OIFFA Gala Celebrates Indian Cinema

Photos by Andre Gagne

With 2017 marking Canada’s 150th birthday, cultural celebrations in the capital are at an all time high. This year is all about supporting the arts and recognizing diverse perspectives, creating a perfect backdrop for the launch of the Ottawa Indian Film Festival.

The festival, produced by Inderpreet Singh, is “devoted to cultivating an audience for Indian cinema and culture in Ottawa” and aims to celebrate and support Indian films, filmmakers and performers. The four-day inaugural festival hosted panels, workshops and screenings of selected films at Lansdowne Park over four days last week. It went out with a bang at the grand finale, the Awards Gala, held at the Hilton Lac Leamy this Sunday, May 21st.

The event kicked off with a red carpet, made even more colourful by the many women dressed in elegant and bright saris. The who’s-who of Indian indie cinema mingled over cocktails and appetizers consisting of samosas, chicken skewers and more before filtering into the ballroom to get the real party started.

After opening remarks honouring the past and present greats of the Indian film industry, as well as a message on behalf of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the ceremony highlighted each of the films selected for the festival and those who made them happen. Contenders included Pinky Beauty Parlour, An Insignificant Man, Colour of Innocence, Mudlaseemeyali, Alifa, God’s Own People, Lipstick Under My Burkha, Nati Khel, Man with the Binoculars, The Narrow Path, Kamuki and Dolachal. The range of films covered a wide selection of subjects and genres.

The judging panel was composed of distinguished members of the film community, including Bedabrata Pain and Claire Valade. Pain, a highly successful former NASA senior research scientist, dropped everything in 2009 to change his life path and go after his dream of making movies. The gamble paid off when his first movie, Chittagong (2013), won not one but four Indian National Awards, including the revered Golden Lotus. However, his interest in film-making was nothing new, having been the executive producer of Amu (2005) and the principal researcher for Lifting the Veil (1997).

Valade is no stranger to the film community, having worked to the industry over 30 years. A member of the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) and President of the Association québécoise des critiques de cinéma (AQCC), she is a seasoned film critic at Séquences magazine and has partnered with multiple films, organizations and festivals over the course of her career. She even played a part in selecting the Canadian candidate for the Oscars’ Best Foreign Language Film category in 2012.

Both Pain and Valade took part in a live Q&A session on stage at the awards gala discussing Pain’s transition from science to cinema, the evolution of Indian film and thinking beyond Bollywood. The conversation also included a timely in-depth look at the portrayal of multiple dualities present in modern Indian society, a topic that many of the festival films revolve around.

The panel was followed by two traditional dance performances. The first, a group of four women in colourful robes, was simultaneously lively and polished. The second performance showcased a dynamic duo of two women sporting gold flower crowns. The energy of their performance was contagious, their movements often echoing each other as though in rhythmic rounds.

Despite the commendable work evident in the competing films, only a select few could take home the coveted prizes. Alifa, directed by Deep Choudhury, was chosen for Best Film. Nagesh Bhonsie of Nati Khel received the award for Best Director, while Khusboo Ranka and Vinay Shukla took home the prize for Best Screenwriting for An Insignificant Man. The award for Best Actor was given to Ratna Pathak for her performance in Lipstick Under My Burkah. Winners were presented with gold trophies for their outstanding achievements.

The celebration continued with another dance performance by members of BollywoodDance Pro Ottawa. The dancers flawlessly executed the intricate choreography, gliding across the stage with grace.

After messages of thanks to sponsors, contributors, guests and other supporters, dinner was served. The buffet-style feast of traditional Indian dishes provided by Host India included rogan josh, kadai chicken, shahi paneer, daal, pulao rice and tawa parantha. Various cakes, fruit and moong daal halwa topped with carrot pudding were offered for dessert.

The festivities concluded with a raucous dance party that lasted well into the night.