Kaala, a short film expounding racial attacks on Africans in the national capital, has qualified to be nominated for the Oscars in the Live Action Short Film category this year.
As the movement against racism finds its feet in a prejudiced world, this documentary film depicts how being Kaala in India (or the world) is also about being severely discriminated and even harmed. As the movement gained wings in backdrop of a mob rampage against Africans, documentary filmmaker Tarun Jain took it upon himself to bring about awareness, and show how Africans in the national capital of Delhi were subjected to racism and how they were victims of this hatred. In the midst of escalating xenophobia and deep-rooted racism the world over against “dark-skinned” people is this crowd-funded documentary film Kaala which has qualified to be nominated for the Oscars in the Live Action Short Film category this year. It ignites concern on the grievous harm that Africans are subjected to, spun together from a series of real-life incidents and experiences.
Incidentally, Kaala recently won the Best Short Drama at the Cinequest Film & VR Festival in San José (CA). “Kaala was made to bring about awareness and acceptance of its (racism) existence in India, a severe matter that needs our attention and resolution,” says Delhi-based director and documentary film maker Tarun Jain, who along with his team scoured through extensive research, interactions with the African community in India from Nigeria, Congo, etc.
What the team collected was an insight into the lives, racist incidences, problems, unfriendly neighbourhoods, and other trials when faced with an inherent prejudice towards them. This brutal reality left Jain shocked.
Kaala is Jain’s third film, after Aakhir (At Last) a road thriller that was taken to over 40 festivals, and distributed across the US and Europe, and Amma Meri (Mother) which was shown at Tampere Film Festival (an Oscar qualifying festival), International Film Festival of India, Mumbai and International Film Festival.
The Sri Aurobindo Communication for Arts & Centre alumni had earlier assisted in Pairon Talle, directed by Siddharth Srinivisan among others.
Kaala inspired by incidences in Delhi some years ago shows the protagonist, Jude, a Nigerian walking alone at night in Delhi when he is mistaken as a drug supplier by a girl looking for drugs. An altercation witnessed by her men friends kindled by the girl sees Jude threatened, beaten, kicked, and when he tries to flee, he is captured only to find another twist to this tale.
“I have tried to explore the unkind, prejudiced mindset that has sadly creeped into our society, and has passed from generation to generation. There is a scene in the film where a mother refers to Jude, our protagonist as ‘Hapshi’ meaning monster. This is a reality in Northern India. In-fact, there is a sweet dish called ‘Hapshi halwa’ as it is black in colour,” adds Jain.
Crowd funded through Wishberry, the team had the opportunity to interact, and qualify for the Oscars. In the midst of a pandemic, Covid changed the route of how the film was received at festivals. With interactions, live responses and meetings on hold, festivals have gone online.
So what does “qualifying for the Oscars” signify. Tarun says, “Qualifying for the Oscars means that the Oscar qualifying festivals like Cinequest picks one film each year to compete for the nomination in Live action short category. After winning the best narrative short drama award at Cinequest Film & VR Festival, Kaala has directly entered to compete for the nominations.”
Yet being nominated is just the beginning for Kaala, as it takes small steps towards a nomination at the Oscars, and the team hopes to create ripples for their film and change mindsets. Shot at the Haus Khas Village, Jude, is chased and beated as he hobbles away in pain.
Produced by Nasira Khan, who has been a part of Jain’s previous film, executive producer, Manas Mittal, DOP Indranil Lahiri, Abhik Chatterjee (sound), the film hasJude Boman Tony, the protagonist, Rahul Tiweri, the antagonist and Kaatyayani Pandey as the lead actress.
With movements like Black Lives Matter gaining momentum, it is time to address racial bias aptly. Jain feels his film is relevant today when atrocities are across borders. “I hope we continue in our efforts to achieve equality, even if we can change a few mindsets, it’s still a victory. We must not wait for another George Floyd incident. It is gravely concerning to witness sickening mindsets. It’s time to speak up and continue on our path towards non-bias,” he adds.
From a business family, Jain chose films, and has also done an acting course from Barry John. The reality of discrimination and racial bias is ever present, and during his research an African diplomat asked him, “Didn’t drug peddling, prostitution, addiction exist in India already? Then why are only Africans branded as drug peddlers, prostitutes and addicts?” which made a deep impact on him.
As he hopes to garner enough publicity for Kaala, his next, a children’s film about two kids from an outcast family who live in the wilderness, and their daily struggles to reach school from their home in the mountains is underway.
With favourites like Sadgati, a true depiction of the caste system by the master of socially relevant films Satyajit Ray, and 12 Years of Slave directed by Steve McQueen, Jain’s Kaala treads thoughtfully to not just spread awareness but ignite a change in behaviour.