Move over, Slumdog Millionaire! India is one of the world’s fastest-growing nations, with a film industry to match. Over a thousand features are produced each year, from Bollywood blockbusters to intimate Malayalam, Bengali, and Tamil “art films.” In a country more than a billion strong the one thing that everyone seems to share is a passion for cinema.
Following on the success of MoMA’s 2007 India Now exhibition, The New India presents 16 contemporary Indian feature and short-length films, including eight New York theatrical premieres. The selection captures the astonishing range of fiction and documentary styles and genres in Indian cinema today. Among the celebrated actors and directors who will present their films are Naseeruddin Shah, Nandita Das, Abhay Deol, and the Academy Award–winning documentarian Megan Mylan. The New India opens with the New York premiere of Megan Doneman’s Yes Madam, Sir, a riveting portrait, narrated by Helen Mirren, of one of India’s most inspiring and controversial public figures, Kiran Bedi. Both Doneman and Bedi will introduce the opening-night screening.
Other highlights include three recent commercial and critical Bollywood hits: Ashutosh Gowariker’s Jodhaa Akbar, an epic historical romance by the director of Lagaan; Zoya Akhtar’s Luck by Chance, a witty send-up of the Bollywood dream factory; and Dibakar Banerjee’s Oye Lucky! Lucky Oye!, a sharp satire of New Delhi culture introduced by its star, Abhay Deol, on June 8. Further celebrating genre moviemaking with their New York premieres are Shashank Ghosh’s outrageous “curry Western” Quick Gun Murugan, from the wildly popular Tamil cinema of southern India, and Faiza Ahmad Khan’s infectiously charming documentary Supermen of Malegaon. Bengali cinema is represented by one of its most internationally respected filmmakers, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, with The Voyeurs. And exemplifying the so-called unconventional, or “parallel,” cinema is Neeraj Pandey’s sleeper hit A Wednesday, a disturbing cat-and-mouse thriller introduced by its legendary star, Naseeruddin Shah, on June 10.
The New India also explores some of the devastating problems afflicting India today, from child exploitation and AIDS to sectarian riots and tribal uprooting. Politically charged fiction films include Chapour Haghighat’s The Firm Land (introduced by the director on June 6); Nandita Das’s Firaaq (introduced by the celebrated actor-filmmaker and activist on June 6); and Father Joseph Pulinthanath’s Roots. The exhibition features a notably strong selection of recent nonfiction films, many of them centering on stories of children that are by turns inspiring and disturbing: Megan Mylan’s Academy Award–winning short subject Smile Pinki (introduced by the director on June 7), Rajesh S. Jala’s Children of the Pyre, and Sourav Sarangi’s Bilal.
Organized by Joshua Siegel, Associate Curator, Department of Film, and Uma da Cunha, guest curator.