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The young dreamer from a little hamlet in an obscure part of the country wakes up one night, breaks open the tiny earthenware hundi hidden behind a photo frame of ‘God’ placed in an alcove in the one room tenement, taking  all the money clandestinely saved  from arduous toil over the years by Mother, also enriching himself with a  small bundle of assorted jewelry tucked away from the prying eyes of liquor-thirsty men of the family and leaves his home to  the sprawling metro, the city of his dreams ….  This used to be the story of many filmmakers who have made it big in the tinsel town in India.

Indian cinema has emerged from the narrow confines of such rags-to-riches stories of men who rose to make memorable films to a new era where the scions of popular filmmakers have garnered an envious share of the filmdom. So we have many star sons and daughters making a foray into filmdom chiefly as actors or filmmakers at the most. But there’s more to the evolution  and renaissance of the Indian cinema.

Along with food and chai, (read kaapi for south Indians) cinema is an indispensable part of the Indian life.  While Indians seeking greener pastures were largely confined to countries like the US, UK, Australia and Canada, today the Indian Diaspora is spread across diverse nations and is trying to hold on to the umbilical cord that binds it to the nation of birth. In the recent past, this search for identity led to the emergence of several cross-country themes from young NRIs/men and women of Indian origin whose families had acquired citizenship of  foreign nations. The global Indians  kept away from the song-dance-fight, clichéd masala formula, bringing with them intensity and meaning that sated the inner cravings of millions of Indians across the world and also made the global cinema take notice of Indian films.

Given that cinema runs in the Indian blood, it is no wonder that today we see many young men and women of Indian origin with education from Ivy League universities ushering in a new era in the Indian cinema. Armed with exotic degrees and global exposure, a generation of expatriate cine-artists and NRIs are romanticizing Diaspora issues infusing a new dimension to cinema. Young talent and creativity are at their best even as this young brood of talented filmmakers and actors  has taken the world by the storm making largely urbane or bold and off-beat films that sometimes rake up controversies.

The astute young global Indian cinema makers have understood the immense potential of films in projecting the cultural personality of the society and are exploiting this to a great advantage. Irrespective of their quest for identity, cinema for Diaspora filmmakers is not just a forum for voicing their personal experiences and angst, but is an expression of their opinions, issues and conflicts.

The focus of SFIAAFF 30 (San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival) this year was on movies from the Indian Diaspora including Indian filmmakers from India, the UK, Canada and the US. These movies with out-of-the-box themes related to Indian culture were lauded by the world audience.

India’s official entry to the 84th Academy Awards was the movie, ‘Abu, Son of Adam’ from Kerala, a reflective story of an aging couple determined to perform the Haj pilgrimage. ‘Delhi in a Day,’ by Prashant Nair is a comic portrayal of class differences in a contemporary Delhi family home when a British business associate arrives. Tanuj Chopra from the US is the filmmaker of ‘Nice Girls Crew,’ which is about three childhood friends reuniting for a book club.  Delving deep into the Sikh psyche is ‘Roots of Love,’ by Harjant Gill from San Francisco which documents the changing significance of the hair and turban among Sikhs in India.  These films by young international filmmakers of Indian origin have put Indian films on the world map and have also raised important questions about diverse issues that assail the social fabric of Indian culture. These are issues that the society needs to ruminate upon, those that necessitate certain alterations in the age old mores and ways of thinking. These are issues that impact the young Indian citizens of today.

Blame them for creating an elitist culture or an imperceptible divide among filmmakers, accuse them for their ‘snootiness,’ hold them responsible for introducing bold and benumbing themes alien to Indian sensibilities and social milieu, but this young brood of global filmmakers are here to stay. And they will continue to make a world of difference to Indian cinema. We cannot deny they have made the world sit up and watch India with new interest. Here’s a toast to the success of the suave, young men and women who have taken Indian cinema to global heights!

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