2nd Annual Indie Meme Film Festival in Austin, Texas – founded by Alka Bhanot (far left) and Tripti Bhatnagar (far right)

The 2nd Annual Indie Meme Film Festival 2017, which ran from April 20-23, received an immense response from its audience. The chief architects of this initiative Alka Bhanot and Tripti Bhatnagar, along with their comrades brought 15 exquisite films (ranging from features, documentaries and short films) that showcase flitting images of the true spirit of the South Asian experience from every corner of the world. Every featured film stuck a deep chord with viewers, who came from a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual background.

The opening night’s red carpet was filled with glamor, glitz and flashing cameras. The film that opened the night, “The Insignificant Man,” was a 400-minute live footage on the emergence of (Indian politician) Arvind Kejriwal, which was squeezed into a 96-minute documentary. They filmed it in a two-year span and it was shot candidly using fly-on-the-wall style documentary filmmaking. When the film concluded, the responses started coming in fast. The Q&A session, after the film, with Vinay Shukla and Khushboo Ranka was equally entertaining. This hardcore political film churned ideas. Interestingly, the members of the Aam Aadmi Party (led by Arvind Kejriwal) were present to support the film. The night concluded with an after party at the elegant Mexican eatery Manuel’s Restaurant in Great Hills (northwest Austin).

Film still from “Chronicles of Hari”

On day two, four films and three short films were presented. “Leeches,” “The New Machine” and “Sameer and Giant Samosa” are the three short films that came before the screening of “Parting,” “The Cinema Travellers” and “Phobia.” The “Chronicles of Hari” made viewers one with the main protagonist Hari. It deeply narrated the struggle of a Yakshagana (dance-drama of southern India, mainly associated with the state of Karnataka) artist Hari, who in spite of being a man portrays female characters. The maker of the film Ananya Kasaravalli was present among the audience for the Q&A session.

Film still from “Parting”

“The Cinema Travellers” was a multi-award winning film portraying the struggle of a kind andextremely passionate impresario who wants to keep the last traveling cinema alive. “Parting” tells a fictional tale of love that blossomed during a journey between an Iranian boy Nabi and Afghan girl Pari in search of new life in Europe. “Phobia,” a psychological thriller, stole hearts with its breathtaking suspense where the protagonist, played by Radhika Apte, is an agoraphobic.

On the final night of the festival, the audience enjoyed two fantastic short films and three feature films. The short films “The Robe” and “Me, Chabbar and Abu Chachu” garnered praise of the audience. “Me, Chabbar and Abu Chachu” is set in a village in Pakistan. It’s a documentary of the journey of a young man who arrives at his ancestral village and finds his roots, along with many unanswered questions about his family.

Film still from “Mukti Bhavan (Hotel Salvation)”

Mukti Bhawan (Hotel Salvation)” received the Viewer’s Choice Award. This centerpiece was the surprise winner of the award. The story of the movie is neatly woven around a father who wants to die in Varanasi and how his son deals with his father’s wish. The story of death in the end ultimately becomes the story of life. The audience erupted with emotions and memories of their parents at the Skype Q&A session with the 26-year-old director Shubhashish Bhutiani.

Film still from “Lipstick Under My Burka”

The Nepalese film “White Sun” was also featured on the second day. “Lipstick Under My Burkha” was the biggest crowd pleaser of the festival, as it grabbed audience members for its controversial stance on women’s sexuality in India–think of it as India’s version of “Sex and the City,” except it’s set in a small town near Bhopal. The film was rejected by India’s censorship board for being too ‘lady-oriented’ and realistically depicting women’s sexual fantasies/desires, among other reasons. However, recently India’s Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) gave it the green light, but with a few cuts/edits. On the other hand, Hollywood Foreign Press Association cleared it for the Golden Globes. The subject of the movie is bold and different from mainstream Indian cinema. “Lipstick Under My Burka” depicts the story of four distinct women, their female desires, and taboos of within Indian culture.

The subjects of the films had a universal appeal in spite of being tinged with local hues. The themes were unique, bold and contemporary. The Q&A session with the respective film’s director and cast made the viewing more enriching. The filmmakers were also delighted to receive a first-hand response of their work from the audience. Annual sponsors like Sukha International, Country Inn and Suites, Bring Light & Sound, and Austin South Asian (Austin’s only South Asian newspaper) showed their support for this initiative. Everyone from organizers to volunteers to viewers, took back great memories and snippets of South Asian culture with them.

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