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Gifts from South Asia

From its cinema and fashion to spirituality, India's gems will be laid out like a cultural banquet.

August 09, 2007|Kavita Daswani | Special to The Times

INDIA SPLENDOR is being billed as one of the most ambitious privately funded South Asian festivals ever to take place in the U.S., with some 4,000 people expected to turn out over the next six days to experience the cultural offerings.

The event, which officially opens Friday night at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills with a screening and reception for 1,500 people, was envisioned by its organizers as a way to convey the cultural richness of India to as many people in Los Angeles as possible. Running through Wednesday, which is also the 60th anniversary of India's independence from Great Britain, the festival offers a packed schedule of film screenings, art workshops, movie tributes, a book launch and a fashion show. The closing night bash is being co-hosted by Jeffrey Berg, chairman and chief executive of the ICM talent agency.

"We wanted to show India in its total royalty," said Bhupendra Kumar Modi, chairman of MGlobal Trust, the philanthropic arm of India-based telecommunications and IT firm MCorpGlobal. "India is known today for its heritage, its holistic way of life and being a high-tech leader. We want to combine that with the message that Asia and the U.S. are both global leaders, that we are all one."

Modi donated $1 million toward the event, with other significant contributions coming from Indian technology firms Wipro and Sify, and through private donations. Tickets, although free, are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Highlights include the opening-night screening and world premiere of "Chak De India!" (which translates as "Come on, India!") starring top Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan as the coach of an all-girl Indian field hockey team. The film's director, Shimit Amin, will participate in a panel discussion afterward. Other screenings include new blockbusters such as "Guru," starring newlywed Bollywood golden couple Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan (the so-called Brangelina of India) and directed by Mani Ratnam, all of whom are traveling to Los Angeles for the event. Ben Kingsley will also be on hand for the screening of "Gandhi," his 1982 Oscar-winning biopic. And films such as "Life in a Metro," with its ensemble cast, provide a glimpse into contemporary Indian life that could be relatable to inhabitants in any city.

"People have referred to India as a sleeping giant," said Robert Rosen, dean of UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television and one of the event's organizers. "Well, India is not sleeping anymore and the rest of the world has to wake up to that reality."

Rosen said the movies were chosen for their comprehensive insight into the diverse scope of Indian cinema, and that the time was right to expose more people to what India and Bollywood had to offer. "The important thing here is to make a splash, to make people wake up and say, 'There's a cinema out there of enormous global importance, and we should be in on it.' "

Outside of films, festival events will include a fashion show by Suneet Verma, considered one of India's top fashion designers, who will be bringing an entourage of models and clothes that reflect his East-West sensibility. Modi has also invited spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (not to be confused with the musician Ravi Shankar), whose Art of Living Foundation works toward global peace. Mumbai author Anupama Chopra is flying in to launch her new book, "King of Bollywood," which looks at the life of Shah Rukh Khan.

Art workshops will be helmed by four popular Indian painters. And the late Raj Kapoor, arguably one of the fathers of Bollywood, will be honored in a tribute attended by his son, daughter-in-law and grandson, all of whom have worked extensively in Bollywood.

Modi, who moved from India to Los Angeles three years ago to spearhead Indo-West movie collaborations, said the festival would become an annual one, although he would consider taking it to other parts of the country.

"We have to promote artists, and all kinds of artists, because they are the ones who are going to create a peaceful world," he said. "Any society which respects the arts and can bring them forward is a society that will be successful."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

India Splendor

The six-day festival looks to offer a peek at Indian cinema, art, fashion, spirituality and more. Events are at the Billy Wilder Theater, unless noted. A sampling of the highlights:

Opening night: Screening of "Chak De India"; Q&A with director Shimit Amin and writer Jaideep Sahni. 6:30 p.m. Friday, Samuel Goldwyn Theater

Art nights: Four Indian artists present works. 6 to 8 p.m. Friday though Tuesday, Melnitz Hall

Tribute to Raj Kapoor: The late filmmaker has been called the "Charlie Chaplin of Indian cinema." 1 p.m. Saturday

"Gandhi": A 25th anniversary screening, followed by a Q&A with Ben Kingsley. 3 p.m. Saturday

Fashion show: Suneet Varma's designs are on display. 9 p.m. Saturday, Hammer Museum

Spiritual talk: Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's address is titled "The World Is One Family." 3 p.m. Sunday

Book release party: A Q&A and more with Anupama Chopra, author of "The King of Bollywood." 5 p.m. Sunday

More screenings: "Eklavya," 7:30 p.m. Sunday; "Life in a Metro," 7:30 p.m. Monday; "Guru," 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Closing night: Gala celebration of India's 60th year of independence. 8 p.m. Wednesday, Royce Hall

Where: Samuel Goldwyn Theater, 8949 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills; Billy Wilder Theater and Hammer Museum, 10899 Wilshire Blvd., L.A.; Royce Hall and Melnitz Hall, UCLA campus, Westwood

Price and info: Free but donations accepted at venues. RSVP required through www.indiasplendor.com

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