June 20, 2024

India’s Crawling Angel Films and Singapore’s Akanga Film Asia are teaming on Busan Asian Film School (AFiS) alumnus Aakash Chhabra’s feature directorial debut “I′ll Smile in September.”

The film is selected at the Busan International Film Festival‘s Asian Project Market.

Akanga’s credits include Cannes winner “Tiger Stripes,” Locarno winner “A Land Imagined” and its “Oasis of Now” is in competition in the festival’s New Currents strand. Crawling Angel’s recent films include Karlovy Vary title “Guras” and Berlin selection “The Shepherdess and the Seven Songs.”

“I’ll Smile in September” will follow Kismateen, a 24-year-old brass band player in Old Delhi who tries to find his smile back with dental implants after being forcefully separated from the love of his life and losing his front teeth in a physical altercation.

Chhabra has also studied film producing at India’s Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute and received further training at the Locarno Documentary School and Ji.hlava Academy. During the filming of his dissertation film at the Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute in early 2020, he had worked with a brass band from Delhi’s Chandni Chowk area and learned that most of the musicians in that band happened to be from nearby villages in Nainital and they lived together as a community in Old Delhi. They all belonged to the Shaikh Dafalchi caste and practised Sufism.

“Although they had Muslim sounding names, they aren’t considered Muslim enough and yet to the Hindu majority they are so. I tend to write about the feeling of not belonging. The feeling and the title of this film came to me years before there was any plot,” Chhabra told Variety. “I write about soft feminine men who either leave or come back. And they always want to experience an emotion and relive a moment in time which has been long lost. Kismateen wishes to smile freely and be in love again. With ‘I’ll Smile in September’ I wanted to write a very simple and gentle film about intimacy, a first big heartbreak and music.”

“The film touches on the relevant issues of right-wing extremism, women’s rights, the idea of consent, migration and body dysmorphia. And not so because we wanted for it to tick some boxes but because there’s no running away from {those issues] if we want to make something honest set in the present times. At its heart ‘September’ is about pursuit of happiness and the weird wonderful ways Kismateen devises ways to reach closer to it,” Chhabra added.

The filmmaker met both his producers thanks to Busan. He met Crawling Angel’s Sanjay Gulati while in his first semester at AFiS for an assignment on independent film producing and Akanga’s Fran Borgia was on the jury that awarded ‘September’ best project pitch at AFiS last year.

“It’s evident that the presence of bands in our lives during occasions of joy, be it weddings, parties, birthdays, or even political and spiritual processions, has been a constant in Delhi and most of north India. When Aakash proposed this idea, I saw it as a unique opportunity to delve deeper into the lives of the people behind these bands. This became my motivation to join the project,” Gulati told Variety.

“I related deeply with the characters and their emotional journey, and the story stayed with me since,” Borgia added. He met Gulati in person at the Asian Producers Network in Singapore, spoke at length about the project and the co-production opportunities and boarded the project.

“We want to see how the project is received, meet potential partners and increase the project visibility. Since it’s a first feature length film, we understand positioning the project to sales agents and distributors won’t be easy, but it’s good to establish the connections and see their reactions. I feel this story can resonate with a large audience, so I am hopeful we will get some good reactions from the potential partners,” Borgia said.

The project’s budget is $687,000 of which $100,000 has been raised so far.

Aakash Chhabra, Sanjay Gulati, Fran Borgia

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