Indian film on sectarian violence wins Asia awards

SINGAPORE Thu Dec 11, 2008 11:28am GMT

An Indian man rides past a burning car during a riot in the city of Ahmedabad in the western state of Gujarat, May 5, 2002. REUTERS/Amit Dave

An Indian man rides past a burning car during a riot in the city of Ahmedabad in the western state of Gujarat, May 5, 2002.

Credit: Reuters/Amit Dave

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SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - An Indian film portraying sectarian violence swept the awards at an Asian festival for first time directors, with the issue striking a chord with jurors just weeks after the deadly Mumbai attacks.

The annual Asian Festival of 1st Films, which gave out awards late on Wednesday in Singapore to debutant talent in 11 categories, saw over 600 submissions from 26 countries.

"Firaaq," told through the eyes of ordinary people after deadly communal riots in India's Gujarat in 2002, won its director Nandita Das best film, best screenplay/script and the Foreign Correspondents Association award for best film.

Das, an actress known for her roles in bold, unconventional productions, said she took three years to write a script that was continually influenced by real life events, including bombings.

"It's a film about the effects of violence on relationships and the psyche," Das told Reuters, furiously texting people about her triple win.

More than 2,000 Muslims were massacred by Hindu mobs in the Gurajat riots of 2002.

Das was in Mumbai during the militant attacks at landmark hotels and buildings in late November that killed at least 179 people. New Delhi blamed Islamic militants from Pakistan, raising tension between the nuclear-armed foes and keeping India jittery.

"There's a lot of anger now and that's the overriding feeling, which is dangerous," Das said. "The film shows the other side -- the compassion -- and that's important to see and understand."

In another film that was the first to be released simultaneously in India and Pakistan earlier this year, Das played a mother left in Pakistan while her son and husband crossed into India and were jailed. The film was a collaboration between the two countries based on a real-life episode.

From attacks on Christians to suspected Islamist bombings, communal politics is back on the agenda across India, to challenge an embattled secular-leaning government as it gears up for an election against a Hindu-nationalist opposition in 2009.

Various Indian and Pakistani films were nominated for awards at the festival, but other honors went to the Philippines' Dante Nico Garcia as best director for his love story "Ploning," to best male actor Bosco Francis for Singapore's "My Magic" and China's Jia Xuhua as best actress in "The Mountain and the Song."

Female leads were nominated for their portrayals of suffering Asian women, from transvestites in Iran's "Khastegi" (Sex My Life) to a sexual predator wearing painfully tight outfits in South Korea's "Miss Gold Digger."

(Editing by Miral Fahmy)

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