Festival focuses on an F-Rated theme for its 20th anniversary year
With 2018 marking 100 years since the first steps were taken towards women gaining the right to vote in the UK, this year's UK Asian Film Festival has been organised with the aim of placing women front and centre. The theme for 2018 is 'F-Rated', a rating that is given to films that are directed by women and/or written by women, while also featuring a significant female presence on screen.
Originally a London-based event, the festival will be spreading to Edinburgh, Manchester and Leicester in celebration of its 20th anniversary year with another programme of world-class premieres, talks and events planned. Highlights include a short film competition, the closing night concert with Channi Singh OBE and Mona Singh and a screening of the 1972 classic Siddhartha, followed by a posthumous tribute to Shashi Kapoor, led by celebrated actress and his co-star in the film, Simi Garewal.
To help you decide what to see, we take a closer look at five of the films being screened at the festival this year, all of which focus on the female experience in different settings and contexts.
Devashish Makhija's dark tale follows an old woman who sets out to avenge the brutal rape of her 9-year-old-granddaughter. Ajji (Sushama Deshpande) finds Manda dumped in a trash heap following her assault and when it becomes clear that the culprit is the son of a powerful local politician, she is determined to seek her revenge, even though Manda's parents would rather forget and move on. Set in a Mumbai slum, Ajji (which translates to granny) explores the realities of class distinctions, corruption and power, with an aging grandmother as the unlikely hero that decides to take on the status quo in her crusade for justice.
Regent Street Cinema, London, Thu 15 Mar, 7.45pm followed by Q&A with director Devashish Makhija; Filmhouse, Edinburgh, Thu 22 Mar, 6pm followed by Q&A with Sushama Deshpande; Phoenix, Leicester, Fri 23 Mar, 8.30pm followed by Q&A with Sushama Deshpande; Home, Manchester, Sun 25 Mar, 6pm.
Described as one of the most highly-anticipated films in Pakistani cinema in recent years, Verna is a timely revenge thriller and social drama by acclaimed director Shoaib Mansoor, known for his films Khuda Ke Liye and Bol. Mahira Khan stars as Sara, a teacher abducted, held captive and raped for three days by a governor's son. When the justice system proves to offer no redress, Sara decides to take matters into her own hands to seek out her revenge. Upon release, the film was initially banned for its subject matter and treatment of honour and rape but after a huge amount of support on social media, this was eventually lifted, with cinemas selling out screenings before the final decision was even made.
Regent Street Cinema, London, Fri 16 Mar, 7pm followed by Q&A with Mahira Khan.
Pakistani actors Sanam Saeed and Aamina Sheikh join forces in Asim Abbasi's latest feature, which sees the duo play adult siblings embroiled in intense family drama. When their father falls ill, eldest daughter and sole caregiver Zareen (Sheikh) is forced to reconnect with her sister Zara (Saeed) on her return from London. But things don't exactly go smoothly when the estranged sisters are made to come to terms with their guilt, resentment and past secrets to more forward for the benefit of their relationship and their family.
Odeon Luxe Centre, Bradford, Sat 17 Mar; Trafford Centre Odeon, Manchester, Sat 18 Mar; Vue Star City, Birmingham, Mon 19 Mar; Prince Charles Cinema, London, Tue 20 Mar, 8.30pm followed by Q&A with Asim Abbasi.
Having won the award for Best Bengali Film at the 64th National Film Awards 2017, Bisorjon portrays divides between religion, identity and class through a deeply moving lens. When a muslim man from India washes up near a river in Bangladesh, Hindu widow Padma (Joya Ahsan) rescues him, taking him home despite the risk of other villagers finding out about his identity. With societal frictions in the air, Padma is determined to help the man find his way home and keep him hidden from her rich and powerful suitor, which proves both difficult and dangerous. As the pair grow increasingly closer, Bisorjon becomes a story of star-crossed lovers held back by expectation, labels and culture.
Regent Street Cinema, London, Mon 19 Mar, 7.30pm followed by Q&A.
Filmmaker Sabiha Sumar has gained prominence in Pakistan for her documentaries, which consistently pose difficult questions while exploring themes ranging from politics to humanity. In Azmaish, Sumar is joined by Indian actor Kalki Koechlin to take a journey through India and Pakistan, delving deeper into the tensions that exist between the two countries and asking how growing fundamentalism has resulted in such divisive and dangerous rhetoric. The film is beautifully shot and put together, with Sumar and Koechlin's personal journey highlighting the similarities and differences between both cultures, as well as new perspectives on the divides and the joint fear of fundamentalism.
Filmhouse Edinburgh, Sat 24 Mar, 1pm followed by a discussion with Amjad Ayub Mirza, author and activist and Sana Bilgrami, award winning documentary filmmaker.