Seventh annual DC South Asian Film Festival featuring the finest in independent cinema opens at Montgomery College

The festival is being held alongside a Women in Film & Television awards gala headlined by Aishwarya Rai Bachchan

By Geeta Goindi

Rockville, Maryland, September 8, 2018 – The eagerly awaited DC South Asian Film Festival (DCSAFF), an annual event showcasing the finest in independent cinema from the Indian subcontinent, continues to draw an erudite audience. This year, it is being held alongside a Women in Film & Television (WIFT) awards gala headlined by actress and global icon Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. The DCSAFF has partnered with WIFT India to co-host the mega event on Saturday at which Bachchan will be conferred with the inaugural Meryl Streep Award of Excellence.

Aishwarya Rai Bachchan conferred with inaugural Meryl Streep Award of Excellence

Friday night, DCSAFF bestowed its own award – ‘The Lifetime Achievement Award’ to producer Boney Kapoor for numerous films to his credit including ‘Mr. India’, ‘Hum Paanch’, ‘Woh Saat Din’, ‘Prem’, ‘Pukar’, ‘No Entry’, ‘Judaai’, ‘Wanted’, and ‘Company’. Speaking about the importance of the festival, Kapoor said, “This is something that had to happen and it has happened”, noting with admiration how it has evolved from initial baby steps to the seventh edition.

“I hope this kind of endeavor continues in other cities, too, and there are more such festivals so that people at large, not just from South Asia, know that there is such a film industry matching their own”, he said.

At the helm of the film festival are organizers Manoj and Geeta Singh who have collaborated with Montgomery College for the third consecutive year to bring the works of independent film-makers to viewers throughout the Washington metropolitan region, and beyond. These indie films are gems of meaningful cinema which may never see a theatrical release. The Singhs have made it their mission to provide a platform for these dedicated film-makers to showcase their labor of love borne out of hard work!

“From initiation, our goal for the film festival has been to provide a platform to screen meaningful films by independent film-makers from South Asian countries — a platform which is also a cultural and diversity ambassador for students and the international audience of DC”, Manoj Singh told us. He calls it a “social service” underscoring that DCSAFF is a non-profit organization.

On its part, Montgomery College has announced that beginning this year, it will give scholarship awards to film school project winners.

In a letter to the organizers of the festival, Democratic Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland commended “the industry professionals, volunteers, and the dedicated people at the DCSAFF, Montgomery College and WIFT” for providing viewers “an enjoyable and educational weekend immersed in the diverse selection of South Asian films”.

“The DCSAFF is a wonderful cultural organization providing a platform for film-makers and film enthusiasts alike”, he wrote. “For the nearly 600,000 South Asians living in the Mid-Atlantic, this organization does the important work of promoting films of their heritage”.

The senior senator noted, “The DCSAFF’s careful curation of features, documentaries, and short films offers a window to understand South Asian experiences through film. Representation in film has far-reaching implications. Telling stories from all over the world helps build empathy and mutual understanding”.

Among the films screened at this year’s festival are: ‘5 Rupiya’, an emotive journey between a grandmother (Shabana Azmi) and her grandson (Yohan Panjuani), directed by Piyush Chandrakant Panjuani; ‘5 Weddings’ starring Nargis Fakhri and Rajkumar Rao, directed by Namrata Singh Gujral; ‘Half Widow’, set amid the backdrop of the Kashmir conflict; ‘What Will People Say’, revolving around a Pakistani family in Norway; ‘Black Kite’, in the Dari language, set amid the turmoil in Afghanistan; ‘The Unknown Mountaineers’, a documentary from Pakistan; ‘Needi Naadi Oke Katha’, the first Telugu film to be screened at the festival; ‘Silhouettes’, a love story of opposites that unfolds over a series of conversations; ‘Bee the Future’, a short film which showcases a spelling bee for needy children in Bangalore, directed and produced by Maryland-based broadcast journalist Monika Samtani; and ‘Lashtam Pashtam’ (one way or another) which seeks to foster friendship between India and Pakistan.

In all, there are 34 films together with informative workshops, panel discussions and abundant networking opportunities which form the core of the event.

On opening night, Kapoor and Samtani joined other guests on the Red Carpet including: Panjuani; actor Suraj Sharma (‘Life of Pi’, ‘Million Dollar Arm’); actor Vibhav Roy and director Manav Bhalla (‘Lashtam Pashtam’); musician Arnie B and music producer Inder Singh Randhawa (‘5 Weddings’).

At the WIFT gala, Bachchan will be honored together with director Zoya Akhtar
(‘Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara’, ‘Dil Dhadakne Do’), actress Janhvi Kapoor for her debut performance in ‘Dhadak’ released earlier this year, and producer Catherine Hand (‘A Wrinkle in Time’). The event will be held September 8 at the Hyatt Regency in Bethesda, Maryland.

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