BY JYOTHSNA HEGDE
VIDEO PRODUCED BY NAMITA DOGRA
Photos: Magic Dust Photography
Atlanta, GA, October 31, 2023: The Atlanta Indian Film Festival (AIFF), hosted by the Georgia Indo-American Chamber of Commerce (GIACC), took place from October 6 to 8, 2023, and witnessed a flurry of activity. The festival featured iconic Indian film actor, director, writer, painter, and photographer, Deepti Naval, as well as Rizwan Manji, the popular actor known for his role in series such as “Schitt’s Creek”. Special guests at the festival included Amit Saxena, the producer of “Goldfish,” Ashwini Sidwani, an Indian writer and producer, and Zain Sharif, an Atlanta-based stand-up comedian who also served as the anchor for the opening reception. Dr. Swati Kulkarni, the Consul General of India in Atlanta, presided as the guest of honor.
Touted as the “Hollywood of the South,” Georgia has been actively working to attract Hollywood productions since 2008 when then-Governor Sonny Perdue signed a generous tax incentive for film productions. For film or TV projects costing at least $500,000, the state offers a 20 percent transferable tax credit. Additionally, projects can qualify for an additional 10 percent credit by adding a peach logo to the credits.
S.K. Raj, Chairman of GIACC, stated, “GIACC’s annual AIFF actively promotes Georgia’s ever-growing film production facilities to attract India-centric movie projects and filmmakers while bringing the diverse Atlanta community together.”
In its fifth year, following three successful editions in 2018, 2019, and 2022, and a virtual festival in 2021, AIFF 2023 featured three main events: the reception, workshops, and the screening of Indian movies over the course of three days.
In 2018 and 2019, GIACC partnered with NYIFF, and in 2020 and 2022, they collaborated with CSAFF. This year, AIFF was launched independently. Dr. Kulkarni remarked, “During my tenure here, I have witnessed GIACC’s commendable efforts to promote trade and investment ties between our two worlds. The successful organization of AIFF is one such wonderful initiative, and with every passing year, it has grown in stature and credibility.”
“Jananam 1947 Pranayam Thudarunnu,” directed by Abhijeet Asokan, won the “Best Feature” film award, as well as the “Best Director” and “Best Screenplay” awards at the festival.
Abhijeet Asokan, the 29-year-old director, writer, and producer, shared his excitement, saying, “This is the first screening of my movie at this festival. It is a wonderful opportunity for me to meet people from the industry.” Asokan also mentioned that he had previously won the Kerala State Award for Best Children’s Movie for his first film, “Kolumittayi,” at the age of 22.
“A Version,” directed by Asad Farooqui, received the award for the “Best Short” film. Director Riyan Shetty was awarded the “Best Director” trophy for his short film, “Vimukth,” while director Nitya Gopalakrishnan of “Two Worlds” shared her victory for “Best Screenplay” with Abijith Asokan.
Pamila Dembla, Festival Director, praised “Jananam 1947 Pranayam Thudarunnu” for its compelling narrative and unique storytelling, noting that it signifies the broadening horizons of regional Indian cinema on the global stage. She also commended the quality and diversity of themes in the movies submitted to AIFF ’23, leaving a lasting impression on both the audience and festival organizers.
In an effort to revamp the entire film festival, the organizers invited independent filmmakers from around the world to submit movies related to the Indian diaspora. “The final sixteen movies screened this year went through two rounds of review by nine independent jury members. This is also the first time that we have winners and cash awards for various movie categories. Additionally, we offered two skill-building workshops for budding artists,” Dembla stated.
Amit Saxena, the producer of “Goldfish,” shared his passion for the festival and the film industry, saying, “This is something I do out of passion. My main line of work is running a company in Atlanta. I have wanted this for the last 30 years.” Saxena expressed his enthusiasm for “Goldfish,” mentioning that he was drawn to the script from the very first reading, and he joined forces with Pushan Kripalani to bring the story to the screen.
The event began with a red-carpet reception to celebrate the world of Indian cinema and its potential growth in Georgia, featuring discussions with Deepti Naval and Rizwan.
Purnima Mathur, Founder, and director of Malhaar Music Academy, and Sohaj Preet Singh enthralled the audience with their melodious renditions of Bollywood songs.
In her address to the press, Deepti Naval discussed her latest movie, “Goldfish,” which explores uncharted territories of dementia and its impact on those who suffer from it and their loved ones. The film’s layered narrative places the viewer in the mind of an unloved daughter forced to live with a parent with dementia. Naval, who plays the mother suffering from dementia, mentioned her personal connection to the subject, having experienced it with her own mother. She also noted her background in abnormal psychology, which she studied in college at Hunter College in New York. Additionally, she talked about addressing the issue of depression in her collection of poems, “Black Wind.”
Naval reflected on the changing landscape for women and men, stating, “The situations would still be the same, but the decision-making for women and men has changed. But we can see that on the larger canvas, in big cities.”
During a conversation with Deepa Agarwal, Naval discussed her memoir, “A Country Called Childhood.” The memoir offers a vivid account of Naval’s upbringing in Amritsar during the tumultuous 1950s and 60s. It vividly describes her unconventional Punjabi family and immerses the reader in the distinctive sights, smells, and sounds of a rapidly changing India. The memoir also touches on significant national events, such as the Sino-Indian War of 1962 and the Indo-Pak War of 1965, showing how her early love for cinema and her childhood experiences shaped her career as one of the country’s most admired actors.
Movies at the Festival
- “Bi The Way,” directed by Prerna Saraff Chauhan, follows a young woman’s challenging task of coming out to her father, exploring themes of courage and understanding in the face of prejudice.
- “Vimukh,” directed by Riyal Shetty, depicts the story of a mischievous young boy who faces consequences for his behavior at school, leading to a valuable lesson about freedom.
- “A Version,” directed by Asad Farooqui, narrates the story of Amir and Amna, a young Muslim couple navigating their relationship with the help of an American therapist, offering a fresh perspective on forgiveness and communication.
- “Madhavi,” directed by Jacintha Charles, portrays the story of an Indian divorcee forced to confront her painful past during a lunch gathering with old friends, exploring themes of resilience and personal growth.
- “Blood Drive,” directed by Gurinder Jeet Singh, delves into the challenges faced by a newlywed gay couple when one spouse’s life is in jeopardy, leading to an emotional journey and a fight for their love.
- “Rising Lotus,” directed by Gurinder J. Singh, tells the story of an immigrant woman and her son’s escape from an abusive husband, shedding light on the hardships faced by refugees in a fear-gripped world.
- “M Pariah,” directed by Nishant Roy Bombarde, explores a complex relationship and the struggles of a man torn between his feelings and societal taboos.
- “Footprints on Water,” directed by Nathalia Syam, follows the journey of an illegal immigrant in Birmingham, UK, as he searches for his daughter, uncovering a different side of her life.
- “Two Worlds,” directed by Nithya Gopalakrishnan, presents a high-stakes race against time in modern Chennai, revealing the harsh realities of today’s world.
- “How Not to Deal with Grief,” directed by Ashwin Karthikeyan, brings together a group of Gen-Z individuals at a funeral afterparty as they grapple with the complexities of grief.
- “First Gen,” directed by Sean Mann, explores a story of inheriting a struggling limo business and the unexpected twists it takes.
- “M Pick up Director,” directed by Jaynil Patel, delves into the tensions that arise between a hitman and his talkative South Indian Uber driver during a seemingly routine ride.
- “Mysore Magic,” directed by Abhijeet Achar, recounts an unusual romance that unfolds during a disco competition in 1982 Mysore, India.
- “Merchant of Vinashna,” directed by Kunal Shrivastava, weaves a dark and mysterious tale during a wintry night when a tea seller encounters a stranger with stories to tell.
- “Thai-tight Lipped,” directed by Rishi Raj, explores a conspiracy theory involving Thai restaurants and their influence in America.
- “Jananam 1947 Pranayam Thudarunnu,” directed by Abijeet Asokan, tells the touching love story of Shivan and Gauri, two elderly individuals who find love at an old age home and share a desire to remember their long-lost partners.