By Arshad Khan and Anya McKenzie
Have you heard of the film The Big Sick? Or before that East Is East or Bend It Like Beckham? Beckham was a small, independent film by Gurinder Chadha that launched her career from an unknown filmmaker to now one of the industry’s top directors, with her latest feature Blinded By The Light becoming the highest selling film at Sundance film festival 2019. Ever heard of Kal Pan? He started off as a stand-up comedian at Artwallah – a tiny South Asian festival in Los Angeles. The singer MIA also started off small and was seen cracking tunes with Diplo at the same Los Angeles festival.
Bollywood is not the only platform, anymore, for South Asian artists to get their talent seen. The reach of South Asian talent and their stories is most certainly moving beyond commercial cinema as reflected by films like Blinded By The Light from the British Indian Diaspora. Sold to Warner Brother Films, this film hits cinemas later this August and demonstrates an avid interest from the major Hollywood players in South Asian creative talent and in universal stories that speak to the wider global audience.
Delhi Crime created by Indo-Canadian writer/director Richie Mehta also debuted at Sundance garnering a Netflix Originals exclusive deal and featuring Indian cast in collaboration with international key creatives from UK and Canada. And Photograph produced by Amazon Studios starring Nawazuddin Siddiqui saw US based South Asian writer/director Ritesh Batra return to India after his runaway hit Lunchbox created such a sensation across North America.
South Asian talent from the Diaspora are partnering with new digital platforms and forming successful international co-productions that are tapping into the contemporary tastes of a new global audience of South Asians, second gens and world cinema lovers from all cultural backgrounds.
Local film festivals are becoming other major platforms for promoting and giving voice to global South Asian artists. They have become a unique platform to showcase films which could have been easily missed by commercial cinema. They create the much needed platform for meaningful discussions. And in addition, they become a place where global issues, ideas and cultures and religions are given a respectable space and understanding. Film festivals are truly a labour of love as they involve voluntary time and commitment from the community and dedicated film festival supporters as well. They provide a significant platform for South Asian talent to be celebrated and to be recognized not only by the public but also by their peers. This shared support helps to elevate creative work.
Full of heart, and committed to representing and promoting talent from the Diaspora, fil-festivals are also instrumental in creating a space for cultural exchange between communities and peoples.
The Mosaic festival brand and its offshoot, the Mosaic International South Asian film festival (MISAFF) is here to make facilitate and make it happen. It has been around for over 10 years making a difference in the South Asian art and culture scene and offering a platform for talent from across the globe to descend upon the suburb of Mississauga, Ontario for four days of outstanding cinema that speaks to audiences across the board as all films are either in English or subtitled in English. It has hosted world premieres of films that have gone to represent their respective countries at the Oscars (Zinda Bhaag from Pakistan 2012) and Jirga in 2019. It is festivals like MISAFF that are bringing these stories to the forefront and giving unique voices a chance.
A carefully curated film festival, it includes director talks, parties, mixer events and showcases Canadian filmmakers and talent. Canada has a massive South Asian community who are avid cinema goers. The industry is only now coming to realize the power and potential of this audience. As such we have filmmakers like Eisha Marjara (Desperately Seeking Helen) whose new film Venus is coming to MISAFF this year. It is a charming romantic comedy about a transgender South Asian woman and a sure-shot crowd pleaser. Our Star this year is Hamza Haq who will be the leading man in the upcoming CBS series Transplant next. In the past Supinder Wraich of the CBC series The 410 was also featured.
The fact that this festival is run by filmmakers, it ensures that the filmmaker interests are at the forefront of the festival. It has a great opening night comedy film from Italy called Bangla followed by a Q & A with the director Phaim Bhuiyan. Festival goers will get a chance to party with the stars at the opening night gala where Canadian artists Denique Leblanc and Most People will be performing.
Several mixer and networking events are organized where emerging talent get a chance to meet industry professionals. In the past Deepa Mehta, Richie Mehta, Rajkumar Rao, Hansal Mehta, Dilip Mehta (a lot of unrelated Mehta’s incidentally) have become part of it. It features many talented actors and directors and this year the closing film is Kaamyaab directed by the rising super star Hardik Mehta who is currently shooting a film with Rajkumar Rao. Hardik Mehta also wrote the sensational film Trapped that screened at MISAFF16.
MISAFF also remains committed to presenting compelling stories that stimulate, engage and transform audiences like Zana Shami’s Untying The Knot – a powerful documentary about intimate partner violence told through the voice of Canadian Bangladeshi lawyer Rumana Monzur – films like this truly represent courageous cinema. The world renowned Bollywood sensation and playback singer Arijit Singh will premiere his directorial debut SA at MISAFF as well this year. This is a beautiful Bengali family story that will win hearts across the Greater Toronto Area.
The media is the builder of our reality and it is time that the South Asian voices get the same respect and space that mainstream voices are able to access.
Arshad Khan and Anya McKenzie are directors the Mosaic International South Asian Film Festival (MISAFF)