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UK Asian Film Festival Announces Programme for 25th Anniversary


UK Asian Film Festival – the world’s longest-running South Asian film festival outside India – has unveiled its program for its 25th-anniversary edition. Running at venues across London, Leicester, and Glasgow from 4th – 14th May, UK Asian Film Festival is presented by Tongues on Fire and is supported by the BFI and Arts Council England, both awarding funds from the National Lottery, as well as support from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS). #HereforCulture.

Over the last 25 years, UK Asian Film Festival has been a force to champion South Asian female-centric cinema and celebrate women in film – both behind and in front of the camera. A festival helmed by women and feminist allies, its programs have annually sought to disrupt the patriarchal status quo and initiate challenging conversations in its mission to advocate and promote gender equality in cinema.

The ‘Celebrating Our Stories’ theme of the festival’s silver jubilee year will present a curation of film stories centering on the British Asian experience – redefining and reimagining one’s roots and dreams in a foreign land – and will celebrate the individuality and uniqueness of trans generational, South Asian migrant stories. UK Asian Film Festival is powered by broadcast partners, SONY TV and Lyca Radio; and TV Partner for UKAFF Short Film Competition is Shorts TV.

The Opening Gala will present the UK Premiere of Sanaa (India, 2022; Dir: Sudhanshu Saria; Language: Hindi with English subtitles) on Thursday 4th May, BFI Southbank. The biggest weekend of her professional life only gets more complicated when Sanaa, a 28-year-old financial advisor working in Mumbai, finds out she is pregnant. Clear on her decision to terminate her pregnancy, the actual process of getting the abortion forces Sanaa to re-evaluate her life and if the choices she has been making have really been her own. The film is an observation of the choices and dilemmas facing women in the corporate workplace, highlighting gender disparities. Lead actor, Radhika Madan; and director, Sudhanshu Saria, will be in attendance.

The London Premiere of Kamli (Pakistan, 2022; Dir: Sarmad Khoosat; Language: Urdu with English subtitles) takes place on Saturday 6th March, Rich Mix, Shoreditch. The much-hyped, latest offering from Sarmad Khoosat, one of Pakistan’s most provocative auteurs, and starring award-winning actor, Saba Qamar, Kamli revolves around the story of a young woman whose husband has been missing for eight years as she lives with her blind sister-in-law. The film portrays the woman’s struggle between her sense of loyalty to her husband and her carnal desires that urge her to move on.

As part of the festival’s LGBTQ strand, the UK Premiere of Trans Kashmir (India, 2022; Dirs: S.A. Hanan, Surbhi Dewan; Language: English and Kashmiri Urdu with English subtitles) takes place on Sunday 7th May, Rich Mix, Shoreditch. Once entertainers and employees of the royal court, transgender women in Kashmir were believed to have mystical powers and were revered members of society. Today, they fight for dignity and basic human rights. For generations, they have worked as matchmakers and performers but their gender, economic, and socio-political realities render them among the most vulnerable people in the world today. Offering an intimate glimpse into their unique culture, resilience, and beauty, this documentary chronicles their growing movement to secure basic human rights.

The World Premiere of Whispers Of A Storm (India,2023; Dir: Amartya Bhattacharyya; Language: Odia with English subtitles) takes place on Thursday 9th May, Stratford East Picturehouse. The film is set in the cyclone-devastated coastal villages of Odisha. An ambitious photographer captures the devastation of the coastal villages after cyclone ‘Fani’ in 2019 – one of South Asia’s strongest cyclones ever. The photographer is indifferent to the suffering of the villagers and is focused only on the benefits he can extract from the calamity. A villager who returns from the rescue camp after the cyclone finds his home shattered. He picks up his memories from the ruins and sets off in hope of reaching a safer land; while a grieving mother who has lost her son to the cyclone leaves her village to find solace in nature. These characters, independent of each other, find relevance and relation through a fragmented narrative of their losses.

The World Premiere of Footprints On Water (India/ UK, 2022; Dir: Nathalia Syam; Language: English, Tamil, Malayalam, Polish with English subtitles) takes place on Saturday 13th May, at Kiln Theatre, London. The film is a gritty account of an illegal immigrant community-based in Birmingham, UK, always in hiding and leaving no proof of their existence. At the heart of the story is Raghu, an illegal immigrant father searching for his missing daughter while trying to avoid the police and authorities’ radar. Actor, Adil Hussain; director, Nathalia Syam; and producer, Mohaan Nadaar, will be attending.

The Closing Film on Saturday 13th May, at Kiln Theatre, London is the World Premiere of Bhagwan Bharose (India, 2023; Dir: Shiladitya Bora; Language: Hindi with English subtitles). The film tells the story of Bhola and Shambhu, two village boys whose ideas about faith are constantly questioned as their little world expands and takes into its fold their country’s fast-changing socio-political landscape. Against the backdrop of a rising Hindu nationalist movement in late 1980s India, the two impressionable kids struggle with their understanding of God and religion. While experiencing the everyday challenges of childhood, a conservative upbringing, and communal surroundings, their idyllic world is blown apart by events that they themselves can no longer fathom. In attendance will be actors Vinay Pathak, Masumeh Makhija, and Satendra Soni; and director, Shiladitya Bora.

UK Asian Film Festival annually hosts an eclectic mix of films; a thought-provoking lecture series; audience workshops; live performances; visual arts exhibitions; masterclasses; and the annual Short Film Competition. It celebrates the very best in films with a link to South Asia and the myriad dimensions of South Asian arts and culture.

Jhoom Barabar Jhoom on Sunday 7th May, Beck Theatre, Hayes invites fans of popular Indian cinema to celebrate Tongues on Fire UK Asian Film Festival’s 25th anniversary in true Bollywood style against a backdrop of live music and dance by Bollywood Dance School and The 515 Crew. This joyful night will be an ode to Bollywood, with performances by music artists, Chirag Rao, Shama, and Surojoy Bhowmik; and dances choreographed by duo, Shruti, and Rohan Shah, recreating evergreen classics from Hindi cinema across the decades.

The 25th Anniversary Celebration of Goodness Gracious Me will take place on Monday 8th May, Beck Theatre, Hayes. As UK Asian Film Festival (formerly known as Tongues on Fire) and seminal, British Asian comedy, Goodness Gracious Me, respectively celebrate 25 years, these cultural institutions come together to Celebrate Our Stories – Of Shared Identity, Culture, And Future. The iconic series distinctively integrated Indian and British cultures through sketch comedy, satires, musicals, and skits playing a pivotal role in representing South Asian stories globally. A special screening of one of the most popular episodes, Going For An English, will be followed by a Q&A discussion with the director, Meera Syal; actors, Nina Wadia and Kulvinder Ghir; and writer, Sanjeev Kohli.

Reimagining Freedom – Space To Reflect on Wednesday 10th May, Rich Mix, Shoreditch is an artistic collaboration between Pakistan and Britain, showcasing five shorts entitled Hania; The Dandies Of Albertopolis; Vachan; Rootless Connection; and AI Experiment. Each filmmaker will talk the audience through their own interpretations of each nation and the space in between that bridges them.

Talking Life on Friday 12th May, The British Library will present Padma Bhushan recipient, screenwriter, lyricist and poet, Javed Akhtar; and television producer and writer, Nasreen Munni Kabir, bringing their conversational book to life in a freewheeling discussion that will provide insights into the life and mind of a creative genius whose work continues to touch millions and the memories and anecdotes he has gathered along the way. They will be joined by Akhtar’s wife, award-winning actor Shabana Azmi.

UK Asian Film Festival Founder and Director, Dr Pushpinder Chowdhry MBE says, “When we set up Tongues on Fire, we wanted to create a platform for thought-provoking stories that stimulate meaningful conversations, unpack uncomfortable truths, and challenge patriarchy. It fills us with great pride and joy to open our silver jubilee edition at NFT 1 BFI Southbank with a powerful screening of Sanaa. This unique film has a compelling story that celebrates the journey so far for women’s independence. South Asian women are finally taking control to make their own decisions, be it their careers, their bodies, or their lives against a slow-changing man’s world. Sanaa carries a beautiful message of solidarity and sisterhood to challenge generations of gender conditioning and the subtle ties of modern misogyny. 

This is just a glimpse of some of the best gems made by today’s brilliantly talented thinkers who have expertly captured the issues of this time to make enjoyable films that will excite our communities to drive positive change. We remain true to our roots with a power-packed program celebrating our stories through excellent films, master classes, in conversations, live events, and more!”

UK Asian Film Festival Creative Director, Samir Bhamra says, “I’m ecstatic! What an honor to have been part of the Tongues on Fire UK Asian Film Festival journey! I  started as a volunteer for the festival in 2002 and was moved by the astonishing drive and ambition of the founders, Dr Pushpinder Chowdhry and Harvinder Nath. They spearheaded an incredible film festival against all the odds to screen powerful South Asian stories to transform our communities. Our beloved festival strives to highlight new perspectives and shines the spotlight on acclaimed filmmakers. Our silver jubilee celebrations are rolling out the red carpet to welcome you back with an incredible lineup of rich experiences. Join us for new discoveries and fan favorites at a cinema or theatre in London, Leicester, or Scotland!”

Miyrah Mistry, Head of Marketing for Sony Pictures Networks UK & Europe says, “SONY TV is excited to continue its partnership with UK Asian Film Festival who are back with a spectacular program to celebrate its 25th anniversary. The festival has opened doors to thousands by providing a platform to showcase and promote South Asian talent globally. This year UKAFF will showcase the best films and give you the opportunity to mingle with well-known actors, directors, and music artists. We look forward to seeing you there!”

Raj Baddhan, CEO of Lyca Media says, “We are super excited to be partnering with the biggest South Asian film festival in the UK. The UK Asian Film Festival has grown to become one of the most loved festivals in Europe. We are very excited to be bringing our listeners coverage from the much talked about the festival on Lyca Radia!”

Nidhi Sharma, Director, Mango Marketing & Events says, “We are hugely proud to be selected as the preferred marketing and sales partner for UKAFF. There are some major plans for UKAFF this year and together with our sponsors, moviegoers are in for the real treat.”

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