A story of courage
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I was an everyday Economics class at Woodstock School in Mussoorie. The professor, Shonila Chander, sensing the waning interest among her students decided to revive their attention with a story. Set against the backdrop of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots, the story was about a teacher — Chander later revealed that it was her — who risked her life to protect her only Sikh student from the mob. Shubhashish Bhutiani, then 17, seated at the back of the class, was listening with rapt attention. While the story was soon forgotten by other students, it remained stuck with Bhutiani. Four years later, he turned it into his first short film, Kush, which is now India's only entry to the
70th Venice International Film Festival.
The 20-minute film, with Sonika Chopra, Shayaan Sameer and Anil Sharma in key roles, will be screened in the "Orizzonti" or "New Horizons" section of the film festival. In the past, Mrinal Sen's Chalchitra and Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding have been screened at the festival while Satyajit Ray's Aparajito won the prestigious Golden Lion award for the best film. The festival, scheduled to take place in Lido, Venice, from August 28 to September 7, will also screen Richie Mehta's Siddharth as part of 'Venice Days', a prominent sidebar of the festival.
A cinephile since a young age, Mumbai-based Bhutiani enrolled for the direction programme at the School of Visual Arts in New York soon after he finished his schooling. After the mass shooting at a gurudwara in Wisconsin, US, in 2012, his teacher's story came back to him. "The story was as fresh in my mind as the day I first heard it. It is a look at one of our darkest moments in history, told through a school teacher and her student. I wanted to take that story to others and cinema became the medium," he says.