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India Shares Regional Gems

* SCREENING ROOM

Festival at UCLA opens tonight; Pan African Fest enters last weekend.

February 12, 1998|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The UCLA Film Archive's "Film India" offers a varied sampling of recent movies from that country's little-known regional cinemas.

Organized by journalist Mira Advani, the festival opens tonight at 7:30 in the James Bridges Theater in UCLA's Melnitz Hall with a sure-fire winner in Waris Hussein's "Sixth Happiness." The film stars Firdaus Kanga, who adapted his autobiographical novel, "Learning to Grow," for the screen.

Born in Bombay in the '60s to a Parsee family, Kanga has a disease that causes his bones to be brittle, leaving him diminutive in size and confined to a wheelchair. But Kanga, who has striking dark eyes that radiate intelligence, became determined that his affliction not become a restriction. Often on the screen you can't see the person for the disability, but that's emphatically not the case with Kanga, who has a rapier wit and a vibrant, commanding presence.

Kanga, whose size allows him to play himself as a child, takes us into a world of sudden calamities and unexpected joys viewed with an often darkly comic detachment. Throughout, Hussein strikes just the right balance between humor and pathos, and it is among the veteran director's most graceful and witty films. Hussein will be present at the screening.

Screening Friday at 7:30 p.m. is Santwana Bardoloi's highly challenging "The Flight" (Adajya), which is set in the '40s at a religious and cultural center in Assam that is run by a Brahmin family, whose very role in the community means lives of the utmost proscription for the widows, all relatives, in residence.

The focus is on the youngest and prettiest, who dares to rebel when a good-looking Westerner arrives to study some ancient scrolls. The film is steeped in local rituals, customs and beliefs that make it seem remote and somewhat daunting for the foreign viewer. Bardoloi will be present.

Mani Rathnam's "The Duo" (Iruvar), screening Sunday at 7 p.m., is a vastly entertaining epic, spanning several decades in the friendship between a movie star, Anandan (Mohan Lal), and a politician, Selvam (Prakash Raj, who will attend the screening). Anandan is an aspiring actor when he crosses paths with Selvam, who has written the script for the swashbuckler that will catapult Anandan to stardom. Both men share a passion for political change, and their mutual support helps carry both to the heights--and an eventual rivalry.

Exuberant and passionate, "The Duo" is in the classic style of elaborate mainstream Indian movies, replete with musical interludes. Yet it also keeps its unique, sharp-eyed view of the workings of politics and the world of movie-making.

Also screening is a 7:30 p.m. Saturday double feature, "The Red Door" and "Journey to Wisdom." (310) 206-8588.

*

Among the many notable films screening in the Pan African Film Festival as it enters its final weekend at the Magic Johnson Theaters is Tommy Morgan and Frank Underwood Jr.'s "Sister, I'm Sorry" (today at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.), a record of a deeply moving healing service conducted by Pastor Donald Bell of the Faithful Central Church and hosted by actress Margaret Avery.

A man of profound wisdom and spirituality, Pastor Bell encourages women, all of them young, attractive and intelligent, to come forward to tell totally believable accounts of terrible abuse from the men in their lives. Their stories are interspersed with symbolic, eloquent recitations of forgiveness spoken beautifully by a series of well-known actors: Blair Underwood, Tommy Ford, Michael Beach, Tico Wells, Clifton Powell, Steven Williams and musician Howard Hewitt.

Guinean filmmaker Mohamed Camara's "Dakan" (Destiny), which screens Saturday at 6 p.m., is a gay love story of much charm, humor, courage and imagination. Manga (Aboubacar Toure), raised by an adoring single mother, and Sory (Mamady), son of a rich, self-made contractor father, are college students who fall in love in their profoundly homophobic society.

Manga's mother simply denies the very existence of homosexuality while Sory's ambitious, hard-driving father, who intends his son to become his business partner, is apoplectic. "Dakan" becomes an odyssey for the lovers, full of unexpected developments and consequences. (213) 896-8221.

*

Wim Wenders' 1994 "Lisbon Story," which screens Wednesday and Feb. 19 at the New Beverly Cinema, is one of the internationally renowned filmmaker's most engaging films. It's a shimmering, bemused salute to the cinema in all its glories, starring Rudiger Vogler, who again plays the kind of lanky, amiable vagabond he was in two of the pictures that put Wenders on the map, "Alice in the Cities" (1974) and "Kings of the Road" (1976).

Vogler plays a German sound engineer named Phillip who responds to a desperate plea for help from a director, Friedrich (Patrick Boucheau), who has gone to Lisbon with an ancient hand-cranked camera in an attempt to invent the cinema for himself--as if no other film had ever been made before.

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