To many in the world, India is the beautiful “other”, a land pregnant with mystery and romance, ever-inviting with the possibility of a last true adventure. India’s food and films are two of the most convincing ambassadors of its charms and both are making their presence felt this fall in Prague. You can start the journey this week (Sept 19-25th) by treating your palate to the Indian Food Festival, while your eyes can feast on the Indian Film Festival from October 6th through the 9th.
The Food Festival takes over 6 Indian restaurants around Prague, each creating special festival menus (and prices) that feature foods from across the Indian subcontinent. A full listing and locations of the restaurants can be found here.
For those who haven’t had their fill of masala, the film festival in October offers a very diverse mix of cultural fare, from experimental shorts films and shocking documentaries to vibrant Bollywood spectacles and quieter art house pictures. As the festival’s artistic director Radim Špaček confided, he loves India’s filmic output because “it´s truly the most progressive contemporary cinema and it’s amazing to watch its changes in real time.” It’s not only “romantic comedies with songs and dances” – a fact that global and Czech audiences are warming up to, as almost 5000 viewers came to last year’s festival. Radim recommends making a reservation as there are sure to be lines, although you can definitely spend your time at the Bollywood Market in Světozor Cinema where you can feed the munchies, get your hands painted with henna, buy Indian clothes and play a game of Carrom.
Another non-filmic highlight of the festival is the Bollywood Party in PM Club (Trojická 10, Praha 2) on October 8th, which includes a dance production by Sangita Shresthová – Bollynatyam and Bolly Disco till the wee hours.
The festival’s film program consists of a great number of fascinating projects. A more typical but no-less-enjoyable offering is BAND BAAJA BAARAT (“Wedding Planners”), a true Bollywood extravaganza about an unlikely pair that establishes a successful wedding agency and of course falls in love. It plays on Saturday, October 8th at 20:00 at Světozor.
For those who like to think they are less inclined to romance, I HAVE LUV STORIES (October 6th, 18:15, Světozor) offers up a story of a girl who loves Bollywood movies falling for a guy who hates them.
A more social-minded film is the unusual “I AM” (October 9th, 17:30, Evald), made with public donations via social network sites. It’s divided into 4 short stories that deal with serious themes from modern Indian life – child abuse, gay rights, identity, and even sperm donation.
Other serious fare includes the documentary NERO’S GUESTS (Saturday, October 8th, 17:00, 17:00, Světozor). Its subject matter is the epidemic of suicides by Indian farmers. Its name comes from the memorable legend about Emperor Nero who apparently used to burn prisoners to provide light at night while guests watched.
Interestingly, a similar topic gets treated through fiction in PEEPLI LIVE (October 6th, 21:00, Evald), produced by one of Bollywood’s biggest stars Aamir Khan. This project screened at this year’s Sundance Festival and is a black comedy about a poor farmer who decides to commit suicide to pay off his family’s debts with the compensation given by the government in such cases. His story becomes a major media event, leading to all manner of social satire.
Another festival winner is UDAAN (October 7th, 18:15, Světozor), a moving tale of a teenager’s struggle against his despotic father.
If you’ll want to switch gears and head back for more colorful cinematic pleasures, check out GUZAARISH (October 9th, 14:30, Světozor) and JODHAA AKBAR (October 9th, 17:00, Světozor). Interestingly, they both feature the same pair of actors, the beautiful Aishwarya Ray-Bachchan and Hrithik Roshan. GUZAARISH is the story of a famous but disabled magician and his nurse, while JODHAA AKBAR is a gorgeous historical epic on the life of the Mughal Emperor Akbar who ruled India in the 16th century.
Other festival highlights consist of the classic DARR (October 8th, 14:00, Světozor), with the one and only Shah Rukh Khan in the lead. The tale is about obsession and stalking and has a memorable death scene.
Salman Khan, another great Bollywood star, drives last year’s most popular blockbuster – DABANGG (October 9th, 21:00, Světozor). It’s an insane action comedy about a very rogue but, of course, charming cop.
For some more comedic fare, check out TERE BIN LADEN (October 7th, 19:00, Evald). It’s a story that was actually banned in Pakistan about a resourceful young journalist who tries to raise money by selling a fake video interview with Osama Bin Laden.
The festival also presents some films that were not made in the cinematic juggernaut that is Bollywood. India has very vibrant film communities in other parts of the country and these are represented in pictures like the award-winning Marathi story TINGYA (October 8th, 14:00, Evald), which is about a seven year old boy and his friend – a sick bull. The boy’s dad needs to kill the bull to get money for a new one and the boy does all he can to save it.
The Tamil drama PARUTHIVEERAN (October 8th, 16:20, Evald) is another village-set project. Its a gripping love tale, thwarted by caste hatred.