Thank you, Sanjay for that great introduction!
Thank you, Manoj and Geeta, for your leadership. Both of you provide the example and set the standard. Both of you are difference makers. You have done a terrific job in founding and sustaining it. Let us give them a big round of applause.
This is the fifth DC South Asian Film Festival (DCSAFF) closing ceremony in which I have participated. Thank you Manoj and Geeta for inviting me to deliver the closing remarks again. It’s wonderful to be back here.
I have said in the past, and I will say it again: DCSAFF has become one of the most enduring institutions associated with South Asian performing arts and cultures in this city. Year after year, it brings the best of independent cinema from the subcontinent to the Washington area. The festival serves as a platform for some of the best and brightest South Asians and South Asian Americans to showcase their works.
I also want to thank Montgomery College and my good friend Dr. Sanjay Rai for their support for the festival.
My wife Debbie and I have been privileged to be partners in the festival for the past five years. Promoting art and culture is one of the key areas of focus of The Frank Islam & Debbie Driesman Foundation. And, we are very proud of our association with DCSAFF.
Over the years, thanks to this festival, we all have been able to meet in person and interact with a number of leading Bollywood and South Asian filmmakers, actors, and writers.
DCSAFF’s alumni include illustrious names such as Shyam Benegal, Ketan Mehta, Prakash Jha, Aparna Sen, Suman Ghosh, Deepa Mehta, Boney Kapoor, Manisha Koirala, Farooq Sheikh, Nandita Das, Seema Biswas, Zeenat Aman and Shabana Azmi.
Ladies and gentlemen, if there was a “Hall of Fame,” or “Walk of Fame,” I am sure that the names of these cinematic greats would be etched there.
This year, we have had distinguished filmmakers from Pakistan, Bangladesh and other South Asian film industries in the festival. To name just a few.
Shabana Azmi was here for the second time presenting her film: Kaifinama. I am glad that DCSAFF was able to showcase Kaifinama and Shabana was able to come and talk about her legendary father.
Sumantra Ghosal provided us with documentary on the life and work of the great poet Kaifi Azmi. Growing up, Kaifi Azmi was a man I looked up to and admired greatly.
Please allow me to indulge in a little bit of “parochial pride”: Kaifi Azmi was born not very far from where I was born and studied at the same university, Aligarh Muslim University. Thank you, Mr. Ghosal, for depicting his life for posterity.
I also want to recognize Neena Gupta, a great actress and one of the best-known names in the history of Indian television. She stuns everyone with her impeccable acting.
Our own Vikas Khanna is also here. He is a great chef, a filmmaker and humanitarian. His film The Last Color, provides insights on the daily struggles for survival on the streets of Banaras.
Banaras, the “City of Light,” is a place that is very close to my heart. It’s where I spent a substantial part of my childhood.
It is a great coincidence that I have personal connections — though in a vicarious way — to the subjects of this year’s DCSAFF opening and closing films!
They have asked me to keep my closing remarks brief and I will. Before I close, however, I would be remiss, if I did not examine what is going on here in a broader context.
A few hours ago, perhaps the largest South Asian American gathering in the history of the United States — a celebratory event featuring the Prime Minister Modi of India took place in the city of Houston. A few blocks away, one of the largest South Asian protests in the country’s history was held by those opposed to India’s actions in the state of Kashmir.
While the peaceful nature of the two assemblies reflect the greatness of the American democracy and our faith in and adherence to the First Amendment, they also revealed the large divisions in South Asian American diaspora. Those divisions reflect differences not created here but brought to this country from South Asia. They reflect pre-existing biases and prejudices that have not been erased but still exist below the surface.
Contrast the contentiousness and divisions seen in Houston with the communal peace and harmony demonstrated at this gathering. In this audience, there are Indian Americans, Pakistani Americans, Bangladeshi Americans and other South Asian Americans – individuals of various religions, castes, background and belief. We are the proof that art and culture can transcend all boundaries. They are proof that art can be a major force for unification and it can represent the best of our humanity.
In recognition of that potential to bring us together and to foster unity across cultures, community, and religion, let me conclude with a small poem by Kaifi azmi titled Hausla, which means courage. Because courage is what we need in this hour to overcome and defeat those divisions and rise above divisive politics in order to find our shared sense of humanity and common ground.
I will recite the English version of the poem, since many of you here might not understand the original Urdu version.
You are the sun — don’t hide behind clouds
You are the moon — don’t stop shinning
You are a woman in love — don’t subdue your desire
You are lightning — don’t stop sparking
As yet, love hasn’t conceded defeat
As yet, don’t give up on love
Thank you for listening to me and for all that you do to make India and the world a better place through your artistic endeavors.
And, I ask all of you, please don’t give up on love. Continue to show us through your work and films that there can be light in South Asia, in this city, in this country, and in the world.
Once again, I want to sincerely thank Geeta and Manoj for inviting me to speak
God bless you all