Not Your Usual Song and Dance
Indie Meme Film Showcase explores independent Indian cinema
There is no single definition of what an independent film is. Are they films that are independent in thought, financing, distribution, and subject matter? Or simply films made outside the studio system? Here in the U.S., independent filmmaking has developed a certain cachet over the last few decades, often touting low budgets, lack of star power, and greater realism as its distinctions. Yet even that has begun to change in recent years as these films have attracted more awards, well-known actors, and public acclaim.
India, the country with the largest film industry in the world, produces films in the vast variety of languages spoken in South Asia. Despite their prolificness, India's studio films are uniquely identifiable. Usually a musical, with lots of singing and dancing, such films generally combine romantic plots with aspects of comedy and action, offering escapism and longer running times than are standard in most run-of-the-mill Hollywood films. These films are seen around the world and grow more and more accessible as the Indian diaspora continues to grow.
Since the mid-20th century, however, India has also produced independent films apart from the mainstream cinema. These are most popularly recognized by their realistic or sometimes fantastical content, often featuring sociopolitical undertones. These films have been resurgent in recent years. The Austin-based group Indie Meme is doing its best to make sure these independent Indian films are seen here in Texas, as well as the rest of the country.
Indie Meme has presented several independent Indian films in local, one-off screenings over the last couple of years. Now, over the weekend of Feb. 7-8, the group will host the Indie Meme Film Showcase 2015 at St. Edward's University, with a series of features and shorts, most of which will be followed by Skype interviews with the filmmakers. The series also kicks off the group's membership drive, which offers discounted admission to the program, as well as other amenities.
Most of the films in the showcase reveal facets of modern India. Bidesia in Bambai is set among rural migrants living on the outskirts of Mumbai, and focuses on two singers trying to break into the music industry. The award-winning Ship of Theseus looks at life as experienced by a blind photographer, a monk struggling with an ethical quandary, and a stockbroker learning how slippery morality can be. With You, Without You is a love story set in post-war Sri Lanka. I Am is a portmanteau film that tells four stories about life-changing events in the characters' lives within modern, secular India. The shorts range from documentaries about Mumbai's rat killers ("The Rat Race") and the adoption of organic farming in a small Indian village ("Timbaktu") to more expressionistic, fictional pieces, including a maid's story ("Hamare Ghar"), a 13-year-old girl's scandalous love of American dance music ("Aashpordha"), an observation about the way technology governs our lives ("Life"), and a tribute to the survivors of acid violence ("New Borns").
Contemporary, independent filmmaking is part of the firmament of Austin. Indie Meme now offers us a chance to become fluent in the independent films from the essential filmmaking capitals of South Asia.
Indie Meme Film Showcase 2015 takes place in Jones Auditorium at St. Edward's University, Feb. 7-8. All films are shown with subtitles and are open to the public; Indie Meme members receive a discount. See www.indiememe.com for complete film lineup, descriptions, and ticket info.