(In the photo: Ismail Merchant ( standing), Simon Kurian (sitting), Madhur Jaffery (sitting) and in the background (standing) looking on is the Producer Richard Hawley.)
Set in contemporary India, the movie examines the widespread practice wherein women are abused, persecuted, exiled or killed. In mainly superstitious tribal societies of north India, witches are blamed for drought, floods, a stroke of bad luck, or ill-health. But some sociologists say the superstition is only a convenient excuse to harass women.
“The Witch Hunt is a dark and dramatic tale, of the unequal battles that are often fought in the Indian landscape unnoticed by most and ignored by many,” says Simon Kurian who has co-written the script with his wife Geethanjali.
“The story is based on true events, which Simon researched and developed over 10 years, after travelling to northern India and at one point living for several weeks with the tribals who are trapped in this practice,” says Geethanjali. “Over the years we have continued to follow the stories. A decade has passed, but our story remains as tragically relevant as it did when Simon first began researching the subject. Simon and I wrote the screenplay based on the diary he had written during his research.”
The film will be released internationally with part of the proceeds going towards the rehabilitation of women who have been victims of witch hunts. “For us this is not just a feature film, it is a cause to which we are deeply committed and we hope through the film to bring it to light and force people to sit up and take notice and do something concrete and sustainable to support the victims and also to stamp out the practice once and for all,” says Geethanjali.
The film was originally to be produced by Ismail Merchant and will now be dedicated to his memory. Merchant died in 2005. “It was Ismail and James Ivory to whom I first gave the screenplay to read. They both loved the script and Ismail asked me in 2003 whether he could produce it. He remained deeply committed to the project ever since he read it,” says Kurian
With a cast of prominent Indian and western actors, the key crew for the bilingual (English- Hindi) film will be drawn from Europe, and India and it will be post-produced in Sydney. “Casting will commence in India shortly,” said Kurian. “This is a film that requires committed performances from actors who can understand the cause behind the story and elevate the roles with the empathy that can convey a harsh issue in an uncompromising and real way.”
Simon has been associated with Merchant Ivory ever since he assisted Ismail on his film ‘Cotton Mary’ which was filmed on location in Kochi; they went on to become close friends. Simon, who is originally from Kerala, has been making films for international television since eighties; his credits include films for BBC Television and Channel 4 UK.