Neeru Khera's films at Cannes and Nice in 2016

MUMBAI: A creative piece of cinema is driven by the content it carries. The soul of a film is the story it narrates. The digital fast era of creativity and awareness has given way to short crisp films. India is entering a phase where every producer and director whose dream was  to see the credits scroll on the big screens of multiplexes with their names, have started rising on YouTube channels, web series and short film releases in esteemed international film festivals.   Who would have thought that a 20 odd minute film on serious social concerns could get recognition in prestigious festivals like Cannes and Nice? 

Breaking the stereotype, Neeru Khera of the YouTube channel The Creative Gypsy fame, produced two short films on sensitive issues - An Untold Story of Paperboats, on child soldiery, directed by Amit Khanna and another one on secularism and Naxalite terror- Aadha Chand Tum Rakh Lo, directed by Mayank Bokolia. Both have been selected for Cannes and Nice. 

An ecstatic Khera said that she was extremely excited about the screening of her work during the festivals because people would see and appreciate it.

“I am extremely excited about my film’s selection for Cannes, and I hope we win there,” said the An Untold Story of Paperboats director Amit Khanna. 

An Untold Story of Paperboats, with Neeru Khera as producer, is a story of a school boy from West Bengal who falls in the trap of Naxalites. This changes his life and those of people related to him, as many children’s lives in these Naxal camps take a drastic turn at some point, leaving no option but to face the gruesome reality. The film was shot in July 2015 within a span of four days with over 200 village kids in the cast. The location used to shoot the film was Badalpur. 

Sources revealed that the production cost of An Untold Story of Paperboats was about Rs 22 lakh. Neeru Khera had mentioned that the production of the film was challenging, as they had to create West Bengal in Haryana, and that everything was made like a feature film, but in a miniature form. There was lot of support from the locals to put everything together. The makers claim that their focus was content and not monetary gains. 

The second success story of Indian short films in Cannes is Khera’s 20 minute entry - Aadha Chand Tum Rakh Lo, directed by Mayank Bokolia. The film portrays secularism as being an area of major concern in our country.  The story is around the friendship of Dalit and Muslim boys. This film has been shot in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh. The narration of the film is through the eyes of painters. About 10 painters were taken to Varanasi to paint the walls. The maker of the film said that it took 20 to 25 days to shoot the entire films as sometimes only one or two sequences could be shot during an entire day due to various situations. Sources reveal that the film cost about Rs 20 lakh to make. There was no compromise in the quality of the film, it was shot on high definition and was a technically sound film, the sources averred.

Khera said that even though the story pointed at various social issues, the treatment of the film did not lower the image of India. Clarifying, she said that the issues in the film were global and not restricted to any particular nation, adding that the films were educative and entertaining. 

When asked about how a short film could stand out if it didn’t make it to international festivals, she suggested that the content of the film should be strong and catchy. Variety in treatment would get admiration across borders, and most importantly, the first the five minutes of the film had be able hold the viewers. 

The makers of the film expressed that it was difficult to have sponsors for such sensitive topics, but Khera said creating awareness about the issues was essential, hence she produced these films. She also expressed the keenness on marketing the films and promoting them on her YouTube channel. Although as of now, no strategy had been laid regarding promotion of the films, Khera believed that her content was suitable for the internet and digital mediums because it had a very strong grasp on such audiences. She revealed that talks with Doordarshan in North East Indian were on. 

Khera has made films concerning various social issues even in the past. She has produced a revolutionary web series which was directed by Amit Khanna. The series - All About Section 377, addressed the much talked about LGBT community. AAS 377 aimed at changing the perspective of society towards the LGBT community. It is a story of a homophobic man, who ends up staying with his gay cousin and his live-in boyfriend and how his concepts about homosexuality change. 

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