RedBison Productions, a New Jersey-based production house, announced their upcoming film “Sach Is Life” at a press event hosted at Goa Restaurant in New York City. The film draws inspiration from an extraordinary true story about a mother and her 3-year-old boy suffering from multiple dystrophy.
This project entailed over two years of extensive research and has resulted in an original story centered around a family who relocated from Kashmir to the United States to save their son fighting a daily battle with death and uncertainty.
“Sach Is Life” stars 2023 Emmy-nominated Jim Sarbh(recognized for his work in “Rocket Boys,” also known for his roles in “Made in Heaven” and “Mrs. Chatterjee vs. Norway,”) and Kirti Kulhari(known for her roles in “Four More Shots,” “URI,” “Pink,” and “Criminal Justice,”) in lead roles. “Sach Is Life” is produced by Rahul Bhat & Romila Saraf Bhat and written and directed by Harsh Mahadeshwar.
“We proudly introduce ‘Sach Is Life,’ a film based on extraordinary true events,” affirms Romila Saraf Bhat and Rahul Bhat, both producers of Red Bison Productions in Princeton, New Jersey, and Harsh Mahadeshwar, a writer and director in Houston, Texas.
“This is more than just a film, it’s a tribute to the invincible human spirit and the infinite potential that resides within each one of us. We are thrilled to collaborate with immensely talented actors Kirti Kulhari and Emmy-nominated Jim Sarbh to bring this heartwarming story to life.”
“I’m extremely excited to collaborate with a crew from the U.S. and to work in an environment that’s different from how it’s done in India. I’ll do my best to make it a film that we all are going to be proud of,” said Kirti Kulhari, who will play the role of the mother. “Sach Is Life” also marks Kirti’s international debut.
Calling “Sach Is Life” an “incredibly uplifting” story, actor Jim Sarbh said he’s proud to be a part of this film.
“I am excited to be a part of this extremely heartwarming and inspirational story of resilience, dedication, and belief. Nothing moves me quite like a story of a family coming together to help one of their own achieve their dreams.”
“Sach Is Life” begins filming around April 2024, and will be shot in Kashmir, New Delhi, New Orleans, New Jersey, and New York.
About Red Bison Productions:
Red Bison Productions is based in Princeton, New Jersey, US, and demonstrates a strong and enduring dedication to the South Asian diaspora. Their mission is to bring global true-life stories to worldwide audiences.
Often referred to as hijras and kinnars, transgender men and women are a part of society just like any other individual, regardless of how different their lives may be. Oscar-nominated filmmaker Deepa Mehta and actress Sirat Taneja have created a documentary to bring to life a story about dual identities and the hardships that the LGBTQIA2S+ community members continue to face, despite the support they have found around them. Mehta and Taneja take the baton and continue the fight for equality in “I Am Sirat,” a documentary, presented at the 48th annual Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), on Taneja herself.
“I Am Sirat,” set in Delhi, India, is shot completely on a smartphone. Talking more about filming the documentary on a cellphone — a conscious choice made by the ace director — Mehta confidently says:
It wasn’t a creative decision. It was the only decision we had [to] make the film the way we wanted to, which was very intimate and with nobody else around us. When Sirat was telling her story, she was free to tell it without a crew. That’s the way we wanted it. There were no cameras, no sound, no lighting. It was her life, she was in control of it.
The story highlights the deep intricacies of Taneja’s dual identity. At home, her mother cannot accept the idea of a trans daughter and requires her to be a man, even though she’s made many attempts to tell her family that she does not identify as a male. With her efforts to express her true, authentic self, falling on deaf ears, Taneja sets out to live a life that appeases both her family at home and herself. She goes as far as being her mother’s son in the house while renting out a room for her beautiful clothes and makeup elsewhere in the city; this room is the keepsake of who she really is, the woman she always longed to be.
At one instance she is even physically assaulted for expressing her true gender identity. While the film does not depict the assault, it showcases the traumatic aftermath of it. But the violence doesn’t discourage Taneja from living out her truth. If she’s oppressed at home, she leaves that baggage at the door on her way out — in public, she’s a woman.
The documentary allows viewers to see how Taneja carries this dual identity and how it impacts her as a person. We see her lose many things she considers important in her life, including her job with the Government of India and the love of her life, all because of her trans identity. The myriad of hardships that she faces can be seen throughout the film with struggles not limited to personal and social, but also financial and psychological.
Taneja lives in a single-parent household with her siblings. As the eldest child in a low-income household, she is required to take on her late father’s responsibilities as the breadwinner of the family. In addition to financial issues, the lack of a father figure in her life creates more obstacles for Taneja, including those around sex reassignment surgery. Enter, the idea of following tradition.
It would be remiss to not mention that “I Am Sirat” grazes over the idea of how paradoxical modern-day India really is. On one hand, there are talks about progression, making space, and living your most authentic life; on the other, people like Taneja are asked to put up facades in the name of tradition. Tradition, conservative ideals, and possibly even patriarchy are at the forefront of the oppression that Taneja and her counterparts face. So, even for a country that’s made some notable changes to its governing policies, many of its outdated conventions still trump the law.
“I Am Sirat” really makes the viewers reflect on how far the world has come in offering support and camaraderie to the LGBTQIA2S+ community on a broader level — mainstream media has made important strides to bring equity and inclusivity to the forefront — while hardly ever paying heed to the struggles these minorities face day-to-day with their loved ones. There’s an element of duality even for them in their fight to be recognized; they want acceptance from the public as well as their families. A story like Taneja’s puts into perspective how transgender men and women will never choose the easy way out; they’re determined to be an honorable part of society regardless of what it will cost. A heartbreaking truth, to say the least.
“I Am Sirat” brings about an important message for its global audience: never forget to celebrate who you really are, undeterred by the trials you’re put through. And Sirat Taneja is a living example of this simple life lesson, who danced her way from the TIFF red carpet right into our hearts with her soulful story.
November 2, 2023November 2, 2023 6min readBy Nida Hasan
It’s not every day that a film leaves you feeling completely overwhelmed with a flood of mixed emotions — from grief and hopelessness to fear and rage, all the while brimming with a sense of pride for the protagonist. This usually is a testament to the maker’s cinematic prowess; their ability to not just engage their audience but also invoke a response. In “To Kill A Tiger” however, this is a result of both the director’s unrestrained and incisive approach and the eye-opening reality that unfolds on screen. Emmy-nominated filmmaker Nisha Pahuja’s documentary, “To Kill A Tiger,” is not at all gritty or violent in its depiction; there is no blood and gore that compels you to feel the pain and empathize. It’s the trauma, collective suffering, and the almost sickening reactions that surround the struggle that makes it an eerie watch.
In essence, “To Kill A Tiger” is an unfiltered look into the aftermath of a horrific sexual assault in Bero, a tribal village in Jharkhand, India. The film starts off with Ranjit, a poor rice farmer and 13-year-old victim Kiran’s father, recalling the details of her brutal rape, at a family wedding, by three men including her cousin. After Ranjit files the case, the perpetrators are arrested immediately, but the road to justice is long and dreary, and the chances of getting it, woefully small.
In India, where a woman is raped every 20 minutes and where 90% of those rape crimes go unreported, Ranjit’s unwavering support for her daughter and her right to justice is a rare sight. He is joined by a host of activists including those from Srijan Foundation to further his cause, in the hopes that his unlikely win may bring some form of systemic and societal change. But in his almost 14-month-long, arduous journey, Ranjit and his family find themselves stuck in a destructive cycle of victim-blaming and the intense pressures of upholding the community’s so-called honor. Comments like “she should have known better,” or “she must’ve been a tease for boys will be boys,” and suggestions of marrying her off with one of her rapists so as to keep the village united and let peace prevail, are a harrowing reminder of how much of rural India is still so deeply entrenched in patriarchy and powered by toxic masculinity, which is what actually led Pahuja to this case in the first place.
“After the Delhi gang rape. I decided I wanted to make a film on Indian masculinity. I spent a fair bit of time researching and raising funds for the early development phase because it’s such an abstract concept; how do you tell a story about masculinity?” Pahuja shared, while chatting with Brown Girl Magazine.
“Over the course of my research, I came across the work of a Delhi-based organization, Center for Health and Social Justice. They, essentially, are pioneers in the space around masculinity. They understood very early on that if there were any substantial, effective strides to be made to end the discrimination that exists against women, one would actually have to tackle masculinity, and give men a new way to be male. The film that I initially set out to make was following their work. They were running a program in the state of Jharkhand and Ranjit was enrolled in that program. And that’s how I came across this story. It wasn’t like I was looking for a story about a sexual assault. The incident just happened around that time.”
But shifting the focus to a deeply personal story with an uncertain future, and one that was highly sensitive to its surrounding environment (significantly volatile in nature), posed a series of challenges for both the family involved and the crew. For one, it was crucial to ensure that the fact that there’s a camera present does not, in any way, influence Ranjit’s course of action; and that both Ranjit and Kiran have room and the freedom to make decisions as they see fit.
“We always made it very clear that they shouldn’t do what they were doing for the camera, or for the videos. We told them we will support whatever decision they want to make and that they shouldn’t feel a compulsion to keep pursuing this. We wanted to ensure that they were pursuing justice, in spite of all the things that were going on. Because we were all worried for them. We didn’t want them to be in any kind of danger or to be in a position where they were unsafe,” Pahuja stressed.
As is evident in the film, there are plenty of moments when it seems Ranjit would jump the ship. Apart from the mental and financial burden of keeping up with innumerable court dates, and a system that does little to help the marginalized get justice, the threats to his family’s wellbeing were insurmountable. In one instance, we see this growing hostility veer towards Pahuja’s crew — the villagers question the filmmaker’s continued interest in the incident, warning her to stop meddling in their community’s affairs. Pahuja recalls the instance:
“It was a scary situation. We were aware that this eruption might happen; it wasn’t unexpected but when it happened, it was a shock. You know what I mean? We had been in that village for several months filming, trying to get people on our side, trying to create relationships, even with the boys’ families. And Ranjit was fine with that; he understood why we needed to do that. We made a lot of effort to not be a bull in a china shop; we were very careful. We were certainly aware of the sensitivity and of the possibility that there could be conflict, but not to the degree that [it] happened. I was shocked, I was afraid but the primary emotion that I had was also one of guilt. I felt very ashamed of myself for disrupting something very complicated.”
In the face of such adversity, with the world shunning her and with every possible witness jeopardizing her shot at justice, it is Kiran’s unblemished view of the world, her relentless faith in good winning over evil, and her fierce determination to see her attackers pay for their crime, even at such a tender age, that’s truly admirable. As a viewer, you’ll find yourself at your wit’s end watching Kiran constantly relive her trauma, repeating meticulous details of the incident to one legal official after the other, but she perseveres, also lending her father the courage and the strength to continue her fight.
Is “To Kill A Tiger” a depressing exposition of the inherently patriarchal, and significantly problematic, mindset of the Indian population that is in turn breeding rape culture? Yes. Does it leave you incredibly frustrated and disappointed over the bare minimum impact that Ranjit and Kiran’s defiance and eventual victory has over prevalent attitudes? Yes. With a plethora of rape cases in India suffering a fate worse than Kiran’s, was it a story that needed to be told? Definitely yes. Though a world where women’s voices are not silenced may still very much feel like a utopian fantasy, “To Kill A Tiger” is effectively opening a dialogue by laying bare the roots of it all. Through this profoundly resonant story, Pahuja is helping us understand why whilst taking the first step towards the ‘how’ for her work, and the scope of impact, doesn’t end with the audiences.
“Right now, we’re working with Equality Now; they’ve come on board as our impact partners. And we’re devising a kind of global strategy in terms of what are the things that the film can achieve? And the change that we’re seeking is both at the legal level and at a systems level. And of course, at a cultural level as well. For change to happen, you have to change culture, and culture comprises many different layers. So you have to have an approach that looks at all of these different layers. We have some very specific things that we know we want to do such as creating a fund for survivors. We also want to create a coalition of survivors in India. And then, of course, we want to work on masculinity. We’re really hoping that with Ranjit being the role model, the film can travel with [the] organization to have an impact on men and boys.”
“To Kill A Tiger” is currently showing in cinemas across the US.
Being a teenager is scary. Hormones, high school, trying to fit in — add to it a flesh-hungry demon from the Indian subcontinent and it becomes downright terrifying. At least, that’s what award-wining director Bishal Dutta’s debut feature “It Lives Inside” will have audiences thinking when it hits theaters on Sept. 22.
From the producers of several blockbusters including “Get Out” and “Us,” “It Lives Inside” stars Megan Suri as Samidha. Samidha is an Indian American teenager growing up in a quintessential small town, where she’s one of only a handful of South Asian faces at her school. She has a sweet, hardworking dad (Vik Sahay) and a caring, but stern mother (Neeru Bajwa). Both of them like their daughter home early to make prasad for prayers and insist no one whistles in the house, fearing it’ll attract evil spirits.
Much to her traditional mother’s dismay, when Samidha enters high school, she begins to resist her Indian culture. She prefers to be called “Sam,” and speak English, leaving her homemade lunch tiffins on the counter on her way out the door. Most significantly, she distances herself from her former best friend and fellow Indian, Tamira (Mohana Krishnan)
Tamira has become the center of school gossip carrying around an ominous black mason jar, dwelling beneath the gym bleachers. One day, she corners Sam in the locker room, begging her for help from the “monster” trapped in the jar, but Sam is rigid. Her desire to fit overcomes her emotions. Tamira storms out — and then mysteriously goes missing.
Little does Sam know, her childhood friend’s behavior and disappearance were brought on by the Piscacha — a flesh-eating Hindu demon drawn to negative energy — and Sam’s disbelief has just unleashed its terror back on her.
“It Lives Inside” is a breath of fresh air. It has the nostalgic backdrop of a 1980s teen movie (think “Sixteen Candles” or even “Halloween”) but adds the thrill of an exciting new monster for horror fans, and looks for the final girl.
Audiences have spent decades watching and screaming at faith-based horror stories like “The Exorcist,” “The Conjuring,” and “Carrie,” but “It Lives Inside” is the first of its kind for Hollywood, drawing from Hinduism for its frights.
Now, I can’t lie…when I first learned the story would be rooted in Hinduism, I was nervous. I worried that religion and culture may be used as a gimmick, but I was pleasantly surprised.
Dutta’s approach is reminiscent of Bisha K. Ali’s with “Ms. Marvel” on Disney+. Characters speak Hindi and we see South Asian religious practices, foods, and clothing displayed prominently, in a natural and authentic way that other groups can easily learn and understand. The culture merely rounds out the story, it’s not the main character or conflict.
The Piscacha, feeding on the despondence of its prey, may remind some of Vecna from season 4 of Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” but Dutta offers a fresh angle, alluding to the characters’ negative feelings toward their culture being the source of its power.
He offers South Asian American audiences relatable family dialogues and dynamics, but also steers clear of cliches like showing popular kids as mean or Sam’s American crush unlikeable.
“It Lives Inside” isn’t a horror movie you’ll lose sleep over, but that doesn’t mean it’s without palpable moments of fear.
Thanks to Dutta’s creative shots, smart pacing and sensory visuals, in addition to the emotion-packed acting of its cast, the film successfully makes your skin crawl and your jaw drop on several occasions.
The characters are smartly cast with several standouts. Suri is a welcome new face for the horror genre’s final girl and she delivers her role with the right amount of escalating fear and desperation. Meanwhile, Bajwa leans into hers with the passion you’d expect from a protective brown mom, though, at times, some of her Hindi dramatells come through.
“Get Out’s” Betty Gabriel is also noteworthy as Sam’s teacher Joyce and an early confidant. Her support of Sam was a refreshing break from the “this person must be crazy” trope we see so frequently in demonic films.
All that said, “It Lives Inside” does border on being formulaic. It follows a template and scares we have seen numerous times and ones that have done well historically.
But in its familiarity, it also manages to feel fresh. With its South Asian twist, the film proves that even formulaic horror films can find new life through diversity and inclusivity. It raises the idea that they have the potential to scare wider audiences and tell more spooky stories by exploring new cultures and casts.
While “It Lives Inside” is not perfect — the climax may leave you with a few lingering questions — it is a stylish and well-made film and a welcome piece of mainstream South Asian representation.
Recent past has seen South Asian stars delve into many different genres on television and the big screen, but horror has remained largely untouched. Thankfully, “It Lives Inside” has set the table for some brilliant South Asian-based horror films in Hollywood for years to come.
“It Lives Inside” made its world premiere at SXSW and has made its way through the film festival circuit. It will be released theatrically by Neon on September 22.