‘I don’t have the money’

Gregg Helvey

While no Indian film made it to the Oscar this year, a student film, Kavi, has made the bold leap to the Academy Award shortlist. Nominated in the (Live action) Category, it’s a miracle that the film got made at all, let alone find itself in the top five at the Oscars.

A film that had no funding, a lead actor from the slums and an American director who coasted solely on his passion for the subject: there were too many problems at the outset. So director Gregg Helvey, from the University of Southern California, did the smart thing. He got himself Indian producers.

Guneet Monga and Harish Amin, who have worked with the likes of Anurag Kashyap and Mira Nair, stepped in as they liked the script. Well, they had to; after all, it wasn’t exactly a moneymaking proposition. Quite the contrary, really, as Greg confessed that he had none.

Harish says, “Greg had visited India twice before and really likes the colour and the people. It is his diploma film and he didn’t know how to go about it. We asked him if he has a decent budget and he said, ‘I don’t have the money.’ He raised it independently as funding started pouring in on his website. He also held photo exhibitions to raise funds. We shot it and then it stopped there as he had to raise more money. So we waited sometime before we went back to the film.”

What money he cobbled together was only enough to shoot in a decrepit resort on the outskirts of Wai. It was going to be shut down, so there was no room service and the crew did everything from making the bed to cooking.

Finding a child actor wasn’t easy either. The protagonist Kavi (played by Sagar) is a young boy who wants to go to school and play cricket, but has to work as a labourer in a brick kiln. Guneet says, “We auditioned about 100 kids from the slums. Sagar had played a small role in a friend’s film and we had to look for him in the Oshiwara slums. Sagar was a rock star. Uma Dacunha helped with the casting and then Barry John held a week-long workshop for all the actors.”

The film picked up awards across indie festivals and was sent to student Oscars. It got the gold and was nominated for the Academy award with 14 other films. Being shortlisted in the top five was unexpected for Guneet and Harish. He says, “Our aim was to highlight the cause. Greg put together facts like 27 million people are in bonded labour across the world.”

The duo hopes to be present at the ceremony as well. Guneet says, “I really want to take Sagar as well, and we’re trying to figure out donations so that we can take him along.”

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