Tuesday, December 10, 2013

2013 San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival

The 2013 San Francisco International South Asian Film Festival (aka Third i) was from November 6 to 10 at the Viz and Castro and November 16 at the Landmark Aquarius in Palo Alto.

Third i conflicted with the French Cinema Now (FCN) series.  The distance from the Viz and the Clay (where FCN was screening) is walkable and I overheard some people in the FCN audience saying they were splitting time between the two venues.  I only did that one day.  I wanted to use up my Cinevouchers which meant I had to give preference to FCN.

I saw one film at Third i.

Peddlers starring Siddharth Menon, Gulshan Devaiah & Kriti Malhotra; directed by Vasan Bala; Hindi with subtitles; (2012)

Despite my limited ability to see films Third i, I was able to see the film which most interested me based on the program guide.

Director Vasan Bala's debut feature film, Peddlers, is quite an exciting ride.  Focusing on three characters in Mumbai, Peddlers shows the underbelly of Indian society.  The most interesting character is Ranjit (Gulshan Devaiah), an ambitious, young police detective.  Unfortunately, he suffers from erectile dysfunction.  I'm not sure why he doesn't get the little blue pills but he goes to considerable lengths to hide his problem.  We see him take a beautiful young woman back to his apartment.  While in the throes of passion, he forces alcohol down the woman's throat until she passes out.  Then he removes her clothes, squirts an enviable amount of liquid soap into a condom and tosses the condom into a waste basket next to the bed so that the woman can see physical proof of his sexual prowess.  Ranjit's charade doesn't come close to resolving the frustration he is experiencing.  He openly flirts with his next door neighbor's wife (Nimrit Kaur in a memorable role) and I thought that relationship would go one way but Bala took in an unexpected and frightening direction.

Mac is a petty street dealer.  He is awkward around women but hungry for their companionship.  His and Ranjit's lives are forever altered when Ranjit foils a robbery and chases Mac on foot through the streets of Mumbai.  Ranjit accidentally shoots a child.  It derails his career and makes him a social pariah.  He becomes obsessed with finding Mac whose name he does not know.

Bilkis (Kriti Malhorta), is a young mother diagnosed with cancer.  To make money for her medical treatment, she becomes a drug mule which bring her into contact with Mac who is strongly attracted to her.  Needing to leave Mumbai because the police are looking for him, Mac takes Bilkis to an abandoned apartment building in an industrial section on the outskirts of Mumbai.  Their relationship develops quickly as they live together as a couple.

A chance encounter between Ranjit, Mac and Bilkis leads to the conclusion.  Glimpsing Mac and Bilkis on the train, Ranjit attempts to arrest Mac but he runs away.  However, armed with Mac's dropped cell phone and knowing the destination of the train, Ranjit is able to track down Bilkis and threaten her with arrest unless she sets up Mac.  I thought she went along with the sting without enough regret but that's a minor quibble.  Ranjit captures Mac.  Unaware that Bilkis has set him up, he urges her to flee while he fights with Ranjit.  Eventually Ranjit kills Mac and the film ends with Bilkis' future looking brighter...at least as bright as a cancer patient's outlook can be.

Peddlers has the Slumdog Millionaire look and feel.  They are comparable films but Peddlers has a harder edge to it.  Peddlers is extraordinary when you take into account it is Bala's first feature.  Even without knowing that fact, the film is compelling.  Gulshan Devaiah as Ranjit delivers a breakout performance.

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