Bollywood films are often associated with massive, colorful, and intricately choreographed dance numbers, performed to irresistibly melodic beats. Those visually stunning numbers will have their place in the HoMA’s Honolulu Bollywood Film Festival + South Asian Cinema 2020, alongside new and more provocative works by emerging talents that expand the scope of traditional Bollywood films. Now in its 13th year, the festival lineup includes films exploring current social themes along with voices that have seldom made an appearance on India’s silver screen, such as non-Hindi language films and LBGTQ+ characters.

Bollywood cinema has generally been dominated by the Hindi language, but this year’s film lineup includes languages from other regions of India including Tamil (featured in Kattumaram), Ladakh (in Chuskit), and Malayalam (in The Elder One (Moothon))–prompting the addition of “South Asian Cinema” to the festival’s title to represent a more inclusive lineup. While certain glamorized regions in India often steal the Bollywood spotlight, the films in this year’s festival also tell stories of rural India, depicting real life and real people. As a testament to the multitude of languages and vibrant cultures that make up India’s many regions, the 2020 lineup provides a platform for many different, diverse voices.

Despite the Supreme Court of India’s decision to decriminalize same-sex relations in 2018, the LGBTQ+ community has remained largely underrepresented in Bollywood films–but a few filmmakers are changing that. “With Kattumaram and The Elder One (Moothon), this year’s festival also showcases the emerging queer cinema coming out of India with sensitive and nuanced takes on love,” describes Sarah Fang, Assistant Curator of Film and Performance at Doris Duke Theatre. 

Exploring the patriarchal dogma woven into the fabric of Indian society, Saand Ki Aankh follows the true story of two grandmothers who discover they have an uncanny talent for sharpshooting, inspiring a younger generation of women who see their societal boundaries pushed outwards by these two amazing markswomen.

If cinematographic culture is one barometer of societal views, the emergence of these previously underrepresented (or even nonexistent) themes in Bollywood films might indicate a gradual shift in India’s attitudes towards diversity, tolerance, and acceptance. Fang explains, “Bollywood and Indian cinema, in general, have been making great strides in including themes that might chafe against the more conservative audiences. Through the success of films that feature topics previously unheard of, it shows how India is in the process of transition.”

For the full Honolulu Bollywood Film Festival + South Asian Cinema 2020 schedule and opening reception tickets, visit our website.