Short film Anu makes waves in International Film Festival circuit


Short film Anu tells the story of an Indian widow in managed isolation in New Zealand. (Photo supplied)

Venu Menon
Wellington, September 19,2023

Anu, a short film directed by Kiwi Indian Pulkit Arora, stars noted Wellington-based dance academy director and choreographer Prabha Ravi in the lead role as a recently widowed Indian woman coping with loss and grief while in managed isolation during Covid in New Zealand.

The 13-minute film unfolds in a hotel room with Ravi emoting the anguish of the widow stranded in an alien setting without access to the cultural paraphernalia for performing the ritual in memory of her late husband. She improvises and finds peace in the end.

With her husband’s recorded voice echoing in her ears, the grieving widow must cope with agonising frustration after her mobile phone breaks down.

The film navigates the silences of isolation, amplified by the tap on the door signalling the arrival of the meal packet on the doorstep, the slow crunching of teeth as she eats, the rustling as she rummages a suitcase, the moving of a chair – all of which define a human presence in isolation.

But while the outside is placid and tranquil, the inner turbulence builds as the widow fumbles with a match to light the ritual fire in the hotel’s   wastepaper bin. It is a Promethean moment of catharsis, dismantled at its peak by the noise of fire alarms and cascading sprinklers that put out the fire.

But the lonely widow finds solace as two faraway continents bond in the leaping flames of a ritual played out in the confined space of managed isolation in a hotel room in New Zealand.

Pulkit Arora’s lightness of touch informs every scene of this emotionally-charged inner drama, with Ravi capturing the muted intensity of the widow’s grief. Emotions brush over her face like a passing breeze.

Indeed, director Arora was particular from the outset that he did not want the actor to overact. “I had to act,” Ravi recalls, “but I had to be realistic and avoid melodrama”.

Can we expect Ravi to be juggling between acting and dance?

The director and choreographer of the Hutt-based Natraj School of Dance chuckles. “Only God knows. I don’t know,” she replies.

The Kiwi Indian community embraced the film. Ravi was flooded with accolades after the film hit the screens in major cities in New Zealand. For Arora, the film’s entry and recognition by the international film festival circuit has meant a foot in the door in the short film world.

Anu was one of six short films screened in theatres across New Zealand as part of the International Film Festival. Eighty films were submitted to the New Zealand International Film Festival for selection. Six were shortlisted, of which Anu was one. It went on to win the Audience Award, meaning audiences who watched the film when it was screened in theatres across New Zealand voted it the best short film.

Prabha Ravi received the Best Audience Award on behalf of director Pulkit Arora (Photo supplied)

Ravi is thankful to Arora “who trusted me and gave me this opportunity, knowing fully well that I had never acted before.”

Anu was the only Asian film selected for screening at the New Zealand International Film Festival, with director Arora winning the Emerging Star award. The film was produced by Rachel Fawcett and Shuchi Kothari. Adam Luxton was the man behind the camera while Lisa Greenfield and Jolin Lee edited the film.

Arora’s debut short film, Milk Toffee, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2021 and toured eight other major international festivals.

Apart from New Zealand, Anu was selected to be screened in competition in other International Film Festivals, including Australia and India.

Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Wellington

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