with her own personal story, which includes coming out on an Indian TV talk show and her attempts to reconcile her relationship with her now-deceased mother. She navigates a lot of sexual, emotional and geographic territory in her 75-minute documentary and does so spectacularly.
IFFLA will also present the provocative and very well-made short film Beholder. Set in a frighteningly believable United States of the not-too-distant-future where the map has been re-drawn into conservative and liberal political halves, a pregnant woman married to a right-wing politician is informed that their unborn child will be homosexual. Since homosexuality has been outlawed in "Red Estates," the mother-to-be is legally required to receive a gene-modifying injection that will make the baby straight. If she doesn't, she and her baby will be banished to the liberal states, where life is described in horrific terms.
She finds this an unexpectedly difficult dilemma, and wrestles with it for the short's 25 minutes. Both support and opposition are found coming from surprising sources. Directed by the talented Nisha Ganatra, Beholder is an intelligent, unsettling vision of how literally-divisive an issue we Americans threaten to allow homosexuality to become.
For additional information on the 2011 Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles and the films being shows, please visit the fest's official website.
Preview by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Blade California.