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While working on the script of his next film, Nila Madhab Panda had one major concern — finding the perfect location. "We were looking for a village with very few girls so that it would add some authenticity," says the 38-year-old director, while discussing Jalpari: The Desert Mermaid, a film on female foeticide. After months of scouting, he zeroed down on Madhavgarh, a dusty village in Haryana's Mahendragarh district. "It has a very low sex ratio," notes Panda, who is known for his acclaimed directorial debut in 2011, I am Kalam.
With Jalpari... set to release on August 31, he hopes to raise questions about female foeticide, the problems that a girl child faces and also address the disconnect between rural and urban India. "Just because Jalpari... deals with a dark subject, doesn't mean it has been given a documentary film treatment. It's an adventure thriller that questions gender inequality through the eyes of children," explains Panda. The narrative revolves around a Delhi-based single father Dev, who takes his two children to his native village. The children dream of green fields, lakes and fairytale huts, only to come face-to-face with the secrets of the village, including a witch. While Piysuh Mishra and Delhi-based electronica duo Midival Punditz have given the rustic, contemporary music of the film, the cast includes Parvin Dabas, Tanishtha Chatterjee, Suhasini Mulay and child actors Lehar Khan, Krishang Trivedi and Harsh Mayar (the protagonist of I am Kalam).