Bollywood films often capture the color and beauty of Indian culture through high-profile stars and big-budget blockbusters, but a group of filmmakers is attempting to show a different side of India's people through smaller, independent fare.
The Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles, commencing on Tuesday, is bringing the movies made outside of the Bollywood studio system to Hollywood. The six-day event will showcase 33 feature films, documentaries and short films from filmmakers across nine countries, all exploring Indian stories.
Kicking off the festival is "Sold," a gritty drama by director Jeffrey D. Brown, about a 13-year-old girl sold into prostitution in India.
Brown said he wanted the film to be a call to action globally for people to take a stand against child prostitution and slavery, which as of 2013, involved 115 million around the world, according to the United Nations.
"The film is an intense situation especially when you realize it's a light version of the reality of one girl's story that represents literally millions," Brown said.
"Sold," starring young actress Niyar Saikia, who turned 13 while filming, explores the harsh, terrible reality of child prostitution in India, but with a pinch of song-and-dance to "get the audience through" the dark themes, Brown said.
"The reality of India is so intense that you need to escape. Even the reality of my film, it's one of the most intense realities on the planet, and so there are moments of tenderness, there are moments when everyone breaks into dance," he said.
Such a playbook is also shared with the estimated $7.8 billion Bollywood film industry, which often squeezes action, drama, comedy, romance, music and dance into three hours.
Brown, who won an Oscar in 1986 for best short live-action film, said India is experiencing a "golden age" as filmmakers from the subcontinent breakout into the wider film industry.
"It's a new wave of Indian cinema," he said. "This is really mainstream, global cinema. It's not art house exclusively."
The new wave of Indian cinema could be pinpointed to the success of British director Danny Boyle's 2008 film "Slumdog Millionaire," Brown said. The film won eight Oscars including best picture, and made $377 million at the worldwide box office.
'SUNDANCE OF INDIAN CINEMA'
The Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles aims to be "the Sundance of Indian cinema" according to festival director Jasmine Jaisinghani, with films that contrast Bollywood's often glamorized escapism with vivid realism.
Those include "Liar's Dice," about a rural village woman