UK Asian Film Festival announces winners at Closing Gala

UK Asian Film Festival announces Tongues on Fire Flame Award-winners at Closing Gala, reports columnist Riccha Grrover for Asian Lite International

UK Asian Film Festival is the world’s longest running South Asian film festival, which this year celebrated its 25th anniversary – presented their annual Tongues on Fire Flame Awards at the Closing Gala on Sunday 14th May, BFI Southbank.

Jassa Ahluwalia – host

Hosted by actor, Jassa Ahluwalia (Peaky Blinders), Closing Gala guests included Indian cinema luminaries, Rajkummar Rao, Poonam Dhillon and Shabana Azmi; actors, Nimra Bucha, Adil Hussain and Supreet Bedi; filmmakers, Jamil Dehlavi, Alankrita Shrivastava, Shiladitya Bora and Nathalia Syam; child actor, Satendra Soni; screenwriter, poet and lyricist, Javed Akhtar; BBC Young Dancer winner, Shyam Dattani; and globally renowned digital creator Deen (bollywoodboi).

Tongues on Fire Flame Award 2023 winners:

Best Short Film: Madhavi – Director, Jacintha Charles

Film Wallahs Choice Award: Polite Society – Director, Nida Manzoor

Celebrating Our Stories Theme: Nathalia Syam – Footprints on Water

Best Film, Curator’s Choice: Kamli – Director, Sarmad Khoosat

Best Documentary: Trans Kashmir

Best Debut Director: Manish Mundra – Siya

Contribution to Hindi Cinema: Poonam Dhillon

Best Director: Sudhanshu Saria – Sanaa

Making Waves Globally: Adil Hussain – Footprints On Water

Best Actor: Radhika Madan – Sanaa

Best Film: Bhagwan Bharose – Director, Shiladitya Bora 

Championing Change: Nimra Bucha

Lifetime Achievement Award – Contribution to Global Cinema: Jamil Dehlavi

Trailblazer: Rajkummar Rao

British Council this year commissioned a collaboration between UK  Asian Film Festival and Indus Valley School of Arts & Architecture, entitled Re-imagining Freedom – Space to Reflect. Pakistani and British Pakistani artists were invited to create short films that were screened during the festival, each of whom were awarded a certificate on behalf of British Council at the Closing Gala.

The artists were:

Omar Kent for The Dandies Of Albertopolis

Humira Imtiaz for Rootless Connection, An AI Experiment

Kuldeep Khatri for Vachan

Sameen Ali for Hania

Nirmal Bano for Republic Of Wailing Trees

Javed Akhtar, Shabana Azmi with Dr Pushpinder Chowdhry

Bollywood star and Tongues on Fire Trailblazer award-recipient, Rajkummar Rao (The White Tiger, Badhaai Do, Shahid), was the closing conversation in grandiose style, discussing his illustrious career journey onstage. The Closing Gala  further welcomed veteran actress, Poonam Dhillon (Noorie, Yeh Vaada Raha, Sohni Mahiwal),  and acclaimed filmmaker, Jamil Dehlavi (Jinnah, The Blood Of Hussain), in conversation onstage.  It also featured a special centenary celebration screening of A Meeting Of Cultures, a heritage film marking the centenary of the start of the iconic collaboration between Prima Ballerina, Anna Pavlova, and renowned Indian dancer, Uday Shankar, from their first performance at Royal Opera House in 1923.

Poonam Dhillon, Raj Baddan

UK Asian Film Festival ran at venues across London, Leicester and Glasgow, presented by Tongues on Fire and supported by the BFI and Arts Council England, both awarding funds from the National Lottery, as well as support from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).  #HereforCulture. UK Asian Film Festival was powered by broadcast partners, SONY TV and Lyca Radio; and TV Partner for UKAFF Short Film Competition was Shorts TV.

Shilditya Bora, Satendra Soni from Best Film

Over the last 25 years, the festival has been a force to champion South Asian female-centric cinema and celebrate women in film – both behind and in front of the camera.  A festival helmed by women and feminist allies, its programmes have annually sought to disrupt the patriarchal status quo and initiate challenging conversations in its mission to advocate and promote gender equality in cinema. It annually showcases films that challenge social taboos, providing an intersectional platform to celebrate emerging talent and new artists while also bringing queer stories to the forefront of the festival.

Tongues on Fire Lifetime Achievement Award 2023 Contribution to Global Cinema Jamil Dehlavi

The ‘Celebrating Our Stories’ theme of the festival’s silver jubilee year presented a curation of film stories centring on the British Asian experience – redefining and reimagining one’s roots and dreams in a foreign land. A curation of feature films, short films, documentaries and LGBTQ+ stories depicted struggles faced living in conservative family structures; challenging the status quo; and celebrating freedom. Its stories of migration to the UK explored modern-day Britain fractured by race, class and gender. The Tongues on Fire Flame Awards this year honoured contributions to the world of cinema that reflected the theme.

Best Actor Radhika Madan for Sanaa

Highlights included the Opening Gala UK Premiere of Sanaa (India, 2022) at BFI Southbank, attended by lead actor, Radhika Madan (Pataakha), and director, Sudhanshu Saria (Loev). The film is an observation of the choices and dilemmas facing women in the corporate workplace, highlighting gender disparities.

The UK Premiere of Kamli (Pakistan, 2022) presented the latest film by Sarmad Khoosat, one of Pakistan’s most provocative auteurs. Starring Saba Qamar and Nimra Bucha, it portrays a woman’s struggle between her sense of loyalty to her husband, missing for eight years, and her carnal desires that urge her to move on.

Best Film Bhagwan Bharose

As part of the festival’s LGBTQ strand, the UK Premiere of Trans Kashmir (India, 2022) offered an intimate glimpse into the unique culture and resilience of transgender women in Kashmir as they fight to secure basic human rights.

The Closing Film at Kiln Theatre, London presented the World Premiere of Bhagwan Bharose (India, 2023).  Actors, Vinay Pathak (Bheja Fry) and Satendra Soni; and director, Shiladitya Bora (Song of Scorpions), took part in a Q&A hosted by BBC Radio 4 presenter, Viji Alles discussing the film – a story of two village boys struggling with their understanding of God and religion against the backdrop of a rising Hindu nationalist movement in late 1980’s India.

Best Film, Curator’s Choice Kamli

UK Asian Film Festival annually hosts a mix of electric films; thought-provoking lecture series; audience workshops; live performances; visual arts exhibitions; masterclasses; and the annual Short Film Competition. As the festival (formerly known as Tongues on Fire) and seminal, British Asian comedy, Goodness Gracious Me, respectively celebrate 25 years, these cultural institutions came together to Celebrate Our Stories – Of Shared Identity, Culture And Future – a special screening of iconic episode, Going For An English, at Beck Theatre, London followed by a Q&A with writer/ actors, Nina Wadia and Kulvinder Ghir; and writer, Sanjeev Kohli.

Championing Change Nimra Bucha

Talking Life at the British Library presented Padma Bhushan recipient, screenwriter, lyricist and poet, Javed Akhtar; and television producer and writer, Nasreen Munni Kabir, bringing their conversational book to life in a discussion about the mind of a creative genius.  They were joined by Akhtar’s wife, award-winning actor Shabana Azmi.

Directors Masterclass with Alankrita Srivastava presented the award-winning filmmaker, writer, director and showrunner delving into her craft and career trajectory. Regarded as one of India’s leading contemporary visionaries, Shivastava explores the interior world of women through her films, with critically-acclaimed features including Lipstick Under My Burkha and Dolly Kitty Aur Woh Chamakte Sitare; and popular web series such as, Made in Heaven and Bombay Begums.

Making Waves Globally – Adil Hussain

UK Asian Film Festival Founder and Director, Dr Pushpinder Chowdhry MBE says, “UKAFF has always been a platform for unheard stories. For 25 years, we successfully provided a space for these untold stories to reach communities in the UK so we can have thought-provoking discussions on our sense of belonging, assimilating, culture and conditioning. These insightful and inspirational films shine a light on the traditionally taboo subjects and difficult issues through a female perspective in a patriarchal society to wider audiences. This year, our selected films have powerfully opened our hearts and minds because of how they capture and narrate our experiences authentically. We consciously mainstream South Asian perspectives, told by South Asians for global audiences so our stories inform and transform communities.”

Celebrating Our Stories_ – Nathalia Syam

UK Asian Film Festival Creative Director, Samir Bhamra says, “UKAFF’s theme of celebrating our stories has made us confront what we dare not acknowledge or choose to ignore. Our British Asian and South Asian filmmakers have crafted exquisite and authentic stories that vulnerably exposed the most hideous parts of our nature. In doing so, they illuminated our brokenness, showed us the essences that bind us and filled us with hope that we can learn to accept and begin to heal. These brilliant films and film talent are shaping our universe and it’s been an  incredible joy to make them accessible to British audiences in UKAFF’s silver jubilee year.”

Trailblazer_ – Rajkummar Rao

Raj Baddhan, CEO of Lyca Radio says, “It has been an incredible film festival! And hats off to the amazing team at UKAFF and Tongues on Fire  for putting on a fantastic, memorable event. We at Lyca Radio have been delighted with the high-end execution and excited about our partnership for the years ahead.”

Miyrah Mistry, Head of Marketing for Sony Pictures Networks UK & Europe says: “We were once again proud to be involved with the UK Asian Film Festival, that celebrated its 25th anniversary. With a focus on dynamic and visionary cinema, the organisers put tremendous effort into arranging a spectacular programme which included the festival awards, screenings at landmark locations, red carpet premieres, live chats and performances. The star studded festival has given audiences, filmmakers, actors, music creators, of all ages and ethnicities a chance to discover new South Asian voices and celebrate established ones. We would like to congratulate all the winners of the awards.

Best Film, Curator’s Choice – Kamli

A huge thank you to the whole team at UKAFF and Tongues on Fire. Highlights from the festival will be shown on SONY TV soon.”

Nidhi Sharma, Director, Mango Marketing & Events says, “We are hugely proud to be selected as the preferred marketing and sales partner for UKAFF, who have produced a phenomenal show this year. We are delighted to continue our partnership with a pioneering organisation that is investing in innovation because that is where we will find our future.”

Best Short Film – Madhavi
Contribution to Hindi Cinema_ – Poonam Dhillon
UKAFF team
Rajkummar Rao, Shabana Azmi _ Javed Akhtar
Shabana Azmi
Rajkummar Rao

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