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Indian film festival a hit in Los Angeles

The fifth festival opens today with the LA premiere of Jag Mundhra's Provoked.

india Updated: Apr 17, 2007 14:21 IST

It could be the plot of a particularly unlikely Bollywood movie. A young Greek girl grows up on the Mediterranean island of Crete and falls in love with movies from faraway India.

Every weekend she sits glued to the screen to watch her idols like Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and others. She later moves to America, but never forgets her Indian connection.

She decides to start an Indian Film Festival in the world capital of cinema, Los Angeles. After a few years the festival becomes a major cultural event and a focus of collaboration between Hollywood and Bollywood. The End.

That, in a nutshell, is the story of Christina Marouda, who founded The Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA) in 2002, as a non-profit organisation devoted to promoting a greater appreciation of Indian culture.

The fifth festival opens Tuesday night with the LA premiere of Jag Mundhra's Provoked and closes with Rajnesh Domalpalli's Vanaja on Sunday.

Sponsors of the festival reflect the growing attention the event is gathering. Time Warner, Sony, Wal-Mart Stores, Wells Fargo, Deluxe Labs, Nickelodeon, The Hollywood Reporter, and Screen International are all supporting IFFLA.

The widely read LA Weekly is even sponsoring a Bollywood By Night film series that highlights some of the most popular Bollywood movies, including the 20-year anniversary screening of Shekhar Kapur's landmark "Mr India".

Another highlight is a tribute to Bollywood actress Deepti Naval, with three of her movies chosen for special screenings.

The festival's aim is to highlight films from India as well as films about India and films by Indian directors. IFFLA also shows films that reflect diverse perspectives of the Indian diaspora.

The 2007 line up will showcase 36 films (13 features, 8 documentaries and 15 shorts) and will include three world premieres, 11 US premieres and 16 LA premieres.

The festival is both a product and a cause of the tremendous growth in interest in Indian filmmaking in the US, said Marouda.

"In the last year, there has been a tremendous growth and awareness of Indian cinema in the US," she said. "It's tremendously exciting but very busy."

That's not just self-serving hype. The year 2006 was a record-breaking year for Hindi films at the US box office - seven of the 14 foreign language films that grossed over $2 million were Hindi movies.

Hindi films were even more popular than Spanish films, which only had two movies gross more than $2 million, despite the huge number of Hispanics in America.

The rise in popularity has coincided with the growth of the festival. It launched in 2002 just as Lagaan and Monsoon Wedding became breakout hits in mainstream US cinema.

But those landmark movies don't fit the Bollywood stereotype, nor does the rest of the IFFLA line-up. Take the opening movie, Provoked, for example.

It's no sugary melodrama, but a searing examination of a case that redefined the seriousness of spousal battery in British courts, when a Punjabi woman fights for her freedom after being imprisoned for the murder of her abusive husband.

The documentaries highlight current events with the world premiere of Are You Alright Afghanistan? from Indian filmmaker Soumitra Ranade, who having grown up in Afghanistan, returns to this country 26 years later with a camera.

Divided We Fall: Americans In The Aftermath sees filmmaker Sharat Raju follow a Sikh American who drives across America after 9/11.

Other movies include the international epic Valley Of Flowers, described as "a great Asian love story" that spans two centuries of passion death and reincarnation from the Himalayas to modern-day Tokyo.

Movies like Outsourced and Office Tigers examine the impact in both US and Indian society of India's growing importance as a world technology centre.

India is also gaining greater importance as a film production centre with many Hollywood companies looking to make movies there. Mira Nair, the Monsoon Wedding director, is about to start filming Shantaram.

With this increased cooperation, IFFLA serves as a vital networking event for industry professionals from India and the US and this year hopes to attract 6,000 participants, Marouda said.

That's not bad a bad achievement for a girl from Greece, who followed her passion for Indian movies.

"It's a great feeling," Marouda said. "A lot more work and a lot more stress. And a lot more people to deal with. But it's just fantastic."

First Published: Apr 17, 2007 14:11 IST