Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles

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Richie Mehta’s gorgeously realized Amal, a Canadian indie filmed in the teeming streets and elite suites of Delhi, makes perfect sense as the opening-night presentation at the sixth annual Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA). An impeccably crafted urban fable with the fine-grained surface textures of a documentary, Amal deploys some of India’s finest veteran actors (Seema Biswas, Roshan Seth, the great Naseeruddin Shah) and some excellent newcomers in a tall-story plot reminiscent of Jonathan Demme’s Melvin and Howard, seamlessly blending a commitment to authenticity with invigorating trace elements of melodrama. The lively mixture of elements suggests the continuing erosion of the traditional barriers between the disparate strains of Indian moviemaking, a development that IFFLA exuberantly embraces. At a festival with a sense of mission, we’re not going to be startled by the well-chosen documentaries and art films, or dramas of passionate social concern such as Shivaji Chandrahushan’s Frozen, a rapt chronicle of lower-middle-class hardship, and cinematographer-turned–Terrorist director Santosh Sivan’s English-language debut, Before the Rains, a wrenching interracial love tragedy set in the last days of the Raj. Those are festival movies par excellence. Much more impressive is the glow of unselfconscious affection with which IFFLA regards Bollywood, a movie industry that is also a genre. Impressive recent releases such as the period drama Koya Koya Chand, a backstage re-creation of the Golden Age of Bollywood, and actor Aamir Khan’s poised and confident directorial debut, Tara Zameen Par, are serious-minded enough to have won middlebrow respectability. But it says something about this festival’s populist soul that it programs as official “classics” such delirious wallows as Raj Kapoor’s candy-colored teen romance Bobby (1973) and Yash Chopra’s love-and-spandex dance melodrama Dil To Pagel Hai (1997). IFFLA further establishes the depth of its commitment to all forms of Indian cinema with a couple of strong Bolly-docs, notably Pancham Unlimited, which features dozens of Bollywood film-song professionals (composers, singers, lyricists) celebrating the work of one of the form’s undisputed masters, R.D. Burman. Best of all, perhaps, is the in-person tribute to one of the Mumbai industries’ all-time icons, hot dancing masala queen of the ’90s Madhuri Dixit. Here, for once, is a film festival that is truly festive. (ArcLight Hollywood; Tues.-Sun., April 22-27.

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