It was a night to remember. The BFI Southbank, which is one of those fantastic movie theatres that makes things cinematic even before one arrives crossing over the Thames on the Jubilee Bridge, lit up with Indian stars and London socialites on Thursday evening.
The London Indian Film Festival kicked off its latest edition there, securing one of the most anticipated Hindi cinema titles of the summer -- Dobaaraa by Anurag Kashyap. In fact, the parallel universes, paranormal thriller based on the 2018 Spanish film Mirage is slated to open in cinemas in India on August 19th, 2022, almost two whole months from now. But, as LIFF executive and programming director Cary Rajinder Sawhney pointed out, "Anurag has been a friend of the festival for many years," and his support of the worthwhile event included premiering his latest project there.
The London Indian Film Festival (LIFF) is the UK and Europe’s largest platform of South Asian (Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Sri Lankan) independent films. This edition runs from 23rd June - 3rd July 2022 with premieres, special screenings, masterclasses and Q&As across London.
On the red carpet before the screening, Sawhney was joined by Kashyap and two of his actors, award winning thespian Taapsee Pannu and film and TV actor Pavail Gulati, along with Blue Orchid Hotels founder and Chairman Tony Matharu, filmmaker Pan Nalin, artist Chila Kumari Singh Burman (who is the LIFF festival poster's cover girl!) and American-ish star Lillete Dubey along with the film's producer Roy Wol.
Before the film was unveiled to London audiences, I asked Kashyap about the challenge of making this mysterious story into a film, one that jumps between alternate times, parallel universes and different states of consciousness. "Before I could even start to make this film, I needed to really understand the story," the cult Indian filmmaker replied, and added, "this is something completely new for me," as he's never worked on an adaptation before.
Kashyap's work is world renowned, not limited to Indian audience, even if by looking around us on the red carpet, as he spoke patiently with reporters, one could sense the respect and admiration Indian fans have for him. He's a Cannes regular and on trips to events and festivals around the world, he's known to dive into bookshops to buy tons of books. In the old days, when DVD's were popular, I remember him taking a detour into Kim's Video in NYC and buying three dozen world cinema titles in one go.
Kashyap's own films span the ages and genres too, like the eerie No Smoking starring John Abraham, Black Friday, which proved a prophetic look at the 1993 serial bomb blasts in Bombay, the Indian gangster drama Gangs of Wasseypur, which Kashyap called "my undoing" because of its success, during the Q & A following his latest, and an upcoming collaboration with Suketu Mehta to bring his bestselling book Maximum City to the big screen. In between all the films he's helmed, Kashyap has also been producing, with some five dozen titles under his belt, mixing TV series like Yudh, starring Indian megastar Amitabh Bachchan, with indie gems like Ritesh Batra's The Lunchbox, starring the late Irrfan Khan.
Dobaaraa is a play on words, as it means in Hindi both "once again" and "2:12" (do: bara) -- the time of night when crucial things happen in the story of the film. It starts out in 1996, when an electrical storm hits Pune and a little boy witnesses a murder, only to meet with a deadly accident himself. Fast forward 25 years and in 2021 the same house where the boy used to live is occupied by a woman, her husband and daughter -- a seemingly happy family. But when an old TV is discovered in a closet, things begin to unravel and what appeared one way, turns out to be not what it first seemed. Nothing is in fact, what it seemed. Dobaara is a film that feels at once Hitchcockian, with a dash of Christopher Nolan thrown in, and a story that hints at the Keanu Reeves starrer The Lake House, which in turn was a remake of the South Korean motion picture Il Mare. The one thing Dobaaraa is not is expected, and Indian audiences will have to prove just how cool they are and forward thinking when this title hits their screens.
But beyond all the words and added meaning, Dobaaraa is at its core a film that makes it worth your while to go to the cinema. It's fun, fright and a bit of thought thrown in with its undeniable entertainment.
Dobaaraa is produced by Shobha Kapoor & Ektaa R Kapoor (Cult Movies, a new wing under Balaji Telefilms) and Sunir Kheterpal & Gaurav Bose (Athena).
During the Q & A following the screening, the film's delegation were asked if they have any regrets, or if they could do things over what would they change, now knowing the outcome. Which is a bit the message of the film's Sliding Door premise. Pannu admitted that she never wanted to be an actress and had not prepared for the public life while in school, something she now regrets as the perils of fame are many. Kashyap talked about No Smoking, and how much darker and alternative he should have made it, trusting his instinct then. And Gulati had the last word, by joking, "I should have bought Google shares!"
The London Indian Film Festival continues around London and in other UK cities in venues which include BFI Southbank, Barbican, Ciné Lumière, Rich Mix, Bertha DocHouse, Picturehouse Central, Picturehouse Stratford, Roof East Stratford, MAC Birmingham, Electric Birmingham, Birmingham City University, Everyman Manchester St John’s, Home Manchester, and stream UK wide at www.LoveLIFFatHome.com.