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Two Films by Indian Directors Win Awards at the Toronto International Film Festival

Two Films by Indian Directors Win Awards at the Toronto International Film Festival

  • Writer and director Jayant Digambar Somalkar’s debut Marathi film “Sthal” won an award from the Network from the Promotion of Asian Cinema (NETPAC) and Tarsem Singh Dhandwar’s “Dear Jassi” received the Platform Award.

Films by two Indian directors won awards at the closing ceremony of the 48th Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on Sunday. Writer and director Jayant Digambar Somalkar’s debut Marathi film “Sthal” (A Match) won an award from the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema (NETPAC) and Tarsem Singh Dhandwar’s “Dear Jassi” earned the Platform Award. 

“Sthal” is the story of the fight of a young woman against the oppressive patriarchy which forces its decisions on her life. Somalkar dedicated his award to “all the brave women of the world who challenge their adverse circumstances.” He added that the film is “personal” to him as it was shot in his hometown of Dongargaon in the Chandrapur district of Maharashtra.

The NETPAC award was instituted “to promote Asian cinema and to bring international attention to independent and non-mainstream films focusing on the discovery of new talent,” according to TIFF. NETPAC jury members — Lalita Krishna, Sung Moon and Haolun Shu — chose Somalkar’s film “for taking a risk and delivering a story that is enlightening and entertaining,” TIFF said. He worked with “a cast of non-actors,” the festival website said adding “that not only resulted in a stellar performance, but achieved a level of authenticity needed to drive home the social message.”

The film, which had its world premiere at the festival, was the only Indian film to be selected in the Discovery Program, which showcases the first and second features of emerging filmmakers from around the world. 

Somalkar’s other works include the 2015 animated comedy television series “Bandbudh Aur Budbak”; the 2016 short film “Iyatta: Class,” which tells a story of the power dynamics between a woman house owner and the maid; and “Guilty Minds (2015), a legal drama on Amazon Prime.

Platform jury unanimously chose “Dear Jassi”  for “its honest and poignant portrayal of a subject matter that still affects large portions of individuals forced to live under the inhumanity of bitter caste systems throughout the globe.” Members Barry Jenkins, Nadine Labaki, and Anthony Shim said the film “has the perfect blend of craft, purpose and faith in its audience, creating a world that is both richly cinematic and steadfastly realistic.” They lauded “the young leads” — Yugam Sood and Pavia Sidhu — who are “by turns breathtaking and, in performances that pull no punches, heartbreaking.” 

Dhandwar, known professionally as Tarsem, worked extensively in commercials and music videos before making his feature debut with the psycho-thriller “The Cell” (2000), “a largely dreamlike film bringing life to the fantastical subconscious thoughts of a serial killer,” according to his website. Educated at a boarding school nestled in the Himalayas, he moved to the United States to study business at Harvard, and later enrolled at Pasadena’s renowned Art Center College of Design. His early work included a stint directing the 1990 Suzanne Vega video “Tired of Sleeping,” and later became best known for his handling of R.E.M.’s 1991 smash single “Losing My Religion.” In addition to being nominated for a Grammy, the video was up for eight MTV Video Music Awards and walked away with six of them, including Best Direction in a video. He’s made several music videos influenced by the work of the genius Sergei Parajanov and his masterpiece “The Color of Pomegranates” (1969), most notably Lady Gaga’s song “911.”

He has also directed some high-profile television commercials, including the Pepsi “We Will Rock You” campaign, featuring Britney Spears, Pink and Beyoncé. His 2011 film “Immortals,” with Freida Pinto in the female lead, “became the highest revenue generating at the U.S box office, within a week of its release,” according to Media India Group. The film, released in 3D, grossed over $32 million in its opening weekend and was screened at over 3,000 locations in America. It was also a global blockbuster, receiving over $38 million across 35 countries. His other films include “The Fall” (2006), and “Mirror Mirror” (2012).

Other Indian films screened at the festival include Karan Bhoolani’s “Thank You For Coming”; Kiran Rao’s sophomore feature “Lost Ladies”; Honey Trehan’s “Punjab 95”; “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam / The World Is Family,” Anand Patwardhan’s poignant depiction of his parents, exploring the intricate connection between their lives and India’s struggle for independence; and “Kill,” a cinematic narrative directed by Nikhil Nagesh Bhat. 

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