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South Asian film fest 3rd i looks anew at a changing region

From director Indu Krishnan's tech-transformed Bangalore to musical life near Myanmar, the 16th annual event offers timely connections.

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For the 16th year, the 3rd i’s San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival: Bollywood and Beyond comes to San Francisco and San Jose (Thu/1-Sun/4 and November 17). Ivan Jaigirdar, co-founder of the festival with Anuj Vaidya, jokes that he might not have started it all if he knew how much work it was going to be. A filmmaker himself, Jaigirdar wanted to have a venue for South Asian films. Should he have just stuck with making his own movies? Maybe. But, he adds, now they have helped to start festivals for South Asian filmmakers in other cities, including Boston, New York and Seattle—so it was worth it. 

This year, about two-thirds of the filmmakers are women. It just sort of happened that way, Jaigirdar says. 

“A couple years ago, for the 100 anniversary of Indian cinema, we focused on women filmmakers, and this year we just had a bumper crop,” he said. “It was perfect timing given the insanity we’re living in with Kavanaugh and Trump and #metoo.”

One of the focuses this year is on healing, Jaigirdar says. Also, on dialogue. An example of that, he says, is the documentary, A Better Man, where the filmmaker got in touch with the man who abused her 20 years before and talks to him about it. After the movie, there will be a panel with participants from STAND! and from the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender Based Violence.

Jaigirdar mentions a few other movies, including Sir, which premiered at Cannes and is about a maid and her employer. 

“It’s quite a nuanced film by a woman filmmaker showing the tension in a relationship between employer and employee in a very balanced manner,” Jaigirdar said. “You see context of how they live in this hierarchy, and it’s trying to take away the box of caste and see them as human.”  

Jaigirdar says he’s not usually a fan of horror movies, but he likes a film that premiered at the Venice Film Festival, Tumbbad, which he describes as “light horror.”

“It’s really light and scenic, and in the subtext there’s a critique of politics and what’s happening,” he says. 

Another film Jaigirdar feels particularly excited about is the documentary Up, Down and Sideways, which he calls totally enchanting. It’s about people in the northeast of India, near Myanmar, who sing as they’re working their land, sort of a call and response.

Another thing they try to do Jaigirdar says, is to showcase local filmmakers. Like Indu Krishnan, whose documentary, Good Guy, Bad Guy, opens the festival. The film “chronicles five years in the tumultuous life of Zakhir, a gentle soul who lives on the streets of Bangalore (India’s Silicon Valley). He survives on the margins, recycling plastic and garbage, and drinks himself to sleep at night, to escape the violence that comes with homelessness.”

Krishnan grew up in Bangalore and now splits her time between that city and San Francisco. She says the subject of her movie, Zakhir, just walked in front of her camera as she was taking a constitutional in a park there. Bangalore reminds her of San Francisco, Krishnan says. 

“They’re very similar visually—they’re both hilly with all these colleges and they’re artsy. The parks are loved and treasured,” she said. “Now there’s this high tech culture with waves of people coming in and lots of people have been pushed out and traffic and asthma have really increased. It used to be called a ‘pensioners’ paradise,’ but no more. It’s a city I’m very connected to, and I go back pretty often, but with the rapidity of the changes, whole neighborhoods are completely unrecognizable.”

Krishnan wanted to make a movie about the changes the city was going through, and she thought it would be a good idea to follow a few people who came to the park every day, and Zakhir was one of them. He picked up plastic and garbage to recycle, and Krishnan found herself noticing how much time he spent feeding the monkeys—and thinking he should be doing something else with his time. 

“Why should I presume I know what he should do?” she asked. “When we look at someone poor or disenfranchised, often we immediately assume we know what’s best for them.”

Talking to Zakhir, Krishnan found his ideas fascinating. He wanted to make his own movie, she found out. She came back to San Francisco to get a camera, and when she went back to Bangalore, he had disappeared. She started looking for him. 

“That was sort of the metaphor for the movie,” she said. “The search for guys like him and for Bangalore. It used to be the garden city of India, and look at it now—it’s such a mess because of globalization and other forces that push and pull on it.”

The film feels a little dangerous, Krishnan says, in that she’s confronting people in a way with their part in how things have changed. 

“The city is completely unaffordable to folks who just a couple years ago had decent lives and homes and kids going to school,” she said. “And this young man is so obtuse in a way about the fragility of someone like him. It’s about masculinity in a way, and what does a guy do who doesn’t have any power in a patriarchy?”

3RD I’S SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL SOUTH ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL
November 1-4, San Francisco, November 17, Palo Alto
Tickets and more info here

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