British comedy “Eaten By Lions” has won the top prize at the 9th Bagri Foundation London Indian Film Festival in London, Birmingham and Manchester, the UK and Europe’s largest platform of independent cinema from the Indian subcontinent. The festival is title sponsored by the Bagri Foundation who share our passion for Asian arts and culture, with major support from Grange Hotels, Integrity International Trust and Sun Mark Ltd, and is funded by grant support from the BFI’s National Lottery Audience Fund.

LIFFs annual Audience Award for Best Film went to British comedy “Eaten By Lion”. The director Jason Wingard says: “We’re delighted to win this fantastic award. “Eaten By Lions” is a modern relevant comedy dealing with contemporary issues such as diversity and disability, but ultimately captures that life is about relationships and people, and we’re so pleased audiences are connecting with it. It was fantastic to work with some of Britain’s best loved comedians, who all bought emotional heart and humour to the story.”

Other special awards presented by the festival included two Sunmark Ltd Pure Heaven ICON Awards, which went to 2 acclaimed actors from India, Irrfan Khan and Manoj Bajpayee.

ICON awardee Irrfan Khan (“Slumdog Millionaire”, “The Lunchbox” and “Life of Pi”) who presented a masterclass at the British Film Institute at the festival in 2013, reuniting on stage with BAFTA and Academy award winner Asif Kapadia, who directed him in The Warrior, accepted his ICON award privately, while undergoing major medical treatment in London. 2 of his films showed at the festival this year, Mostafa Sarwar Farooki’s “Doob – no bed of roses”, and Anup Singh’s “Song of Scorpions”.

Manoj Bajpayee (Aligarh) enthuses: “An actor is always in the making, it’s a process that one follows, and getting this honour at the festival is quite remarkable, more so from the perspective that this year, 2 films of mine, “Love Sonia” and “In The Shadow” have showcased here. This being a festival of Indian subcontinental independent films – these I feel, are films that often do complete justice to the medium of cinema, where creativity is at its peak. Getting this award at this prestigious film festival, it definitely is a matter of privilege for me, also in London, the city I love the most.”

The festival has garnered a stellar reputation of highlighting emerging South Asian talent on the international stage. The Sunmark Ltd Outstanding Achievement Award went to Bollywood actress Richa Chadha who starred in a legacy hit film of the festival Anurag Kashyap’s “Gangs of Wasseypur”, and in this year’s opening night world premiere of Tabrez Noorani’s Hollywood-Bollywood continent jumping film “Love Sonia”, which was a very close contender for the audience award.

Richa says: “This means a lot because it’s an international achievement. Very few festivals celebrate diversity from India. When you say Indian films, people assume it’s just Bollywood and that’s untrue. We have independent films, that survive the onslaught of the nexus, and festivals like LIFF help us in making the right noise back home, so these films stand a chance against the mainstream expensive spectacle films. Thank you for being a true patron of the arts.”

Bollywood newcomer Mrunal Thakur who won the Sunmark Ltd Best Newcomer Award, says: “I always wanted to do a film that would touch the audience and “Love Sonia” it is! This journey is beautiful and bittersweet, as an actor, to get to witness and highlight the harsh realities of life through cinema. I am on cloud nine to receive this award.”

Says Sunny Ahuja of Sunmark Ltd, who presented the actors awards: “The festival this year has highlighted high quality work of 8 women film makers, including 2 in the short film category, which gets us closer to being an equal and fair society. This alongside the strong LGBTQ+ quotient, and high quality of work that the award winners have been a part of, has made this year very significant for us, as staunch supporters of the festival, and the hard work of the team. Bring on year 10!”

Festival executive and programming director Cary Rajinder Sawhney said: “We are delighted that in spite of a UK heat wave and the football World Cup, that the festival attracted so many film fans this year, both Indian and non-Indian, to our wonderful film theatres. It shows there is a real thirst for this kind of independent cinema showing more real-life images of the Indian continent and we were delighted to add a Pakistani and Bangladeshi premiere to the mix. Here in the UK, our lived experiences and stories really do overlap. There clearly is a market, as we opened in Manchester this year, with demand for adding more UK cities to the mix, as we go into year 10, in 2019.”

The annual Satyajit Ray Short Film Award of £1,000, supported by the Bagri Foundation, went to the Indo-German co-production The Peanut Seller and award winner Etienne Sievers. The judges found the work cinematically well crafted, with a simple but powerful humanist story of a lost child. Etienne Sievers, who grew up in India, says: “I’m incredibly grateful to receive this much coveted award. It’s a huge encouragement to continue to make films that address important social issues in an authentic, aesthetic and engaging way. Many thanks to the LIFF for honouring my film and enabling it to travel even further.”

Falling into pride month, the well appreciated LGBTQ+ films at the festival, were a strong celebration, including 2 films with a transgender theme, told with the female gaze; Sangeeta Datta’s Bird Of Dusk and closing night film at BFI Southbank, Eisha Marjara’s Venus, plus the sold out film from Tamil Nadu, India, My Son Is Gay.

Toxic masculinity which explored the relationship of Father’s and Sons, the Female Eye and the Extraordinary Lives of over a Billion people from the Indian subcontinent, were all strands explored and much lauded, at the festival. One of the festival’s most unique screenings was a British Sign Language Q&A after the multiple Indian National award winning film Village Rockstars by Rima Das, which attracted a significant hard of hearing audience.

The festival closes in London at the BFI Southbank on 29th June, and concurrently in Birmingham (BIFF) at MAC Birmingham with the Canadian comedy Venus, and in Manchester for the first time, with the rustic village tale Village Rockstars, on July 1st.

The BFI is a major supporter of a tour of new Pakistani films this Autumn called Pakistani Film Circus, happening in Manchester, Bradford, Leeds and other UK cities across the North of England.

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