This year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) once again proved it is a remarkable platform for artists and filmmakers from across the globe, including South Asian talent.
TIFF, which took place from Sept 5 to Sept 15, featured a myriad of movies, from the premiere of “The Wedding Guest,” starring Dev Patel and Radhika Apte, to Bollywood’s angsty rom-com “Manmarziyan,” starring Abhishek Bachchan, Tapsee Pannu, and Vicky Kaushal. There was a wide variety of films featured, and some even took home awards.
Michael Winterbottom’s international film “The Wedding Guest” had its world premiere at TIFF this year. The film is about a mysterious British man, played by Patel, who travels to Pakistan with a mysterious agenda and to attend Apte’s character’s wedding in this thriller. Winterbottom cleverly omits vital information to build up the curiosity of the viewer and the characters. Apparently, it pays off. Patel and Apte were praised for their work in the thriller.
Patel had a double feature at TIFF with the world premiere of Anthony Maras’s “Hotel Mumbai. The film is based on the tragic 2008 shootouts and bombings by terrorists at various locations in Mumbai, including the Taj Mahal Hotel. Using information from interviews from actual survivors and witnesses like hotel staff, guests, and law enforcement, Maras re-created the events of that day to tell a powerful, emotional story.
The film stars Anupam Kher, Nazanin Boniadi, and Armie Hammer.
Patel plays a hotel waiter who, in this time of need, rises to the occasion to help the stranded guests. Hammer plays a family man who struggles with how to protect his loved ones while Kher plays the hotel chef who opts to help the hotel guests instead of escaping when he has the chance.
Anurag Kashyap’s “Manmarziyaan” premiered at TIFF before releasing in theaters on Sept 14. The Bollywood film marks Bachchan‘s return to the screen after 2 years. The film is your standard love triangle between Rumi, Robbie, and Vicky. However, Kashyap’s masterful direction, Pannu’s acting, and excellent music all help elevate the trope into a visual wonder.
Another Bollywood film that premiered at TIFF was Nandita Das’s “Manto.” Based on the life of an Urdu-language writer, Saadat Hasan Manto, the biopic portrays his life during the tumultuous separation of India and Pakistan, an era Manto has chronicled in his work. Award-winning actor Nawazudding Siddiqui portrays the titular role.
Assamese filmmaker Rima Das’s “Bulbul Can Sing” was featured at TIFF in the Contemporary World Cinema category. Her film is a coming-of-age story about a young girl trying to find her identity through love and loss in rural India. Beautifully shot in the Indian state of Assam, the story of Bulbul captures the struggles of a young girl as she transitions into womanhood and how her ideas clash with age-old rules of the village. Her best friends, Bonny and Sumu, also struggle to conform to the beliefs of society.
“The Sweet Requiem” by Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam was also a part of the Contemporary World Cinema category. It focuses on a young Tibetan woman, Dolkar, who lives in exile in Delhi. Dolkar stuggles to handle traumatic flashbacks of her Himalayan trek when she was 8-years-old while balancing her present day life. A story of tragedy, retribution, and courage, “The Sweet Requiem” shines a light on the little-known struggles of Tibetan refugees. Being the children of Tibetan refugees themselves, the filmmakers used their own experiences and knowledge to bring this story to life.
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TIFF’s Midnight Madness features midnight screenings of action, horror, shock and fantasy cinema. Vasan Balan’s “Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota” (Men feel no pain) was not only the first Indian film to ever be featured, but it took home the Grolsch People’s Choice Midnight Madness Award.
The film is a brilliant combination of different genres like horror, romance, and comedy. “Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota” is about a young man born without the ability to feel pain as he treks out to defeat 100 foes in a Kumite tournament. The witty film is filled with pop-culture references and an ode to action heroes like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Bala creates a masala filled storyline with an underlying message of empowerment. The film is also the debut of actor Abhimanyu Dassani, the son of popular Bollywood actress Bhagyashree.
Short films featured at TIFF included Jayisha Patel’s “Circle” and Sandhya Suri’s “The Field.” Jayisha Patel’s 14-minute Hindi short film portrays life through the eyes of 13-year-old Khushoo. Patel’s documentary depicts the relationship between Khushoo, her mother and grandmother as it explores the horrid cycle of abuse the young girl is trapped in.
Sandhya Suri’s “The Field” is about Lalla, a laborer in a small village, but Suri shows us that Lalla is so much more than that. In 19-minutes, the British-Indian filmmaker takes you on a journey in her short film of how Lalla bravely pursues a different life than the one she has been given.
Indo-Canadian filmmaker Akash Sherman was featured in the Discovery category at TIFF, which highlights directors to look out for. His film “Clara” is a science-fiction drama about Isaac Bruno, an astronomer obsessed with his research and his unlikely partner, Clara, an artist who shares his passion for space and detecting patterns. Isaac and Clara’s partnership begins to struggle as narrow-minded Isaac fails to see all that Clara’s perspective has to offer. Real-life couple Patrick J. Adams and Troian Bellisario play the leads.
Anand Patwardhan’s documentary “Reason” was also screened. The filmmaker takes a thorough look at how Indian society is slipping away from a secular democracy. In recent times, the nation has become more divisive, separating citizens by power, caste, religious beliefs and more. Patwardhan is known for chronicling injustices in India and “Reason” may be his most urgent film yet.