May 4, 2022 7:00:12 am
THE 2022 Indian Film Festival of Los Angeles (IFFLA) announced the award winners for its 20th annual edition which featured a celebratory return to in-theatre screenings and presentations. Chandigarh-based theatre actor and debut filmmaker Anmol Sidhu’s Jaggi was the recipient of the inaugural Uma da Cunha Award for Best Feature Film Debut, as well as the Audience Choice Award for Best Feature. Sidhu’s Jaggi follows a schoolboy in rural Punjab who faces toxic masculinity and sexual abuse when he’s assumed to be a homosexual.
Uma da Cunha, a founding member of IFFLA, a supporter of Indian independent cinema and emerging voices, talking about her selection of Sidhu’s, said, “Few independent films in India are made in the Punjabi language and fewer still find their way into festivals to reach a wider audience. This film needs to be seen in a milieu where sexual matters tend not to be addressed openly.”
“Jaggi is a story about themes no one talks about, which desperately need attention, told with vulnerability from a first-time filmmaking team. What more can we programmers ask for? Stories come to us, enthrall us, move our audiences, and now empower their creators to continue their narrative activism from their distinctive corners of the world,” said director of programming Ritesh Mehta.
Jaggi first began as a short film and it took multiple drafts of screenplays and storyboards before it took shape as a feature film project.
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“This story is based in a rural area in Punjab, and is very close to my heart for it is inspired by true incidents which I have personally witnessed. Since I have lived most of my life in a village, I fully understand the trauma of sexual abuse, in this case, a young schoolboy. Bullying, harassment, sexual abuse, and molestation…are unfortunate, but common issues, a harsh reality in the rural areas of Punjab. Sadly, even in today’s time, it is a subject that is not talked about often, not addressed by parents, teachers, and friends, and even if it is discussed, it’s mostly done humorously. As an artist and human being, I have always found this to be very disturbing. That’s why I always wanted to make a film that addressed this issue because it is multi-layered,” explains 27-year-old Anmol Sidhu, who has been a theatre actor with Alankar Theatre for many years now. The issue, which the film Jaggi brings to light, adds Sidhu, who has written and directed the film, is both social as well as individual.
Almost three years ago, Sidhu came across some letters written by a young man who lived around 30 km from his home in Kauloke in Bathinda district. He had erectile dysfunction and was ridiculed and shamed for his condition and also harassed for he was assumed to be homosexual and was forced into marriage by his parents. Since then, Sidhu has been working on weaving a story around this and it took him about a year-and-a-half to complete the screenplay and then about a year of making it. “We began shooting in 2020, and because of the lockdown, had to face many challenges. We took a break of six months, for the film needed a change of look, and created a make-shift studio to accelerate the pace of work,” explains Sidhu, who says though he is not a trained filmmaker, theatre and watching world cinema have helped him understand the art of filmmaking.
Through Jaggi, played by actor Ramnish Chaudhary, adds Sidhu, he wants to change the perspective of society, so that those who are abused, can have a voice and stand up for themselves.
“I hope that my film is able to create a difference in society, opens channels of communication between parents and children, makes teachers more sensitive and aware of the needs of students beyond the classrooms and also society, which creates so many hurdles for young people.” The journey to bring ‘Jaggi’ to life has been a painstaking process, as producers in Punjab didn’t want to be associated with the sensitive subject, but producers Dhruv Bakshi and Pardeep Taina stepped forward to make the project possible, providing support not just with the funds, but creative expertise too.
“The actors are from Alankar and everyone felt so moved by the story and they decided not to charge anything and it is a collaborative effort of everyone who is named in this presentation. I am very happy that our effort has been recognised. And to quote the great Bertolt Brecht, ‘If art reflects life, it does so with special mirrors.’”
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