Tongues on Fire Celebrates 10 years

Tongues on Fire Film Festival was set up by founding Artistic Directors, Pushpinder Chowdhry and Harvinder Nath who have informed the festival direction and propelling in to an international stage with a view to be ‘Beyond Bollywood’. The festival has been at the forefront of supporting British Asian talent such as Gurinder ChadhaShakila Taranum MaanMeera Syal,  to name a few.

It is ironic that in their 10th year, the Festival has suffered a major financial set back and has lost its main backer. Despite this, both Pushpinder and Harvinder have endeavoured to move forward with an exciting programme which includes British and international films.

Pushpinder and Harvinder state in their Directors notes that “This year marks our 10th anniversary film festival and TOF is extremely thrilled to begin once again with an Opening Gala Weekend at BAFTA. We are proud to present the London premiere of Hope and A Little Sugar and welcome the talented director Tanuja Chandra and actress Mahima Chaudhry to our festival. Our Opening Gala Weekend continues with The World Unseen, a film made by an all-women crew, and we are privileged to present a Q&A with the director Shamim Sarif and producer Hanan Kattan.

This year we are delighted be honouring Meera Syal for her contributions to film, television and theatre. It will be the first of our yearly profiles of Asian filmmakers who have pushed the boundaries in film and media.

This exciting month-long season showcases work by women or stories where women are the central protagonists in order to encourage debate reflecting real-life issues. The festival presents the British premiers of Mira Nair’s Mirabhai Production of AIDS Jagoo and Bhavna Talwar’s Dharm, and an opportunity to screen the Vanaja and Rituparno Ghosh’s Dosar”.

Click here to read further on the Tongues on Fire Film Festival 2008.



Khoya Khoya Chand – The Lost Moon: The Cinema of Sudhir Mishra

Just when you were despairing that all the great directors were no longer exploring film language in Hindi cinema, along comes a classic! Khoya Khoya Chand  released in December 2007 with a highly accomplished cast of actors from Soha Ali Khan, Shiney Ahuja, Rajat Kapoor, Sushmita Mukherjee and Soniya Jehan,  the grand-daughter of the legendry Noor Jehan, shouts from the roof tops that all is not lost in Hindi cinema today. The film is produced by the legendry Prakash Jha. 

Sudhir Mishra has created a masterpiece of cinema in the true creative and artistic tradition of film making. And it does what it set out to do; to bring to the audience great actors and directors of the 50’s and 60’s film world in Hindi Cinema.

Shooting in the style of light and shade, akin to Guru Dutt’s cinema, Sudhir Mishra has created his own film language. Here he uses the camera effectively as an observer. Mishra lays out the narrative of Khoya Khoya Chand through an exploration of a classic love story between an actress, Nikhat played by Soha Ali Khan and a writer-director, Zafar, played by Shiney Ahuja. Many have written about the fact that perhaps it was the telling of the story of Guru Dutt and Waheeda Rehman’s  story love affair. Nikhat and Zafar’s coming to the industry are a form of escape and refuge; here Mishra employs great technique and vision of the black and white era where shadows are used colourfully to explore depth and emotions, life experiences and intellect of a character as was the norm within the works of Guru Dutt, Bimal RoyMehboob  to name a few.  Mishra uses these when focusing on the characters of Zafar, Nikhat and Prem Kumar, played by Rajat Kapoor.

Each character carries a multitude of shades and as the film progresses, the journeys and transitions forced upon them by the outside world bring to the foreground their darkness. Ultimately the film is about love, loyalty and passion, even within the perceived fickle world of film.


Pakistan Women’s Cricket & Hockey

I came across this excellent article by Issam Ahmed in the Guardian Unlimited on Pakistan’s Women Cricketers and was mesmerised.

“In last summer’s Bollywood blockbuster, Chak De! India (loosely translated as ‘Come on ! India’), screen icon Shahrukh Khan is charged with coaching a group of talented women hockey players, who, blighted by politics and written off by the media, have never achieved much. In a heart-warming tale based on the actual team’s historic gold medal at the 2002 Commonwealth Games, Khan eventually succeeds in uniting his players into an all-conquering outfit, who ultimately sweep aside the mighty Aussies to win the World Cup.

Across the border in Pakistan, where, despite long-time political enmity, Bollywood flicks have long held the No1 spot in the cultural stakes, no such fairytale ending beckons for Pakistan’s current women’s hockey team, nor indeed for women playing the country’s most popular sport: cricket”. For full article click here

Shahrukh Khan And The Case of Being Fair

Shahrukh Khan’s recent decision to back a skin lightening cream may lead to the stars fall from grace. It’s extraordinary that being dark himself, he should endorse a product that perpetuates racial stereotypes.In a write-up for BBC, Naresh Puri’s recent article puts the disappointment of Shahrukh’s decision into perspective.

“One of Bollywood’s biggest film stars is being criticised by Asian campaigners for promoting a skin-lightening cream – a product that is now on the shelves of British shops.

The 40-second advertisement from India starts like so many others promoting razors or hair dye – but it’s an ad with a very big difference.

There’s a man who has no luck with the girls. He has markedly darker skin than his friends and the girl he is after. In a real song-and-dance Bollywood extravaganza, one of the biggest heart throbs of Indian cinema, Shahrukh Khan, hands over a cream to the hapless chap, along with some mild admonishment.

Within a few weeks, the young man has turned much lighter-skinned and confident. As he strides down the road like a modern-day answer to John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, the girls start flocking to him and chanting: “Hi handsome, hi handsome.” Khan comes back into view with the product, Fair and Handsome.

The skin-lightening cream for men, along with its more feminine counterparts, has found its way into Asian supermarkets and stores in the UK.

While Khan’s advert has not been shown yet in the UK, it too has made its way to British consumers via YouTube. And the product’s success or failure in the British market place may say something about the nature of beauty and the politics of race.

To read the full article.

Bollywood at the UK Box Office

Since the explosion of multiplexes and their visionary approach to Bollywood cinema, the box office returns are reflecting audience numbers of the late ‘70’s, well almost!

In a recent article in Sight & Sound, the indications are that there is a growing success of Bollywood films at the UK box office. The article also notes that although Bollywood cinema has reached great heights, the cinema itself have failed to cross over.

Below is an extract from the article by Charles Grant which you can read in full in the October 2007 edition of Sight & Sound.

“Typically debuting on around 40 screens and posting opening weekend figures in the region of “240,000, Indian movies routinely pop up in the UK box-office to ten with screen averages that are the envy of non-Bollywood distributors. Already this year, ‘Salaam-E-Ishq’, ‘Partner’, ‘Namastey London’, ‘Ta Ra Rum Pum’ and ‘Jhoom Barabar Jhoom’ have all achieved final grosses in the £700,000 to £90,000 range. This puts them below 2007’s biggest foreign-language hits ‘The Lives of Others’, ‘La Vie en rose’, ‘Curse of the Golden Flower’ and ‘Tell No One’, but above recent titles such as ‘The Science of Sleep’.

David Hancock from Screen Digest report highlights the top-grossing Indian cinema at the UK box office with titles such as Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham in 2001 at £2,498.281 to Dil to Pagal Hai in 1997 coming in at £990,000.

For God’s Sake

Khuda Ke Liye (For God’s Sake) directed by Shoaib Mansoor, the film has caused enormous controversy in Pakistan with right wing elements and the clergy. The film is set in Pakistan, India and the United States and tells the story of a young Pakistani going to the United States for further studies leading up to 9/11.

In All Things Pakistani, Yasser Latif Hamdani’s review of Khuda Ke Liye sheds light on the status of this iconic contemporary film:

“Since President Gen. Pervez Musharraf came to power, music alongside the media and creative arts in general have flourished; this film carries forward this commercial and cultural trend. The film was released on July 20th, 2007.

It is important to note that this is one of very few, if not only, independent motion pictures to be released to a cinema-going Pakistani market. The general trend in local cinema revolves around formulaic song and dance numbers, reminiscent of Bollywood musicals. Independent film, or films that break this formula, are rare if not entirely absent.

The film was produced in conjunction with the film division of the Karachi based network, Geo TV.

Audiences and art critics across Pakistan have met the film with praise and acclaim by film and art critics, but the film has been reviled by the conservative religious clergy.

We had a preview of the movie Khuda Ke Liye at ATP where we had posed a question whether Shoaib Mansoor will be able to revive Pakistan cinema? A probable answer comes from myself who recently got chance to see this movie. The record breaking Pakistani film Khuda Ke Liye has become my favourite film overnight- Hollywood inclusive. Or more accurately I should say, that there hasn’t been a film in the past that has moved and affected me in this way.

Given the standing ovation the film is getting in theatres all over Pakistan from rich and poor alike, one can safely say that I am not the only one. For one thing it is a uniquely Pakistani story, which could have only come out of Pakistan. To sum it up, it is about us – the people of Pakistan warts and all- take it or leave it.

The genius of Shoaib Mansoor was never in doubt for those who have seen his videos or for that matter the famous Alpha Bravo Charlie – the TV Drama on Pakistan Army. What I was unprepared for was the depth in his thought and the way he has managed to capture the Pakistani dilemma on screen. Ours is a complex and rich predicament which needs to be captured in all its nuances and appreciated in all its paradoxical colours. KKL did just that.

I went to the theatre expecting to see the same old liberal v. fundo arguments. There were those, but unlike how these arguments play out in “The Friday Times” and the “Nawai Waqt“, this remarkable film is fully conscious of its Pakistani identity and the strong Islamic component that forms part thereof.

At the risk of spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it, this is the story of two brothers, Mansoor (played by Shaan) and Sarmad (played by theatre actor/musician Fawad of EP fame) both musicians, brought in a well to do Pakistani family. Mansoor and Sarmad are torn apart by the latter’s increased involvement with a certain Maulana Taheri (based most probably on Maulana Sami ul Haq of JUI-S component of the MMA), who turns the soft spoken Sarmad into full fledge Jehadi.

Things are complicated when the brothers’ cousin Mary arrives from London to spend a few days with them, only to discover that she has been tricked by her father into coming to Pakistan to avoid her marrying her Non-Muslim boyfriend Dave. Meanwhile Mansoor leaves for Chicago to enrol at the “School of Music” there. In an epic that switches from London to Lahore to Waziristan to Nangahar Afghanistan to Chicago, these ordinary Pakistanis are increasingly faced with both internal and external conflict. And then there is September 11”.

For the full article.

A Throw of Dice

Oops, missed Franz Osten’s A Throw of Dice at Trafalgar Square with a new score by Nitin Sawhney, which is NOT a Bollywood film but a Hindi film and formed a part of establishing Hindi cinema.

A Throw Of Dice (Prapancha Pash) is 77 minutes and was a India/Germany/UK production directed by Franz Osten in 1929. A silent film, the print has been newly restored.

The German-born director Franz Osten was a great influence on film makers in India and made 19 films in India between 1926 and 1939.

A Throw Of Dice formed the final part of a trilogy of Indo-German productions. Franz Osten fell from grace when in 1939 he became a member of the Nazi Party, resulting in his work being destroyed or simply lost.

The screening at Trafalger Sqaure has become a part of tradition where old classics, all silent films, have been fully restored, digitised and backed up by a new soundtracks, such as Battleship Potemkin with a new score from the Petshop Boys and A Throw of Dice seems to have been added to that list – an odd choice given its director’s history and the celebrations of 60 years of India’s independence and it’s subsequent partition. Perhaps a better choice would have Dadasaheb Palke’s masterpeice Raja Hairshchandra, the first full length feature produced in India.


Aag – Raj Kapoor

Re-visiting Aag, Raj Kapoor‘s first film, you realise the talent that manifested in the great film director.

Made in 1948 and shot in black and white, Aag is Raj Kapoor directorial debut. Starring Nargis, Premanth, Nigar Sultana and Kamini Kaushal, the film was a huge success at the box office.

As was the case with Hindi cinema of the era, the story lines were dense and complex with exquisite lyrics and music.

Raj Kapoor plays Kewal who is obsessed with setting up a theatre company despite protests from his father. His childhood sweetheart leaves for another town and this propels him to defy his father and set up the company.

Destitute after the partition, a young beauty joins the theatre company, played by Nargis and soon Kewal falls in love with her. The patron of his theatre company played by the dashing Premnath also falls in love with Nargis.

Broken hearted Kewal sets fire to the theatre which causes his face to be disfigured.

Strikingly lit with dramatic songs, Aag remains an all time great.

Mehdi Hasan

When Lata Mangeshkar described Mehdi Hasan as perhaps one of the greatest singers, she was making a much needed recognition of an extraordinary talent. She further commented that she had much to learn from him, particularly his ability to take you to the place of the lyrics imparting from his lips.

Mehdi Hasan was born in India into a family which hailed from a great tradition north Indian classical music. Forced to move to Pakistan after the partition of India, Mehdi Hasan perhaps lost out on the global recognition for his extraordinary talent had he stayed in India.

Despite the limited audiences initially, he soon made the ghazal popular and inspired many to sing in a semi classical style and he had a major impact in the Urdu/Hindi speaking world with making ghazals popular in film per se.

Singing the works of Ahmed Faraz and Faiz Ahmed Faiz in Pakistani films, Mehdi Hasan reached international fame.

Perhaps it was the fate of artists of that era who were given begrudging recognition in Pakistan. Unable to embrace its artists due to Pakistan’s Islamic heritage, shunning many and letting traditions such as Mehdi Hasan’s slip away will no doubt leave a deep crevasse in creative expression.


Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam – Cinema of Guru Dutt

Starring Meena Kumari, Guru Dutt, Waheeda Rehman, Sapru, Nair Hussain, Krishan Dhawan and Dhumal Mukund, Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam is set in Bengal at the turn of the 19th century and tells the story of an aristocratic family on their way to ruin.

Meena Kumari plays Chhoti Bahu who is married to the youngest aristocrat in the family Chhote Babu, played by Rehman. Bhootnath, played by Guru Dutt enters this world of mystery, intrigue and crushing traditions. He lives with his uncle who teaches the children in the grand mansion. Bhootnath soon finds employment in a local factory that produces the bridal red powder to adorn the foreheads of women. There he meets Jabba, played by Waheeda Rehman, a confident daughter of factory owner played by Nazir Hussain. It is his employment in this factory that brings Bhootnath and Chhoti Bahu into close contact. Meeting with men outside of the family was forbidden and unheard of. 

Exquisitely lit, the film is photographed with his long time collaborator, V.K. Murthy and was made in 1962. Although the credit of director is given to Abrar Alvi, the visual language is that of Guru Dutt’s and many still argue to this day that in fact it was Guru Dutt who directed the film but gave credit to his friend.

Guru Dutt shows Meena Kumari’s character, Chhoti Bahu, spiral into an alcoholic when she tries to seduce her husband to stay with her which by default turns into love when Rehman, Chhote Babu, is left paralysed after a brutal attack over a quarrel about a prostitute.

Complex and layered, Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam is told in flashback; when Bhootnath returns to the ruins of the grand mansion – he finds the remains of Chhoti Bahu, buried with all her jewellery. Guru Dutt shows us the stifling world of the aristocrats, their hedonisms, entertaining of prostitutes and gambling steeped in tradition, culture and machismo. He wanted to go beyond conventions and create daring work. He was forced to edit out a scene where a drunken Meena Kumari puts her head in the lap of Guru Dutt. Despite working in stifling conditions, he created a master peice.