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Child Abuse, Mental Health Explored as Indian Shorts Seek Oscar Glory



A brace of films exploring important subjects are in contention from India in the best live action short film category at the 96th Academy Awards.

Reema Maya’s “Nocturnal Burger,” an investigation of child abuse at a dysfunctional police station in Mumbai, had its world premiere at Sundance. It has since traveled to more than 50 film festivals globally and won 34 awards including the Oscar-qualifying Golden Chair for best international short at KortfilmFestivalen, Norway.

The cast includes Bebo Madiwal, Millo Sunka, Trupti Khamkar, Shrikant Mohan Yadav, Pushpendra Singh, Somnath Mondal, Vicky Shinde and Mukesh Pachode.

“The journey of this film started from a very unfortunate true incident a few years ago. Everything that happened  that night stayed deep inside me, and ‘Nocturnal Burger’ is the first outlet it has had. It is an exploration of abuse  and trauma; fantasy and escapism. It talks about the omnipresence of sexual abuse even in our public spaces,  and the need for vigilance and intervention by the community,” Maya said.

“‘Nocturnal Burger’ is a coming-of-age film in the darkest sense. We all remember our teenage moments of wanting to  grow up too fast and the moment we understood for the first time what growing up actually feels like. It is in the  transition between these two moments that the story of ‘Nocturnal Burger’ takes place on a rainy night in Mumbai,” Maya added.

In Chintan Sarda’s “The Broken Table,” caregiver Deepti’s new client Giri suffers from Alzheimer’s. She struggles to deal with Giri’s eccentricity, along with her own life’s dilemma through one turbulent day. The day is made bizarre by the fact that Giri keeps calling for his wife, who Deepti finds out died a year back. The cast includes Naseeruddin Shah and Rasika Dugal. The film made the cut by winning best short at the Oscar-qualifying Bengaluru International Short Film Festival.

“What drew me into this world was primarily the character of Giri even though the story wasn’t really told from his perspective. A friend of mine told me about an Alzheimer’s patient who would forget on a daily basis that his wife was dead. He would go through the pain like it was fresh pain every single day. This was so heartbreaking and I couldn’t stop thinking about it even though I knew nothing about him beyond his situation,” Sarda said.

“The subject of mental health is something I have been taking an active interest in since the last few years. I have even started therapy last year and it has been life altering. I have always had an issue with how as a community, we subconsciously treat advanced mental health patients as non-entities or just pity them. I wanted to explore an uplifting side to an Alzheimer’s story because I don’t think it is just memories or a non-faulty neural connections that define a human being,” Sarda added.

Though India tasted success earlier this year winning the documentary short Oscar for Kartiki Gonsalves and Guneet Monga’s “The Elephant Whisperers,” the country has yet to win in the live action short category. India has scored two nominations in the category – for Ismail Merchant’s “The Creation of Woman” in 1961 and Ashvin Kumar’s “Little Terrorist” in 2005.

“I definitely don’t want to sound like a pompous ass and declare that we are going to make it to the shortlist or nominations stage. We are up against the best in the world. There are films backed by some Hollywood biggies. Masters like Wes Anderson have a short film in the running. I am just so glad to even be at this stage no matter what happens on Dec. 21, when the shortlist is announced. We couldn’t get a publicist for our film but we are trying our best to create buzz through a social media campaign in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco. We just hope the film is seen by enough Academy members and is judged on its merits,” Sarda said.

Maya added: “India’s recent successes at the Oscars make me proud and grateful to the women filmmakers who made it happen, and I would like to take their legacy forward. ‘Nocturnal Burger’ is a film that feels so passionately personal to audiences across the world, we owe it to them to do everything we can to give it a fighting chance. What’s important to us is that this lets us amplify the sensitive conversations in ‘Nocturnal Burger’ on the biggest stage. We need all the support we can get so we can be heard louder.”

Oscars voting timeline:

Dec. 14-18 – Oscars preliminary voting in nine categories with varying numbers to be shortlisted — documentary feature (15), documentary short subject (10), international feature (15), makeup and hairstyling (10), sound (10), original score (15), original song (15), animated short film (10), live action short film (10) and visual effects (10).

Dec. 21 – Oscars shortlist announced in nine categories (documentary feature, documentary short, international feature, makeup and hairstyling, sound, original score, original song, animated short film, live action short and visual effects.

Jan. 11-16, 2024 – Oscar nominations voting begins for eligible members.

Jan. 23, 2024 – 96th Oscar nominations announced.


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