Director-writer: Raj Amit Kumar
Writers: Damon J. Taylor, Adam Davis, Kamran Iqbal
Cast: Victor Banerjee, Adil Hussain, Bhanu Uday, Preeti Gupta, Bhavani Lee, Ankur Vikal, Seema Rahmani, Samrat Chakrabarti, Danae Nason
Distributor: Dark Frames
Indian-born filmmaker Raj Amit Kumar opened his own distribution outfit to release his film Unfreedom. Kumar, however, is not stopping at the DIY release approach that a number of indie filmmakers have taken on in recent years. He’s also planning to release similar Indian independent films in North America in the near future.
But first-up is Unfreedom. The feature is described as “an urgent contemporary thriller” about a society torn apart by political, religious and sexual turmoil. Shifting between New York and New Delhi, the film juxtaposes two powerful and unflinching stories about religious fundamentalism and intolerance, one of which follows a Muslim terrorist attempting to silence a liberal Muslim scholar, while the other is about a young woman who defies her devout father and escapes an arranged marriage because she is secretly embroiled in a taboo lesbian romance. All four characters go to their absolute limit-and beyond-in their struggle to defend their deeply-held and conflicting viewpoints on freedom, faith, family and love.
“Raj has acquired another Indian film called I.D. and is in active negotiation on two additional titles,” said Mark Urman, who heads distribution label Paladin, but is separately consulting with Dark Frames on Unfreedom‘s release. “They’re Indian independent films, not big Bollywood Films. Very few of these films are distributed in the U.S.”
Raj Amit Kumar grew up fascinated with Bollywood productions, but after studying for his Masters and PHD in film stateside, his sensibilities evolved. “I couldn’t imagine myself doing that sort of film,” said Kumar. “When the time came to do my first project, I saw that violence in the name of religion and [the struggle with] LGBT issues in India. Those issues troubled me and I wanted to address them in my filmmaking.” Unfreedom was financed through a combination of friends, private investors and Kumar’s own money. “The film is graphic and has violence, so it wasn’t easy to convince known actors [to join],” said Kumar. I had approached popular Indian cinema actors. “But Victor Banerjee was an exception. He saw the script and just said, ‘When are we shooting it?’” Casting females proved especially difficult since Indian actresses face heightened ridicule for exposing too much skin.
The film has not screened in India and for the time being, only the Indian diaspora may have the chance to view it on the big screen. The country’s censors asked for changes and Kumar appealed. According to the filmmaker, the censors hoped the movie would disappear. “They didn’t want to approve a film dealing with homosexuality, and Hindu and Muslim fundamentalism,” he said. “And the irony here is that the film deals with freedom of expression.”
Mark Urman added that though the film may not screen in the world’s largest democracy, it did capture headlines on the sub-continent. That in turn has fueled interest from the South Asian community in the U.S. and beyond. “It made the film a real hot potato,” Urman said. “It got so much front page and prime time media coverage in India. “It’s forbidden fruit…The Indian censors have given us a marketing gift.”
Unfreedom will open at the AMC Empire in New York as well as the Laemmle Noho in L.A. The film will add eight additional markets the following week. The film will open in the UK next month and there are plans for a an international digital release. Said Urman: “We’re hoping for a large global awareness.”