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Reviews by Rich Cline | See also: SHADOWS FILM FESTIVAL | Last update 9.Jul.22

London Indian Film Festival shorts...
held in London, Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds 23.Jun-7.Jul.22

Rich served on the jury for the Satyajit Ray Short Film Competition | Page 1 of 2

7 Star Dinosor Entertainment dir-scr Vaishali Naik
with Kapil Dev, Rahul Sahu, Zaki Zubar Khan, Safa Khan, Deepak Patil, Raj Sutak, Umesh Waghmare
22/India 20m

7 Star Dinosor Entertainment  

7 Star Dinosor Entertainment With a sharp sense of humour, this mock-documentary takes a witty, clever look at a serious issue, engaging the audience with strong characters in amusing situations. Aside from being a terrific story about two friends who find themselves in an unexpected predicament, this knowingly highlights an angle on the global pandemic that has rarely been touched upon. And it does so with skill and warmth while remaining utterly hilarious.

Two years ago, a video of two pals (Dev and Sahu) performing as dinosaurs at a birthday party went viral, turning them into YouTube sensations. Then covid arrived, and they found themselves trapped in the city, far from their home village. Unable to work or travel, they're living in a small space with nothing to eat but a leftover birthday cake This has put a strain on their bromance, but they don't really miss their wife and girlfriend back home, and dread having to tell them the truth about their careers.

Filmmaker Naik uses an endearingly scruffy style to depict the limbo these men live in, with amusing cutaways to them in dinosaur costumes trying to scare a bored neighbourhood cat. Details are terrific, from the stack of Jurassic DVDs to the dino-roars that punctuate the soundtrack. Both Dev and Sahu are so charming that we can't help but identify with them, and root for them to be happy, whatever that means. So even when they come to blows over the last slice of cake, we can't help but laugh at them. And watching these dinosaurs wander into the wild (with hand luggage) is priceless.


Crow Island dir Mohammed Ali Faisal
scr John Kennedy
with Abhilash Pattalam, Gireesh Karunakaran, Joy Mala, Kennedy, Soorya Kennedy
21/India 24m

Crow Island  

Crow Island While this short drama is shot in a gorgeous setting, a strip of land in the middle of wetlands, the filmmaking approach is rather dark and overwrought. It effectively builds the tone of an intriguing mystery-thriller to pull us in, then remains elusive about the characters and situations. Even so, the mix of intense implications, sharp repercussions and magical realism is pungent. And it's a fascinating depiction of traditional life threatened by larger outside forces.

In this part of India, the descendants of Portuguese settlers are still seen as outsiders. Life revolves around the waterways, where Kannappan (Pattalam) fishes for prawns, then bickers with vendors over market prices, feeling like he's being hounded out of his traditional livelihood. But he is as connected to this place as his stubborn father (Mala), who is now ill. Secretly, his younger brother Jose (Karunakaran) is considering a buy-out from a businessman (Kennedy) who pushes him to take drastic action.

The film is beautifully shot to capture the watery rhythms of life in this place, nicely echoed in low-key performances that play out in pre-dawn conversations. Along the way, there's a creeping suspense that overwhelms the characters, although the loose filmmaking leaves everything feeling rather vague, obliquely watching this collision between history and progress. There's a powerful sense of injustice in this threat to the old ways, especially as deeper forces begin to appear with the statue of a fiercely protective goddess. A bit more narrative control might have made this essential.


Brothers dir-scr Hamza Bangash
with Ayan Javaid, Mohammad Ali Hashmi, Abdullah Sheikh, Bakhtawar Zaidi, Ayana Saad, Alyshba Jamil, Ayan Hussain, Taj
21/Pakistan 7m

Bhai   3/5

Brothers There's a stylish, youthful kick to this jagged drama from Pakistan, which is unusually shot in black and white in Academy ratio. The striking imagery captures strongly internalised feelings within the characters, even if they're not particularly well-defined. And the clever sound mix lets the conversations swirl through the film in creative ways, rippling and surging in unexpected directions. Although it's all a bit under-developed.

As it opens, Taimur (Javaid) is making faces at a giggling little girl in the car next to his. He's waiting for his brother Hassan (Hashmi), who is in the shop. And there's the sound of celebrations in the streets, echoed by the fact that everyone has a Pakistani flag painted on his or her cheek. When the girl begins honking her horn, Taimur shouts at her, making her cry and infuriating her father (Sheikh) when he turns up. Hassan watches this from inside the shop, and comes out to help Taimur calm down.

It's never quite clear what's happening here, either the meaning of the cacophony of sounds or the situation that is playing out. But filmmaker Bangash adds swelling music to the mix, hinting that there should be some sort of emotional connection. And there are some odd edits that hint at a larger story about these brothers, which definitely could have been fleshed out in a meaningful way. Still, it's so vividly shot and edited, and has such a visceral charge of energy, that it's worth a look.


luthra dir Eshaan Rajadhyaksha
scr Eshaan Rajadhyaksha, Vansh Luthra
with Vansh Luthra, Arndt Schwering-Sohnrey, Hynek Cermak, Victor Dohlsten, Jan Drabek, Vasek Tomas, Mihir Kulkarni, Jan Drabek
21/Czechia 20m

Destination Paradise  

Destination Paradise Evocative and engaging, this micro-drama tells a very small story that sits somewhere in the middle of a much larger epic tale. Using comedy to touch on a complex situation, filmmaker Rajadhyaksha helps the audience dive into a specific place and time with a group of cleverly mismatched characters. There are skilful touches everywhere, from the astute and witty direction to the understated but wonderfully textured performances.

It opens on a dark night in the middle European countryside, as a van crosses the border from Hungary into the Czech Republic. Arriving at an isolated farm, a Sikh migrant (Luthra) is released from his hiding place inside a mattress. The stern farmer (Cermak) assigns his farmhand Nikolaj (Schwering-Sohnrey) to watch over this visitor, reminding him that "you are not here". Settling into his accommodation in a barn, the man struggles with his broken English, but Nikolaj feeds him ("Indians like spicy food") and asks questions, learning that this man is hoping to find a better life in London.

A quiet friendship grows between strangers who realise that they have a lot in common, including their scars. Luthra's wryly hilarious visitor is hugely likeable as he settles in, tries to help out and names all the cows. And when he shows Nikolaj his kirpan, the ceremonial knife given to him by his mother, a bond is built. By contrast, the farmer remains dismissive and even violent. It's a remarkably tender depiction of humanity at a moment when two lost people briefly cross paths, finding the compassion and understanding they need to continue with their journeys. What a gorgeous depiction of hope within the harshness of the real world.


Yadav dir Sameer Sharma
scr Vishal Sagar
with Raghubir Yadav, Anjuman Sazena, Priya, Son, Zeeshan
22/India 9m

Master Ji  

Master Ji While this little drama is finely shot in lovely settings, with fascinating characters who are nicely played by the cast, it feels naggingly simplistic about its deeper themes. Not only is it packed with obvious gags about an older man struggling to grasp technology (he prefers a blackboard and manual typewriter), but it turns extremely sentimental as the story progresses. Filmmakers Sharma and Sagar clearly want this to be inspirational, but they push everything just a bit too hard.

That middle-aged man is Master Ji (Yadav), a teacher who in March 2020 finds himself in lockdown. Knowing that students shouldn't suffer as a result, he tries to get to grips with teaching online classes, coached by his teen daughter (Priya). Overwhelmed by the difficult tech and the extended lockdown, he decides he should perhaps take early retirement. Then he hears from a former student (Zeeshan) who is now a doctor, and he urges Master Ji to never quit teaching, even if he retires.

This is a great story, and might have carried a proper emotional kick if it played out in a more textured way. But everything here feels far too carefully orchestrated to elicit an emotional response from the audience, punching each meaningful moment far too forcefully. This former student goes on and on about the thousands of lives he has saved "because of you", and the plot's final contrives to find hope. That said, it's an involving narrative that's recognisably authentic. And a more nuanced approach might have pulled us in.


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