UK Asian Film Festival returns For 23rd Edition to spread message of hope

The UK Asian Film Festival (UKAFF), the world’s longest running South Asian film festival outside India, is set to celebrate its 23rd birthday in its usual style as Covid restrictions ease across the country.

The festival will launch on 26th May at the renown BFI Southbank with fantastic hybrid programme that will run at venues across London, Leicester, Coventry and The Modern Films website until 6th June.

Inspired by the theme ‘Ray of Hope’, this year’s line-up highlights stories of resilience and bravery, celebrating those who take a stand against oppression and injustice and will feature characters, stories and storytellers that strive for a better world through films that highlight inclusivity, kindness and, above all, empathy.  

Opening the festival will be the UK Premiere of Raahgir (The Wayfarers) (UK/ India, 2019, Dir: Goutam Ghose) on Wednesday 26th May at BFI Southbank. Featuring Adil Hussain, Tillotama Shome, Neeraj Kabi, this epic and elemental journey tells the story of a man and woman driven by hunger to search for work in the nearest town. They exchange life stories and find themselves drawn into a life and death struggle. 

Closing the festival on a high note will be the World Premiere of much anticipated The Beatles And India (UK/ India, 2021, Dir: Ajoy Bhose, Co-Director Peter Comption) on Sunday 6th June at BFI Southbank. The first serious exploration of how India shaped the development of the greatest ever rock band will see rare archival footage, recordings, photographs and eye-witness accounts to bring alive the fascinating journey of George, John, Paul and Ringo to Himalayan ashram in search of spiritual bliss that inspires an unprecedented burst of creative song-writing.

Highlights of the festival include:

UK Premiere of Zindagi Tamasha (Circus Of Life) (Pakistan, 2020, Dir: Sarmad Khoosat). Directed by one of Pakistan’s most lauded auteurs,  Zindagi Tamasha tells the story of Rahat, a struggling cleric who has a guilty pleasure – enjoying old Punjabi movies. Egged on by friends, he breaks into a dance at a wedding, paying homage to his film idols. The video of a bearded man dancing effeminately goes viral and Rahat’s life unravels as he is shunned by friends and shamed by family. 

The award-winning film has been caught up in a blasphemy controversy, with its theatrical release in Pakistan suspended while the federal government referred it to the Council of Islamic Ideology. Despite being banned status in its country of origin, Zindagi Tamasha still went onto become Pakistan’s official entry for selection for the Best International Feature category at this year’s Oscars. 

The World Premiere of Toofan Mail (India, 2021, Dir: Akriti Singh), based on the true events that took place in 1974, of a woman who landed at the New Delhi Railway station and asked to meet Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by claiming she was the Queen of Awadh; a story which quickly became a media sensation.

The UK Premiere of Fireflies (India, 2019, Dir: Prakash Deka)Jahnu lives in a remote village in rural Assam and dreams of getting an operation to become a woman. The villagers outcast him for his femininity. The film follows his battle cry for acceptance and follows a journey of embracing his truth.

The UK Premiere of Gutter Boy (India, 2020, Dir: Anupam Khanna Baswal), the narrative follows Sandeep, who moves to the big city to seek a better life. Instead he reminded of his place in society when the only job he’s offered is a sewage cleaner. This story examines the caste divide, societal segregation.

The World Premiere of Khape (India, 2020, Dir: Suchita Bhhatia), Aditya Lakhia (Lagaan) stars in a moving drama about Ali, a young boy who works as a labourer to help support his poverty-stricken family. Khape explores the power of education to break down barriers and to aspire to a better life. 

Founder and Director, Dr Pushpinder Chowdhry MBE says, “We are thrilled to bring the magic of the cinema back again! After a year of virtual living, we are proud to be working with our partners to create safe spaces for our audiences to enjoy films in person. We have shifted our dates during this exceptional time to adhere to government regulations and to take into account religious festivities to make sure we continue to serve all South Asian communities. We have also curated a selection of online premieres to make sure we reach new, UK-wide audiences.” 

UK Asian Film Festival Creative Director, Samir Bhamra says, “Cinema has been a ray of hope for all of us during this pandemic. Its power to entertain, provide escapism and boost our wellbeing has held us all together during this pandemic. And just as characters in films go on a journey of growth, UKAFF has expanded to Coventry this year. Working in partnership with Belgrade Theatre, we are delighted to be one of the key headline events during the UK City of Culture to celebrate the best of South Asian culture, positivity and creativity.” 

UKAFF is supported by the BFI and Arts Council England and funded by the National Lottery and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

For UK Asian Film Festival Full Programme details visit:

Join the conversation:#UKAFF2021

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