The Eclipse of Taregna (2011, dir. Rakesh Chaudhary)
So much happened both to the characters and to me in this tiny film that I hardly remember it's a short. There is full character development, real hopefulness is established, and the titular eclipse works so well as a metaphor in several different ways. It manages to be both momentary and full, very focused yet emotionally expansive. It's really, really lovely.
Totally Filmi has a great (and much longer) writeup here.
Roots of Love (2011, dir. Harjant Gill; trailer.; interview with the director)
On this film's official website (linked above), there's a quote from a reviewer that calls this look at contemporary Sikh attitudes towards hair and the turban "compassionate." For me that sums up its strengths perfectly. As an atheist and someone who has never much wanted or needed to visually stand out, it's very hard for me to even begin to get my head around the idea of committing to religious principles or commandments at all, let alone ones that are also physical markers of your faith. This movie was great food for thought, and I appreciate how expressive the subjects were about their interpretations of...is doctrine the right word? The scenes between parents and their adult son who decides to cut his hair were particularly poignant.
Ring Laila (2010, dir. Anuradha Rana; trailer)
Focusing on young female boxers in Kolkata, this film made me want to leap out of my seat and encourage every woman, everywhere, to lace up their shoes and start punching. And not out of violence—that's not what this story is about. It's about real empowerment, movement, strength, brains, work, dedication, women choosing to do something and learning how to be good at it, and, amazingly, with the love and support of their families. One of the boxers also gets in this amazing statement: "Men, I think, want women to come forward, but only as long as they stay a step behind." Now that is a TKO.
Ring Laila was also the only film by a female director that I got to see at the festival.
Find it and watch it right now.
Made in Pakistan (2009, dir. Nasi Khan; trailer [do not read the comments]; interview with the director)
Like Roots of Love, this film took me into a world I know nothing about. The subjects were very much not the people I see or hear on US news about Pakistan, and the combination of focusing on members of the creative and intellectual communities as well as smaller-scale politicians with living through the events we have all heard about was very engaging. The four people who feature in the film are all so relatable, so thoughtful. Filmed during the 2007 state of emergency (and coincidentally during the assassination of Benazir Bhutto), the film captures that uneasy contrast of everyday lives with extraordinary times.
Stanley Ka Dabba (2011, dir. Amole Gupte)
SUCH a charming movie (until it punches you in the gut at the end, but still)! Sweet and sad and smart and funny! And the acting! Vah! My only criticism is that I had no sense of why Mr. Grumpy acted as he did other than a general gluttony that overwhelmed his understanding of acceptable behavior. Watch it for the we've-seen-this-a-zillion-times-before but powerful "triumph of the human spirit" aspect if nothing else, or maybe the relief in knowing that there do exist sensible adults who do the right thing once they realize wrongs are committed, but I'm pretty sure you are made of stone if you don't melt at least once or twice in the presence of these bright, hilarious, adorable kids.
Sthaniya Sambaad (2009, dir. Arjun Gourisaria and Moinak Biswas)
True confessions: I don't think I understood this film at all. I was happily following along with the various characters talking about what their neighborhood in Kolkata means to them and their various schemes and dreams, through the weird "drifting through the night" bit, and it looked really good and I felt like I got a firm and thorough concept of what the neighborhood was like and all about, its limits and its possibilities...but then things just kind of stopped. I saw it with a friend and we both walked out going "Huh?", continued to return to "Huh?" as we drank our lattes and discussed it further, and remained at "Huh?" 90 minutes later.
Shuttlecock Boys (2011, dir. Hemant Gaba; trailer)
This story of young men struggling to create meaningful lives for themselves through the vehicle of a fledgling business was largely predictable but, as with films like Chak De India, if someone hands me a chestnut that they've done something interesting and appealing with, then that is perfectly fine by me. The writing and performances created real people who were easy to recognize and empathize with. Coincidentally, I saw this and Delhi Belly within a week of each other, and they strike me as similar, if maybe just in their subjects of non-rich 20something men in Delhi trying to identify and/or do what they care about while juggling the problems life tosses their way. Both films have some very dear friendships at their core, too, and that focus pushes all the right buttons for me.
Read the frustrating story of the making and distribution (or not) of this excellent film at Dear Cinema and please, please go watch the film if it's playing at a festival near you!