Six under-production documentaries and an all-set-to-roll fiction feature from South Asia are looking for production and distribution breakthroughs in pitching and mentoring sessions coinciding with the 74th Cannes Film Festival. "Eka (Solo)", the debut feature of Kolkata-born, Mumbai-based Suman Sen, is in La Fabrique Cinema, an Institut Francais-sponsored mentoring programme for young directors.
"We are now just one draft away from the shooting. The pandemic situation permitting, we will start filming in mid-2022," says Sen, who has been in the advertising industry for 15 years.
"The film reflects the time I have lived in for the last couple of years: a time of hatred, intolerance and violence," says Sen.
"Eka" hinges on a grand statue of the ''common man'' about to be formally unveiled in Kolkata. A diabetic insurance agent, a man on the verge of superannuation, seethes at the economic, political and culture failures of the city.
To register his protest, he stands motionless in front of the mammoth statue. His act of defiance sparks a worldwide movement.
"I have a love-hate relationship with Kolkata," says Sen, who moved to India''s financial capital five years ago. "I wanted to distance myself from the city I grew up in and view it objectively. The move to Mumbai has given me a new reflective lens to view Kolkata."
"Eka", an Indo-Bangladeshi-French venture backed by Arifur Rahman of Goopy Bagha Productions, is one of 10 projects in La Fabrique Cinema.
Another South Asian La Fabrique selection is multiple award-winning Afghan filmmaker Sahra Mani''s documentary "Kabul Melody", about two teenage girls who face family opposition and Taliban threats as they pursue their passion for music.
In her statement of intent, Mani, who made the widely applauded "A Thousand Girls Like Me" (2018), says, "Being a filmmaker in Afghanistan means being a social activist. In spite of it all, with ''Kabul Melody'' I want to show hope and the emergence of free will among the women who will create Afghanistan''s future."
A quartet of South Asian documentaries – one each from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India and Nepal – is vying for the docs-in-progress awards of Cannes Docs 2021. These projects, all in an advanced stage of production, are presented by the International Film Initiative of Bangladesh.
Among the four is "Thirteen Destinations of a Traveller", a film by Kolkata-based Partha Das. It intertwines two journeys: one by thousands of Sufi pilgrims who march across miles and over days to proclaim their love for humanity, the other by a disabled, marginalised Muslim man battling physical obstacles and social prejudice in search of happiness.
"Thirteen Destinations of a Traveller", Das'' first documentary feature, is jointly produced by Bangladesh''s Mokhalesur Rahman Talukdar and India''s Soumya Mukhopadhyay.
The other three South Asian films in Cannes Docs 2021 are Hezbullah Sultani''s "Birds Street", about a narrow lane in Kabul lined with shops selling birds; Tahrima Khan''s "Munni", which showcases the work of a former victim of child marriage who launches an all-girls sports academy in Bangladesh; and Subina Shrestha''s "Devi", the story of a former Nepalese guerrilla fighter and war-time rape survivor who now fights for her countrywomen.
Another Nepalese documentary, Rajan Kathet and Sunir Pandey''s "No Winter Holidays", is one of five projects in HAF Goes to Cannes. The Hong Kong Asian Film Financing Forum (HAF) is an initiative that helps a new generation of filmmakers gain access to funding, co-production deals and marketing support on a global scale.
The logline of "No Winter Holidays", a Nepal-South Korean co-production, reads: "Once married to the same man, two women in their 70s must forget the past and work together to look after an empty snow-bound village through the winter."