by Puja Maewal
When I was living in India, I came across a news article about the arrest of a notorious member of an Indian street gang, who was wanted in over a hundred cases of purse and jewelry snatchings. The police assumed they had caught a boy, but it was only after several hours of an intense interrogation that they realized they had actually captured a girl. She had been forced to disguise herself as a boy for safety reasons, yet still she couldn’t escape horrific acts of sexual assault on the streets.
At that time, I was also volunteering at an orphanage of former Mumbai street boys, where I had heard heartbreaking stories of the loss of their loved ones. I later met with girls living on the Mumbai streets. They traveled around with male companions for protection, and although they disguised themselves to be virtually indistinguishable from their male counterparts, they were still victims of abuse. As a result, most of the girls had hardened exteriors, were incapable of trusting others, and had no hope for the future.
These children had such unique stories that I knew I wanted to make a film about them. That’s how I got the idea for JAYA, my short film about a teenage girl who survives gruesome gang life on the unforgiving streets of Mumbai by posing as a boy. When she meets a wealthy businessman, who might be the father who abandoned her, she sets out to reclaim her identity. We wanted to keep this film as authentic as possible, and so we shot on the streets of Mumbai and cast teenagers from the streets and slums for the lead roles.
Though movies like “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Salaam Bombay” have so excellently captured the plight of India’s street children, we have never before seen a film from the perspective of a Mumbai street girl, which is why I wrote JAYA. I was also excited to feature a female protagonist who is both aggressive and vulnerable, a combination that I don’t often see in female characters on-screen.
JAYA will have its New York premiere with other short films from around the world at Urbanworld Film Festival, the nation’s largest competitive multicultural film festival, on Sat., Sept. 20, 2014 at 3:45pm at New York City’s AMC Loews Theater (34th Street). It will be screening in additional cities this fall: Chicago, DC, San Diego, Seattle, and San Francisco.
Visit www.jayathefilm.com for screening updates, and ‘like’ the Facebook page.
Puja Maewal is a Texas-born, Indian American writer/director. She earned a B.A. in English from Yale University and an MFA in Film Directing from UCLA. Narratives from the East as well as the West have influenced her throughout her life, and she blends elements of both in her work. While at UCLA, she received a Fulbright Grant to study filmmaking in India, where she shot JAYA. JAYA has been a Semi-finalist in the Student Academy Awards, a Jury Award Winner at the Directors Guild of America Student Awards, and a Student BAFTA Finalist. Puja is now writing the feature-length version of JAYA, which was named a Semi-finalist in the Nantucket Screenwriters Colony. She hopes to return to Mumbai, where she lived for three years, to shoot the film.