Filmmaker already garnering plaudits for film about undocumented migrants in these politically charged times…
FIRST time feature filmmaker Nathalia Syam already has much to celebrate.
Her debut, ‘Footprints on Water’ has just been awarded the New York Indian Festival (NYIFF) Best Debut Film Award.
Judged by the Film Critics Circle of India in the US, the film – essentially about a family who are undocumented migrants in Britain from India, and starring well-known Indian actor Adil Hussain – screens later today there, at its world premiere.
It screens in Europe for the first time tomorrow (May 13) as part of the UK Asian Film Festival (May 4-14) and www.asianculturevulture.com is sponsoring this title, at its sold-out show at The Kiln in North London.
NYIFF described the film as a “captivating masterpiece” which left a “lasting impression, stirring hearts with its profound storytelling and mesmerising performances”.
NYIFF started yesterday and officially ends on May 14 – Syam’s award was presented to her as she attended the Opening Film ahead of her film’s world premiere screening in New York tonight (May 12) – before jetting back to London for the European premiere tomorrow here.
She told acv what the award meant to her.
“It is very special. I am really honoured to get this award.
“All the judging is done externally by the Film Critics Circle of India and it is almost overwhelming when you consider the other films we were up against. (‘Follower’; ‘Pokhar Ke Dunnu Par’; ‘Siya’; ‘Mushroom’).
“We are really grateful to NYIFF and it was very sweet of them to present this award at their Opening – because they knew I would not be present at the end of the festival.”
She said she had spoken to some of the festival organisers about the film.
“Having shot most of this film in Birmingham, it was interesting to see how the crowd from New York have found similarities and differences between the two cities, when it comes to the lives of undocumented migrants,” said the director.
Mohaan Nadaar is the producer and runs The Production Head Quarters (TPHQ) which made ‘Footprints on Water’.
He told acv: “The journey of ‘Footprints on Water’ has just begun and we are thrilled to see the film being recognised in this way.
“It is a testament to the hard work and dedication of TPHQ to bring world class cinema out of its stable and promote new and exciting talent.
“We could not be prouder and we are really looking forward to tomorrow’s screening in the UK.”
He added: “We have always believed in nurturing and growing upcoming talent.
“When director Nathalia first met us, she came on set as a First Assistant Director for few days for our film ‘Rat On The Highway’ starring Randeep Hooda.
“She pitched the idea of ‘Footprints on Water’ and we set up a meeting with Adil Hussain who was filming in the UK at the time, and when he said yes, we immediately green lit the film.”
Nadaar has experience of producing and co-producing over 30 films and is currently working on completing five other releases, including ‘Rat On A Highway’ with Bollywood star Hooda, this year. He is currently recuperating from an operation and hasn’t travelled from his home in India.
As well Hussain, there is British star Antonio Aakeel. He was the star of ‘Grenada Nights’, it screened at UKAFF in 2021, and he is best known for the features, ‘Eaten by Lions’ and the Bafta-winning BBC TV series, ‘Three Girls’. (2017).
As well these, there are two big screen names from the Malayalam film industry, Nimisha Sajayan and Lena Kumar.
Hussain and Sajayan are both up for best actor nominations at NYIFF and will know on Sunday (May 14) if they have been successful. UKAFF presents its awards at its Closing Ceremony at BFI Southbank in London on Sunday afternoon too (see link below).
The strong Kerala connection comes through Syam.
Her family migrated from the south western Indian state of Kerala to the UK, when she was 10 years old and her professional life as a director has crisscrossed both the UK and India.
She studied film, theatre and television at the University of Reading, and a previous short film of hers, ‘Lehenga’ was recognised by Bafta.
Hussain plays the central character of Raghu, who along with his second wife Sudha (Lena) and daughter Meera (Sajayan) flee Kerala after money troubles, a failing textile business and hostility from local thugs.
Raghu has already migrated from his native Bihar in eastern India and integrated into local society in Kerala – but only with a degree of acceptance from some, it seems.
We find him in Birmingham, ‘settled’ and working in a local solicitor’s office.
His living circumstances are poor – he shares living space with other undocumented migrants and his teenage daughter is also in some form of limbo.
She can apply to attend university but is finding life in the UK tough. It’s her relationship with Akeel, who plays an Afghan migrant, which opens up another of the film’s powerful themes.
This is a film very much about people on the margins and struggling with daily existence – so when there is further trauma, it puts their plight into very sharp relief and Syam’s film, storied and scripted by her sister, Neetha, depicts a spiral for Raghu that is compelling and well-constructed.
Neetha told acv that the story is partly triggered by the family’s experience of living in Southall, west London.
Often referred to as ‘Little India’, because of the high number of migrants from India, Neetha and Nathalia both became aware of houses with large numbers of people living in them.
“Some of the houses had as many as 15 people living in a four-bedroomed house. Soon we understood that many were undocumented and they came from all parts of the world for various reasons – from financial betterment to safer living conditions,” explained Neetha to acv.
Migration has become a hot button electoral issue both here and in the US, and ‘Footprints on Water’ is a powerful reminder that human lives are more than just statistics and electoral fodder for politicians to kick about like a football.
(Sailesh Ram) – editor www.asianculturevulture.com
ACV is proud to be helping present this film with the UK Asian Film Festival tomorrow.
A review and video interviews with Syam, Hussain and Aakeel will appear on the site shortly – keep tuned by following socials or subscribing to our Youtube channel.
UK Asian Film Festival Closing Gala – https://www.tonguesonfire.com/whats-on/a-meeting-of-cultures-awards-night
Catch Syam talking about the making of the film last year at a BFI-UKAFF reception…