Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles to Open With Tarsem Singh’s ‘Dear Jassi’ and Close With Nithilan Saminathan’s ‘Maharaja’

Director Tarsem Singh’s “Dear Jassi,” a tale of forbidden romance, will open the Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IIFLA) next week. It will close with the Los Angeles premiere of Tamil film “Maharaja.” Written and directed by Nithilan Saminathan, the film is an action-packed thriller about a group of men seeking revenge with twisted turns along the way. It stars Vijay Sethupathi in his milestone 50th outing, and filmmaker-actor Anurag Kashyap playing the villain.

The festival, which runs June 27-30, will showcase 20 films, including seven narrative features, 12 shorts, and one docu-series from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan and the United States, bringing together South Asian stories and perspectives from around the globe. 

“Dear Jassi” is a tragic love story inspired by true events. The film follows Jassi, a Canadian-born Indian girl who falls in love with Mithu, a rickshaw driver from a lower social class. Through their instant attraction, they must confront the reality of societal expectations imposed by Jassi’s family. The film stars Pavia Sidhu and Yugam Sood in his acting feature debut.

Features to be screened at the four-day festival include the stylized violence of “Kill,” written and directed by Nikhil Nagesh Bhat and produced by Karan Johar and Guneet Monga; the coming-of-age story Sundance winner “Girls Will Be Girls,” written and directed by Shuchi Talati; the award-winning filmmaker Christo Tomy’s film “Undercurrent,” which explores the powerful themes of female solidarity; a tender love story “Ben and Suzanne, A Reunion in 4 Parts,” written and directed by Shaun Seneviratne, and the touching tale “A House Named Shahana,” by Leesa Gazi and co-written by Aanon Siddiqui.

“Kill,” which premiered at the 2023 Toronto Film Festival, won its Midnight Madness First Runner-Up Award. It will be released by Lionsgate Films and Roadside Attractions in U.S. theaters on July 4, and in India on July 5. 

In its U.S. premiere, IFFLA will host a special screening of two episodes of “Defiance: Fighting the Far Right,” which was produced by the Academy Award-winning actor and producer Riz Ahmed.

According to IFFLA’s Artistic Director Anu Rangachar, “the eclectic lineup covering most of the vast and diverse South Asian regions, including the diaspora, is directed by a majority of incredibly talented first-time filmmakers debuting with their works.” Talking about the lineup of films, she noted that it “organically reveals some of the themes such as solidarity and resilience, tender love, and familial violence, inherent to the South Asian communities around the globe.”

This year’s shorts competition includes a diverse range of female-centric stories, featuring the work of six talented female directors. The lineup presents an impressive selection of stories with diaspora and coming-of-age themes, told in ten different languages. It boasts two world premieres, including “Hema” directed by Ritvik Dhavale and starring Rajshri Deshpande, about an Indian woman’s journey to rediscover her new purpose in life after moving to Los Angeles for her husband’s job, and debut director Shashwat Dwivedi’s comedic coming-of-age “Bobby Beauty Parlour,” produced by Anurag Kashyap.

Additional notable short premieres include “Wire & Cloth,” written and directed by IFFLA alum Swetha Regunathan, about a mother and daughter struggling to connect. IFFLA alum Theja Rio returns to the festival with “Ade (On A Sunday),” the touching short that premiered at the International Film Festival of Rotterdam earlier this year. Also making her directorial debut in film, actress and theater director Yuki Ellias comes to IFFLA with the North American premiere of her subversive political comedy “Lovely & Tip Top.”

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Other short premieres include the Cannes award-winning Nepali film “Lori,”written and directed by Abinash Bikram Shah; “Last Days Of Summer,” written and directed by Stenzin Tankong, and “This is TMI,” co-written and co-directed by Subarna Dash and Vidushi Gupta.

In its U.S. premiere, IFFLA will host a special screening of two episodes of the powerful documentary series “Defiance: Fighting the Far Right,” which shines a light on an extraordinary protest movement led by young British Asians in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s to oppose anti-immigrant rhetoric and assaults. Produced by the Academy Award-winning actor and producer Riz Ahmed and Rogan Productions, the series is directed by the Primetime Emmy Award-winner Satiyesh Manoharajah, with Rajesh Thind directing the 3rd episode.

For the first time, the festival will launch IFFLA Industry Day on June 28, described as the first-of-its-kind, day-long forum for South Asian film and TV executives and creatives sharing their stories within this underrepresented community. It will spotlight exciting South Asian voices, while attendees will have educational opportunities to hear first-hand expert advice from industry professionals. The pinnacle event of Industry Day is Launch Pad: A Pitch Competition the winner of which will receive a $10,000 development grant.

Opening and closing galas will take place at Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills, and all other screenings will be at Landmark Theaters Sunset. 

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