Burning Topics From South Asia Explored in Venice Market Trio

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A trio of international co-productions from South Asia that are participating at the Venice Production Bridge’s gap-financing market are exploring burning topics from the region.

From Nepal, Abinash Bikram Shah, whose short “Lori” (2022) won a special mention at Cannes and who previously co-wrote Venice winner “The Black Hen” (2015), is prepping his feature directorial debut “Elephants in the Fog.” Set in a small Nepalese village nestled in the heart of a forest populated by wild elephants, the film follows Pirati, the matriarch of a community of transgender women. She aspires to a normal life with Master, the man she loves. But when one of her wards disappears, she must choose between love and responsibility to her community.

The film is produced by Anup Poudel for Underground Talkies Nepal. It is co-produced by Justin Pechberty and Damien Megherbi for France’s Les Valseurs (Venice 2023 title “Heartless”) and Michael Henrichs for Germany’s Die Gesellschaft DGS (2019 Venice winner “You Will Die at 20”).

“Elephants in the Fog” is based on a true-life incident where one of Poudel’s friends, a trans woman, disappeared and was later found murdered. “While discussions mainly revolved around her transgender identity, it was not utilized as a means to examine the societal marginalization that played a role in the crime. Instead, it was unfortunately seen as a flaw on her part,” Shah told Variety. “The atrocities inflicted upon her stemmed from her identity as a trans woman, which clashed with the established norms of a patriarchal society, but our society was choosing to ignore its role in her disappearance.

“We were both compelled to bring forth this narrative — a story that resonates not only with the LGBTIQ+ community in Nepal but also echoes experiences worldwide,” Poudel added. “Our mission is to ensure that their story reaches people, enabling them to empathize with these lives.”

Principal photography is due to commence in winter 2024.

Across the border in India, “Reshma Shera,” by Megha Ramaswamy (“Lalanna’s Song,” “What Are the Odds?) highlights a bizarre cultural practice. The project follows 9-year-old Reshma, an underage mine worker, who is forced to marry a dog, Shera. She makes an unlikely friend as she endures the harsh, unforgiving and unjust reality of India’s exploitative mining heartland, finally rebelling her way out. The practice of marrying animals is to ward off evil spirits.

“As much as I was intrigued by the Guardian article ‘Girl marries stray dog in bizarre Indian tradition’ that was sent to me, I felt a strong discomfort reading it. Following up on it through years of research and inputs of various social workers and child rights activists like Ravi Mishra helped me concretize my integrity and interest in hopefully getting the spirit of this story right and creating a world that is authentic to its children — and a dog,” Ramswamy told Variety.

Nicole Gerhards is producing for Germany’s NiKo Film (2022 Venice winner “Autobiography”). “In addition to the compelling plot, I was captivated by the profound and opulent storytelling that Megha’s script unfolds. With its aspirations and profound meaning, it seamlessly aligns with the artistic and human vision of the NiKo Film slate,” Gerhards said.

German broadcaster ZDF is attached to the project. Principal photography is due to commence in winter 2025.

“Arms of a Man” was developed as part of Venice’s Biennale College Cinema. The project follows Anand, a Mumbai call center employee who has to spend some time in his ancestral village after the death of his father. He finds solace with his childhood friend Balya, a farmer. Their intimacy blooms emotionally and physically.

The project reunites filmmaker Rohan Parashuram Kanawade and producer Neeraj Churi of the U.K.’s Lotus Visual Prods. (2023 SXSW winner “A Place of Our Own”) after award-winning LGBT short “U for Usha” (2019). Renowned actor Anupam Kher is also on board as a producer and Ilann Girard (“The Salt in Our Waters”) as executive producer. The project has participated in the Film London Production Finance Market and India’s Film Bazaar.

Kanawade told Variety: “I see this film as a fitting homage to my father, who always encouraged my journey as a filmmaker and was my biggest support living as an openly gay man in India. Though set during mourning, the film is optimistic, tender exploration of bonds formed under duress especially between two people coming from vastly different backgrounds. Through my film I intend to provide hope to many queer couples in India and elsewhere.”

Churi added: “Rohan’s latest offering weaves a story that is primarily based on personal experiences with characters based on him and inspired by the people around him. I hadn’t seen very many Marathi-language films around the themes the script explores. The authenticity and uniqueness of the story and his approach to the material and visual treatment got me excited to come onboard.”

Principal photography is due to commence winter 2023.

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