Voices on Identity: San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival

Christina Antonakos-Wallace/Courtesy

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The SF International South Asian Film Festival runs Sept. 19-23 and 30. Here is a selection of films being shown.

 

Jagte Raho

When: Sept. 23, 12:15 pm, Where: Little Roxie Theater

“Jagte Raho” is a 1956 film directed by Amit Maitra and Sombhu Mitra. The film stars “The Showman,” also known as the great Raj Kapoor. “Jagte Raho” centers on a poor villager who relocates to the city in search of a better life. His actions quickly boil down to one task, the search for a drink of water. This elemental need takes on a life of its own, ultimately engulfing the simple man in a labyrinth of bourgeois greed and corruption. The film establishes a comic yet critical analysis of middle-class urban life in India. Known for often playing the poor wanderer, Kapoor takes the endearing archetype and heightens it to levels not often seen. By way of impeccable showmanship, comedic flares and expressionist touches, “Jagte Raho” teaches us about life in the same way a child is tricked into eating his vegetables through masterful manipulation and entertainment. Its high-caliber direction, musical score and acting has not only made “Jagte Raho” a beloved classic but also a milestone in Bengali-Hindi Cinema. “Jagte Raho,” simply put, is one for the ages.

 — Carlos Monterrey

Runaway

When: Sept. 21, 7:15 pm, Where: Roxie Theater

Bringing more than 20 films from nine different countries, this year’s festival hopes to continue its legacy of showcasing thought-provoking and innovative films in an environment that not only nourishes independence but is known for it. In the same edgy and envelope-pushing spirit of the festival comes “Runaway,” a neo-noir film set in modern-day Bangladesh. The story is set around Akbar, a man who has abandoned his family in hopes of climbing to the top ranks of government by any means necessary. His decision has caused hardship to his family in more ways than anyone one would care to count. Akbar’s cowardly actions come to haunt him when a mysterious rickshaw driver kidnaps him and forces him to face his past and the family he left behind in what ultimately becomes a race for survival and personal redemption. “Runaway” shows much of Bangladesh that often goes unseen: the slums, street nightlife, children huffing. Amid this realist film is a solid story that rivals the most invigorating of plots, with a climax that sets the stage for a true Hollywood finish.

 — Carlos Monterrey

Sikh I Am: Voices on Identity

When: Sept. 23, noon, Where: Roxie Theater

In the short documentary “Article of Faith,” which is just 10 minutes, filmmaker Christina Antonakos Wallace forces the viewer to see the world as a Sikh sees it. We walk with community organizer Sonny Singh, seeing signs that say, “We want our country back” and hearing angry men yell, “Piece of shit!” at him.  We hear him say that during his commute, he is often harassed up to four times.  We witness him educate young Sikh children on how to resist bullying in schools.  We watch him make tea with ginger, read a book and pet his cat.

“Article of Faith” is part of a series of short documentaries called “Sikh I Am: Voices on Identity” being screened at the festival.  All three shorts investigate a different aspect of the Sikh religion, which is largely unknown to most Americans.  In the aftermath of the mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., this series could not be more relevant. The documentary is not simply a depiction but an education — not about a life but a lifestyle.

— Kanwalroop Singh

3rd i International Shorts

When: Sept. 21, 9:40 pm, Where: Roxie Theater

Chock full of chilling images: a woman in a red sari piercing the silence with her screams, a wild-eyed man emerging from the dark to beckon to a child, the gruesome sacrifice of a chicken — “Another Planet” is a haunting short film about the mysteries of village life in India. The film is the story of a young girl in a village whose mother is dying, leading her to seek the help of a demonic “holy man.” It is a frightening, yet fascinating, foray into rural India.

Writer and director Smita Bhide pays vigorous attention to detail, not just visually but also audibly.  You can hear the ominous hum of background music, the sound of a young girl’s heavy breathing and dirt and rocks cracking underneath shy sandals. The film is part of a series of international shorts that is made up of four short films from around the world, each depicting a different aspect of South Asia and the diaspora.  It is a film about the consequences of making grave moral choices in the face of death.

 — Kanwalroop Singh

Decoding Deepak

When: Sept. 22, 9:45 pm, Where: Castro Theatre

Deepak Chopra, clad in his signature sparkly glasses and red sneakers, is the new-age prophet to Oprah, Demi Moore and Diane von Furstenberg. Described as an “urban yogi” by Russell Simmons, he is the upgraded version of the Maharishi.

But to filmmaker son Gotham, the guru that was there for the world wasn’t there as a father. Gotham isn’t stuck in some sort of Oedipal complex; he is conscious of his proximity to the border between subjectivity and objectivity. His portrait of his father is a humanizing look into a man who nourishes the world yet can’t give up his smart-phone for a week.

Gotham analyzes his father’s constant craving to always be relevant, following him to Bangkok, New York, Tokyo and New Delhi, needling his father’s teachings and the belief that he is always right. Although there is the sense of filial eye-rolling, Gotham reveals his father behind the television makeup. But even if Gotham thinks he has diverged from his father, his film shows an intelligence and concern for humanity that he has learned well from his father.

 — A.J. Kiyoizumi

Herman’s House

When: Sept. 23, 1:45 pm, Where: Roxie Theater

A pool with a black panther painted on the bottom, a bearskin bed-topper, a mirrored bedroom ceiling. This is the house of someone stuck in the 1970s. But Herman Wallace isn’t clinging to nostalgia — he doesn’t know anything but the 1970s because he has been in solitary confinement for more than 30 years.

Wallace remains there because of alleged involvement in the murder of a prison guard. Although even the guard’s wife doubts his guilt, appeals have been futile.

Artist Jackie Sumell learned of Herman and asked him, a man who lives in a nine-foot by six-foot cell, what his dream home would be. Her project, “Herman’s House,” then became a reality when he asked her to build his house to be a center for youth.

Herman’s self-awareness shows strength for any man, let alone one in solitary confinement. The complexities of Herman’s case swirl amid the issues of race, peace and justice, but his humanity is what makes the film meaningful in its profiles of both Jackie and Herman and their interdependent evolutions.

  — A.J. Kiyoizumi

Contact Kanwalroop at [email protected]

Contact A.J. at [email protected]

Contact Carlos at [email protected]