Europe’s largest Indian film festival, the London Indian Film Festival (LIFF) returned with a fantastic opening night gala in London.

This year celebrates nine years of the festival and after a lengthy pursuit, the gala took place at the home of all London premieres in – Leicester Square.

Kicking off the prestigious film festival in the capital city on 21st June 2018 was the red-carpet world premiere of Tabrez Noorani’s Love Sonia. The hard-hitting drama based on human sex-trafficking stars an array of talent consisting of Mrunal Thakur, Richa Chadha, Manoj Bajpayee, Sai Tamhankar, Rajkummar Rao, Anupam Kher, Adil Hussain and Freida Pinto.

Gracing the red carpet at the Leicester Square Cineworld were several celebrities including the Love Sonia team (barring Freida and Hollywood dignitary, Demi Moore), Rajkummar Rao, Gurinder Chadha, and Banita Sandhu, to name a few.

Asian Style managed to have a chat with some of the guests themselves.

The LIFF Opening Night Gala

Nine years in and the film festival has truly evolved into the must-attend event of the year. Cary Rajinder Sawhney, Director of the London Indian Film Festival spoke to Asian Style about how this year’s festival promises to be even bigger and better:

“The Bagri Foundation London Indian Film Festival is in its ninth year and we’ve been trying to get to Leicester Square and we made it. I think it’s one of our best years ever because there’s a range from hard-hitting films through to some gorgeous comedies.

We’ve just had Rajkummar on the red-carpet now I have Manoj next to me. It’s a great evening – so we know we’re making a difference and highlighting the best of Indian independent cinema, there are also films from Pakistan and Bangladesh as well.”

Rajkummar who is currently in London shooting for Mental Hai Kya with Kangana Ranaut has just wrapped up Fanne Khan, where he will be sharing screen space with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Anil Kapoor.

Giving us a taste of what to expect in this awaited project, Rao described to Asian Style: “It’s a very sweet film, I’ve seen the trailer and a couple of scenes. I’m very proud of the movie and can’t wait for people to watch it on 3rd August.”

LIFF this year also exhibits two movies which star Manoj Bajpayee – first is Love Sonia, the other is Gali Guleiyan. Taking about attending this year’s festival, the actor said:  “As an actor, I feel very great and humbled that you have two films in an independent film celebration, which people are going to watch and talk about.

Plus, the two films tackle two different issues. One is the child abuse and the second is human trafficking. But I believe in one thing. If the cinema is good and the medium is justified then the issue becomes far more relevant.”

Love Sonia Review

Love Sonia, which had its world premiere at LIFF’s opening gala last night, narrates tells the heartfelt and brave story of Sonia (Mrunal Thakur), a young Indian Village girl whose life irrevocably changes when she is entrapped into the vicious global sex trade network.

With regards to the theme of a young innocent girl who is deceitfully sold into prostitution many times in Indian cinema. One such recognised film is Nagesh Kukunoor’s Lakshmi and this film was gruelling to the core as focused way too much on shocking the audience

As for Love Sonia, the movie does not only address the brutality of the global sex trade, we witness a full journey of what a naïve girl suffers, without making any loud statements screamed at the audience and it is definitely harrowing.

Director Tabrez Noorani underplays the emotions with such subtlety, to such an extent, that one could closely resonate with Sonia and the other protagonists. I definitely felt like I was there with Sonia throughout her journey.

I particularly like the editing. Each time Sonia suffers an unwanted sexual experience, she would imagine what her parents would say or imagine herself back home in her village. These shots mirror the vulnerability of the character, which makes us feel more sympathetic towards her.

On the same note, it also makes us feel enraged as we want to jump into the screen and save her from this hellish life. But we are left to sit in the cinema hall to do nothing but to just witness these atrocities.

Love Sonia is enriched with some excellent performances, especially by the three main ladies. Starting with Mrunal Thakur, who plays the titular role, is excellent, to say the least. We have seen her in Television shows like Khamoshiyan and Kumkum Bhagya and she has always made an impact.

To play such an emotionally-charged and tumultuous role in her debut film is not easy at all. She carried the film with such gusto and power. It will be wonderful to see what she has to offer in her next film Super 30, where she will be paired opposite Hrithik Roshan.

Richa Chadha effortlessly depicts the role of brothel madam Madhuri. Her character has a rough exterior, but is equally soft and unprotected in the inside and trust me, what happens to her in the film, will shock you. In her career so far, this is one of Richa’s best performances till date.

Freida Pinto is dynamite as the seductive yet tormented prostitute, Rashmi. Freida’s body language and expressions are very much on point. She truly proves what an ace actor she is. Furthermore, it is refreshing and great to see her in a full-fledged Hindi speaking role.

The one actor who compels the viewer to detest him is Manoj Bajpayee, who portrays the character Faizal – the menacing pimp. There are so many shades to this role and Bajpayee switches between these shades with such ease. He is a legend and for good reason.

In addition to the main cast, performances by the supporting actors including Rajkummar Rao, Sai Tamhankar, Adil Hussain and Anupam Kher all deliver very convincing performances. Plus, it is wonderful to see Demi Moore making an appearance.

Despite all the positive aspects, are there any negatives? Not many. I felt the second-half seems slightly dragged out, though my attention was captured throughout.

But overall, the film has the perfect balance between educating yet entertaining the audience. In my opinion, I believe it’s a masterpiece and the perfect film to open the ninth edition of London Indian Film Festival 2018!

Opening Night Photo Courtesy of Masti Unlimited