Several Indian films, featuring eclectic subject matter, are making bids to snag Oscars in the shorts categories at the 2021 Academy Awards.
Keith Gomes’ “Shameless,” Tushar Tyagi’s “Saving Chintu” and Shaan Vyas’ “Natkhat” are aiming for nominations in the live action short category, and Saurav Vishnu’s “Tailing Pond” in the documentary short subject category.
All the films boast Bollywood or Hollywood pedigrees.
“Shameless” stars Sayani Gupta (Emmy-nominated Amazon series “Four More Shots Please”) and writer and actor Hussain Dalal (“Sitara”). Sound design is by Oscar-winner Resul Pookutty (“Slumdog Millionaire”). Shabinaa Khan (“Laxmii”) presents the film alongside producers Ashley Gomes, Sandeep Kamal and co-producer Girish Bobby Talwar.
Keith Gomes has a few shorts to his credit, including the award-winning “Doobie.” He also co-wrote and was an associate director on “Kick,” starring Bollywood royalty Salman Khan.
In “Shameless,” a work-from-home software engineer is trapped by a delivery girl, raising questions on the issues of entitlement, humanity and empathy towards migrants. “The idea is global and relevant today, with the whole lockdown and work from home culture,” Gomes told Variety. “Conversations and hugs have become likes and emojis, while being kind has become an act of greatness. Told through an Indian gaze, ‘Shameless’ is a reminder to find that connection and be kind to every person or being.”
Tushar Tyagi also has several shorts behind him, including the award-winning “Rose” and “Gulabee.” His “Saving Chintu” stars Adil Hussain (“Star Trek: Discovery”), who also produces alongside Ritika Jayaswal, with Shakun Batra (“Kapoor & Sons”) executive producing. The cast also includes Sachin Bhatt (“Magnum P.I.”), Edward Sonnenblick (Emmy-nominated Amazon series “Inside Edge”) and Dipannita Sharma (“War”).
In “Saving Chintu,” an American-Indian gay couple travels to India to adopt a child living with HIV in an orphanage, and must cope with the cultural challenges that the country presents. “I chose this subject because I wanted to focus the attention that parenting comes from within; it’s pure unconditional love,” Tyagi told Variety. “How can the sexuality of prospective parents assure if they are going to be good parents or not? When it comes down to India’s laws, my mind wanders, how can being straight prospective parents guarantee that they can be good parents and same-sex couple can’t?”
Shaan Vyas, one of the producers on “The Lunchbox,” makes his directorial debut with “Natkhat,” produced by Ronnie Screwvala’s RSVP and Bollywood actor Vidya Balan, who also stars as a doting mother who educates her child about equality through her bedtime stories.
“‘Natkhat was made with a very naïve yet powerful urge to change things,” says Vyas. “To reach every corner of the earth and tell the world that change begins at home.”
“Tailing Pond,” produced and directed by debutant Saurav Vishnu, is narrated by Cynthia Nixon, who is back in the news of late because of the “Sex and the City” revival “And Just Like That.”
An exposé of India’s nuclear program, “Tailing Pond” investigates the horrifying effects of uranium extraction on the health of the indigenous population of Jadugoda, in eastern India. These are particularly severe for young children, many of whom are falling ill and dying due to radioactive waste pollution.
”‘Tailing Pond’ was created with a singular objective – to bring about immediate social change and justice to the tribal population of Jadugora,” Vishnu told Variety.
Indian filmmaker Karishma Dube, winner of the silver medal at Student Academy Awards for her NYU Tisch School of the Arts graduate film “Bittu,” is also a contender in the live action short category. The film details a close friendship between two girls, which is is eclipsed by an accidental poisoning at school.
India has been nominated twice in the live action short category, for Ismail Merchant’s “The Creation of Woman” (1961) and Ashvin Kumar’s “The Little Terrorist” (2005) and once for documentary short subject, for Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s “An Encounter With Faces” (1979). Rayka Zehtabchi’s India-set “Period. End of Sentence” won the documentary short subject Oscar in 2019.
The Oscar shortlists will be announced Feb. 9.