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Beyond Bollywood

Austin's Indie Meme Film Festival highlights the diversity of South Asian cinema

Joe Gross
A girl in a remote Himalayan village is determined to fulfill her dream of going to school in "Chuskit," a film screening at Indie Meme Film Festival. [Contributed by Indie Meme Film Festival]

When Austin's Indie Meme Film Festival was founded by Alka Bhanot and Tripti Bhatnagar, they envisioned a pan-South Asian event, with countries such as India, Pakistan, Nepal, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Iran and Sri Lanka represented in all their exceptional diversity.

“When we started,” Bhanot says, “a lot of people’s idea about South Asian cinema was Bollywood and nothing else."

Indie Meme was meant to be something small, but Bhanot says Austin was ready and hungry for South Asian cinema. This year's festival is the fourth edition.

"What’s happened in Austin is happening the world over," she says.

The Indie Meme name comes from the notion that this sort of cinema, that love for it, can be passed along like an idea, "like an organic being living off the environment it is thrown in," the founders say.

“We wanted something that was different from anything else,” Bhatnagar says. “We want to showcase these diverse flavors of film.”

This year's festival kicks off April 14 with a family film day and mixer, and it continues with film screenings April 26-28 at AFS Cinema. Here are five films the two founders wanted to highlight (everything has English subtitles):

“Chuskit” (4 p.m. April 14). After an accident renders her paraplegic, a girl in a remote Himalayan village is determined to fulfill her dream of going to school, contrary with the wishes of her strict, tradition-bound grandfather, in this Indian feature.

“Namdev Bhau: In Search of Silence” (10:30 a.m. April 28). A 65-year-old chauffeur, frustrated by all the noise around him in the city of Mumbai, stops speaking and leaves his life to find the "Silent Valley," a naturally occurring phenomena containing an almost zero-decibel sound level. On this journey, he chances upon an exasperating 12-year-old boy, who happens to be on his own journey.

“The Last Color” (6:30 p.m. April 28). A 9-year-old flower seller and tightrope walker befriends a 70-year-old widow living a colorless life of abstinence. Filmmaker Vikas Khanna will be in attendance for a Q&A. “We are really pleased with our family films this year,” Bhanot says. “If children see these sorts of films early, this sort of cinema can become a regular part of their lives.”

“The Sound Man: Mangest Desai” (1:30 p.m. April 28). “This is a documentary on the life of a sound engineer who was considered the 'pope of sound,'" Bhanot says. Mangesh Desai recorded and mixed most of the Bollywood films of his time, she says, and he worked with Satyajit Ray, Shyam Benegal and "every Bollywood giant." After announcing the film's selection for Indie Meme, the organizers found out that Desai's daughter lives in Austin. Bhanot says, "It was a crazy, freaky coincidence.” Filmmaker Subash Sahoo will be in attendance at the screening.

“Kaamyaab.” (7:15 p.m. April 28). This closing night movie is the story of a character actor who realizes he retired shy of his 500th movie. “The story of the retired supporting role actor/sidekick/the one who has the iconic line that everyone remembers,” Bhatnagar says. “But he is also the one who isn't really acknowledged for his many years in the industry.” Filmmaker Hardik Mehta will be in attendance at the screening.


Indie Meme Film Festival

When: Family program and kick-off mixer Sunday; film screenings April 26-28

Where: AFS Cinema, 6259 Middle Fiskville Road

Cost: $40-$85 for wristband or badge; single-film tickets also available

More info: