Bay Area South Asian Film Festival Showcases Talent on Both Sides of the Pacific

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Irrfan Khan stars in the 2018 feature film, "The Song of Scorpions," showing in Mountain View as part of the Bay Area South Asian Film Festival. (Photo: Courtesy of Feather Light Films and KNM)

Perhaps you’re one of the legions ready to binge-watch season two of the crime thriller Sacred Games on Netflix. Season one has proved so popular, the ever expanding streaming video giant is game to bet millions producing another series following the exploits of policeman Sartaj Singh (played by Saif Ali Khan).

The show is based on the 2006 novel by Vikram Chandra, a modern-day Raymond Chandler whose main character in this epic is the city of Mumbai, or at least its seamy underbelly, teaming with chatty, charismatic killers and brooding cops.

Perhaps less known is the fact Chandra is a professor at UC Berkeley. He splits his time between Mumbai and Oakland, and he'll be speaking at panel discussion on technology in entertainment this weekend as part of The Bay Area South Asian Film Festival.

This is the festival's debut, which demonstrates a conversation happening across the Pacific between South Asia and the South Asian diaspora here in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Aniruddha Dasgupta is festival director, when he’s not working his day job as director of product engineering at Visa. His work putting the festival together, he says, is "my way of actively engaging myself — and also a few other people" seeking entertainment, but also inspiration.


Dasgupta says, "We wanted to select films which talk about diversity, innovation and also how we can encourage the next gen[eration of] storytellers."

To that end, this festival is a showcase for politically relevant topics like racially motivated violence and LGBTQ rights. The one documentary on the schedule, Sangeeta Datta's Bird of Dusk, profiles a prolific Bengali filmmaker who was also one of the few openly gay figures in Indian cinema.

Before his death in 2013 at 49, Rituparno Ghosh created close to two dozen films, some of which now rest alongside the work of his cinematic idols, Satyajit Ray and Aparna Sen.

Some of the feature films and shorts at the festival are available online, but it’s more exciting to watch in a theater filled with hundreds of people primed to celebrate South Asian creativity across the Pacific and here at home.

"You get to be sitting in a seat with someone who is as appreciative or more appreciative than you, and so the collective energy in the room starts to matter," says Vinita Sud Belani, artistic director and founder of the Bay Area-based South Asian theater company EnActe Arts, which is performing at the festival.

Queen is a play about two UC Santa Cruz scientists days away from a publishing a paper when they discover a troubling anomaly in their last batch of data. The title of the play refers to the subject their study: colony collapse disorder, the phenomenon that occurs when the majority of worker bees in a colony disappear.

The play was written by Madhuri Shekar, who was born in the Bay Area. "We've done a play of hers before," Belani says of Shekar. "She was in her twenties when she started writing theater, and she's really going places."

The Bay Area South Asian Film Festival features a lot more than film, including music, dance and theater; in particular the play Queen, performed by EnActe Arts.
The Bay Area South Asian Film Festival features a lot more than film, including music, dance and theater; in particular the play Queen, performed by EnActe Arts. (Photo: Courtesy of EnActe Arts)

EnActe will perform Queen again next weekend at DeAnza College’s Visual and Performing Arts Center in Cupertino, where UC Santa Cruz is partnering with the theater company to put on a panel discussion about the topic the play's researchers are focused on.

"There are three women scientists who are going to talk about the reality of being scientists," Belani says.

Altogether, it's a promising start for a festival produced and tailored to anticipate the interests of a local South Asian audience here in Silicon Valley. Stay tuned to see if there's a "season two" for the Bay Area South Asian Film Festival.

The Bay Area South Asian Film Festival runs through Sept. 23, 2018 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts. For more information, click here.