Bulbul Can Sing

The tenth annual Chicago South Asian Film Festival (CSAFF) features 65 films that center on the experiences of South Asians across the diaspora and shed light on a range of social issues that impact their communities. The festival kicks off with a series of films at the ShowPlace Icon Theatre and DePaul’s CDM Theatre on Thursday and Friday, before Friday night’s official opening event at Venue Six10, which features an awards ceremony and screenings of Aapke Aa Jane Se and The Last Color, which is directed by Michelin-star chef and MasterChef India host Vikas Khanna.

“These films emphasize how food connects people together, from different cultures, races, and ethnicities,” says festival manager Jigar Shah.

To highlight those connections, festivalgoers will be treated to a prescreening reception where they can sample hors d’oeuvres and cocktails by Khanna, as well as a postscreening Q&A followed by a meet and greet with actors, directors, and other celebrities, including DJ Karsh Kale.

Films centering on LGBTQ stories and women’s empowerment are another focus of CSAFF 2019. Bulbul Can Sing (directed by Rima Das) is a story about a girl in rural India who challenges the traditional values and expectations of her family, and A Monsoon Date (directed by Tanuja Chantra) is about a trans woman seeking a safe place to come into her identity.

In addition, the festival will host an LGBTQ panel discussion on Saturday evening, which includes Changra, actor Arjun Mathur (star of the Amazon Prime drama Made in Heaven), and pioneering trans Bollywood writer Gazal Dhaliwal.

The festival has grown since its 2010 debut, when it screened 16 films over two days at the Chicago Cultural Center, and according to Shah, it’s grown in ways more significant than numbers alone.

“We’re bringing such a wider variety of genres and other work from filmmakers to Chicago, and on top of that, our audience and community has really grown over the years. Awareness and education that’s come to the Chicago community has grown incredibly; people have now started making sure these films are not just purely for entertainment, but they also have a message—a social message,” he says.

One special way the festival is celebrating its ten-year milestone is by introducing an augmented-reality booth where festivalgoers can try their hands at filmmaking through the powers of virtual reality. The inclusion of VR is yet another way that CSAFF encourages its attendees to reimagine the possibilities of what film can be.

“When people think about something from South Asia, people usually think about Bollywood or commercial cinema,” says Shah. “The whole intent for the CSAFF is to promote independent films and give platforms to filmmakers and student filmmakers who are so passionate about what they do and want to use this platform to show their artistic work.”   v