Indo-Canadian Filmmakers Shine a Light on Contemporary India

Tickets are on sale now for the Yukon Film Society’s annual Available Light Film Festival, which takes place Feb. 4 to 10 at the Yukon Arts Centre in Whitehorse.

Among the lineup are two films by Indo-Canadian filmmakers delving deep into the culture of contemporary India.

Midnight’s Children

Midnight’s Children is Deepa Mehta’s newest effort. It’s been dubbed as a metaphor for the birth and growth of the modern state of India and is adapted from the sprawling novel by acclaimed Booker Prize winning author Salman Rushdie, who gained notoriety after Iran’s clergy pronounced a death sentence on him for his supposedly blasphemous Satanic Verses.

The film tells the story of one Saleem Sinai, a fictional character that was born at the stroke of midnight on August 15, 1947, the very moment that India attained its coveted independence from Britain.

As he grows up he finds himself magically linked to every other Indian child born at the same time, all 581 of them. He accomplishes this feat through his abnormally large nose, which enables him to telepathically tune into the thoughts of his independence-derived cohorts.

Early in the film, we learn that Saleem, son of a poverty-stricken street musician, has been switched at birth by a kindly nurse. Seeking only the best for him, she swaps him with the newborn son of a rich man, thus ensuring him a decent chance in life. She later becomes his nanny.

Midnight’s Children, which is narrated by Rushdie himself, is a rich and whimsical blend of the historic and the fantastic, with its own special narrative magic that Mehta manages to convey with all of her films.

The World Before Her

The film The World Before Her is a documentary study of contrasts from Nisha Pahuja. Pahuja alternates her camera’s eye between the Pantaloons Femina Miss India beauty pageant and the Durga Vahina boot-camp for female Hindu extremists.

We are introduced to Prachi, a 24-year-old tomboy-type, whose traditional upbringing by her harsh and doctrinaire father has produced in her a warrior who is at once submissive and ferocious.

As she troops through town with her fellow trainees, brandishing their rifles and shouting that they’ll kill anyone who doesn’t share their ideals, it’s hard to imagine that they have anything in common with the scantily-clad young women trooping down the runways of the beauty contest.

Yet both groups are the product of an India that is still very male-dominated. Both are being indoctrinated in a set of beliefs in a world where they are supposedly offered independence and freedom of thought, but where they are still prisoners, one of ideology and the other of a traditional male worldview.

With a sharp, perceptive eye Pahuja shifts her focus from themes of female objectification to infanticide to women’s’ emancipation, all the while probing the social forces at work in an ever-changing and dynamic India.

The Available Light Film Festival runs from Feb. 4 to 10 at the Yukon Arts Centre in Whitehorse, with five-ticket passes on sale at Arts Underground and the YAC box office.

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