As Adriana Grigoriev got ready for her shot in one of London’s most busy streets, something shocking happened. A man driving into a parking lot next-door, rolled down his windows and hurled racial abuses her way for wearing a burqa. A stunned Grigoriev burst into tears, running to her crew, standing a few hundred metres away.
“This was the first-time Adriana was dressed in a burqa in London and after reading the script initially, had argued with me that Muslim women aren’t racially abused there,” says Mumbai-based Sandeep Varma, director of The Disguise, a short film that premiered in Kolkata on March 26.
“We often make claims about our society being clean. However, only those who face racism and discrimination know the reality,” adds the 49-year-old, who has also written and directed Kahanibaaz, a short film starring Ashish Vidyarthi, while his other works include Manjunath, a film on an IIM-Lucknow student who was killed for standing up against corruption.
Grigoriev from Moldova is one of the two protagonists (the other one being Naomi Willow from the UK) in the film, which is about two women in London — one who is conservative and holds on to her customs, while the other one is liberal and has assimilated into the Western world. One day, a hate crime pushes matters to a head, and forces them to rethink their identity. Willow plays a Muslim woman who has embraced the British culture and lives her life like any other Londoner. However, her perception of racism faced in Britain changes after an incident at a bus stop.
Riya Mukherjee, writer and producer of the 18-minute film, says, “I wrote it in early 2018 and felt the story was very timely, with the kind of mess the world finds itself in. I did not want to go through the process of pitching it to producers as that would’ve been time consuming and so, I decided to produce it myself.” The 44-year-old founded Riya Mukherjee Word Pictures, with The Disguise being their maiden production.
On choosing London as the backdrop, she says, “I know London very well as a city; it is full of people from different cultures and ethnicities and racism unfortunately persists there, making me want to pick it as a place to shoot.”