The tagline for the 13th annual South Asian Film Festival is “Beyond Bollywood.” Though organizers have long sought to highlight films of South Asian origin that offer more than song-and-dance routines, the 2007 selection of films is – despite the presence of Bollywood’s biggest female star as a lead in one movie – very much distanced from the subcontinent’s dominant filmmaking approach. While all of the films are issue-
oriented in some fashion or another, the variety of ways in which these topics are covered makes them interesting to observe.

Outsourced Outsourced derives many of its laughs from similar economic and cultural anxieties to the ones that resulted in ’80s movies like Gung Ho, but its overall tone is considerably gentler and less xenophobic – and Michael Keaton is nowhere to be seen. It’s clear that director/co-writer John Jeffcoat has more than a passing affection for India. While he’s quick to employ several of the overused tropes that Westerners rely on to describe the country – land of contrasts, don’t drink the water, there’s a cow in the office and so forth – there are other subtle and nuanced touches that go beyond the superficial, like “masala coke” and picking up starched and pressed underwear from the laundry. Josh Hamilton plays Todd Anderson (repeatedly called “Mr. Toad” by his hosts), an American call-center manager sent to the small Indian town where his entire division has been outsourced; he’s there, in other words, to train his replacement. Todd begins his adventure suitably dazed and determined to get out of this crazy foreign land as quickly as possible, but it’s only a matter of time before India begins to cast its spell on him through a combination of Holi powder, homespun hospitality, a touch of ritual purification and the almond eyes of Asha (Ayesha Dharker), the best (and sassiest) employee at the call center. Despite its direct, documentary-style title, Outsourced is a fluffy comedy that never sacrifices its lightness for its message. Even more notably, the reverse never happens, either. (10:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, and 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 1)

Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath Immediately after the World Trade Center attacks in 2001 and the subsequent rash of violence perpetrated upon Sikhs, 20-year-old Valarie Kaur and her cousin Sonny set out from their California home to make a movie about the extreme reactions people were having at the sight of turbaned “brown people.” Their journey took them from Queens to Arizona, back to California and eventually to India, and in each place they encountered a bubbling mix of vigilante hostility and warm neighborliness, deep misunderstanding and outright ignorance. While Kaur expends entirely too much of Divided We Fall’s energy in expounding upon her feelings and her journey and her questions, when she does manage to make it about someone besides herself or her cousin, she emerges with riveting film. Interviews with victims and their families as well as various community members illuminate not only Sikhism, but the unusual position forced upon Sikhs after Sept. 11. Should they put away their turbans in the name of safety? Should they explain to everyone that, no, their family history is in the Punjab and not the Middle East or that, no, they have nothing to do with Islam? Or, more essentially, when you’re American, why should you have to explain anything to assert your American-ness? The answers are blindingly apparent in the violence Kaur documents, but she never fully approaches an inferred question: If these victims were Arab, would it have been any better? While a brief foray into the analogous treatment of the Japanese during World War II approaches this issue, Kaur’s first-person perspective seems only intent on clearing up the misconceptions viewers may have had about Sikhs in America. (1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29. Also 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, at SunTrust Auditorium, Rollins College, Winter Park, as part of the Global Peace Film Festival)

Vanaja A young girl in a rural Indian village wants to learn how to dance, so when her widowed, slacker dad offers her up for service at the house of “the landlady,” who also happens to be an instructor of music and dance, Vanaja does everything she can to get the older woman to teach her. Ultimately, though, she becomes a student of something other than the classical arts. The actress playing Vanaja (Mamatha Bhukya) does a spectacular job of slowly unwrapping her character’s ability to manipulate others with a combination of naiveté, sexuality and pure avarice; watching those layers reveal themselves is repulsive, fascinating and occasionally hilarious. When, as is to be expected, Vanaja ends up betrayed and taken advantage of, Bhukya has done such a fantastic job of keeping her character vulnerable, real and innocent that the effect is that much more devastating. Written and directed by Rajnesh Domalpalli as his graduate thesis at Columbia University, Vanaja is an engaging and shocking look at class, gender roles and sexuality in rural India. (10:30 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 30)

Provoked (not reviewed) Bollywood mega-star and Hollywood almost-star Aishwarya Rai is featured as an abused wife and mother who finally takes her revenge on her alcoholic husband and winds up in British prison, convicted of murder. (1:15 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 30)

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