Payal Sethi is an upcoming director who has directed the movie-‘Leeches’.Leeched deals with the topic of contract-marriage and its ill effects on society,by following the life of 16 year old Raisa and her tumultuous journey through the process of a contract marriage.

Bollywoodirect had the opportunity to speak with Payal Sethi about her movie.Here are some excerpts from the interview-

 

Why You Should Support My Film “Leeches”

Nobody wants to think about leeches – they’re repulsive, and inconvenient. I had never even heard of the human leeches in Hyderabad’s old city – foreign businessmen who prey on the virginity of underage girls under the guise of contract-marriage – until I moved there in 2011. It was hard to stomach that such an archaic practice is still propagated today under Sharia Law, which states that a man may have up to four wives at a time. Twisting this ‘law’ to suit their predilection for adolescent virgins, I learnt that these men take brides for short periods, with rates varying according to the duration of the marriage & the perceived beauty of the girl. They call these girls “one day brides”. Digging a bit deeper, it appeared that an intricate web of opportunists facilitate this flesh trade, including many clerics. Most unfortunate of all was the realization that certain female members of the community act as pimps in these liaisons. My forays around the narrow gullies around the iconic Charminar would never be the same again — I could stop myself from wondering how many of the burkha clad girls I passed were victims of this exploitative system.

After months of exploring, the story of one such girl became the inspiration for LEECHES, the short film I’m going to direct in Hyderabad this September. The film portrays the intricate workings of this practice, present in communities so disadvantaged that they have allowed the masking of a blatant sex-slave trade under the veil of acceptable religious ritual. Set in the chaotic bastis of Hyderabad’s old city, LEECHES tells the story of a sixteen-year old girl living amidst such circumstances, who tries to save her twelve-year old sister from becoming the virgin bride of an older man by taking her place. It is the surprising story of a sister’s sacrifice, which follows a strange turn of events to propel us towards a devastating conclusion. My aim with this film is to capture the frenetic energy of the old city & the desperation of a community against the timelessness of the Charminar.

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Why is it called ‘Leeches’?

I could give you an answer, but you have to watch the film to know why. The simple answer is, there are leeches in the film, literally, and figuratively. The story begins in a cramped hovel in the heart of Talab Katta, where 16-year old Raisa lives on the brink of poverty with her Ammi and three younger sisters. When her younger sister, Zainab, is promised to a foreign businessman in exchange for cash, Raisa decides to take matters into her own hands. She hatches an improbable plan with the help of her best friend and decides to take her little sister’s place, but the problem is, she is not a virgin, and the businessman has already paid handsomely for his virgin bride.

 

Raisa’s sacrifice

I chose Raisa as the protagonist because she embodies the courage of spirit possessed by girls who refuse to accept these sham marriages as their only fate. Regardless of Raisa’s fate in the film, her actions bring hope to a dark reality that continues unabated except for the efforts of a few people. I had the honor of meeting one such person, Jameela Nishat, whose NGO in Hyderabad works tirelessly, and often under threat, to empower and educate women and girls from poor Muslim communities in over twenty slums in the old city of Hyderabad. While the media has woken up to this practice in various Indian cities with disadvantaged Muslim communities, it continues unabated in Hyderabad, which has a frighteningly efficient system in place. Jameela is an inspiration, and her generosity in sharing the stories of girls’ who were not fortunate enough to escape this system has deeply affected my telling of this tale.

However, this is neither a documentary nor a serious social-issue film. I am not here to preach or provide propaganda; I’m merely trying to tell a story that has gotten under my skin, and the hope is, if I do this well, it will at least affect a handful of other people who may be similarly unaware of this ongoing practice.

So please take three-minutes to watch the short video below, which describes our efforts to make this film about a young girl who will do anything to protect her sister, even if it means putting herself in harm’s way.

 

Nuts & Bolts

At the moment, we are raising production & post-production funds through Wishberry (www.wishberry.in/campaign/leeches) and have successfully cleared our production budget of INR 6 Lakhs (USD 10,000) in just 15 days. We have just 8 days left to raise an additional INR 4 Lakhs (USD 6,500), which goes towards post-production, paying our cast & crew, and bringing on our preferred DP.

We begin shooting this film, which will be completely crowd-funded, in September and my goal before we start production, is to reach a wider audience through the campaign. I believe in the power of the crowd. Not just to fund this film, but to take it beyond to a wider audience around the world when it is complete. You, our funders, are also our audience. You are our early ambassadors & champions. When we step onto set on that first day of shoot, it will be with the powerful knowledge that all of you are waiting to see the film. We cannot imagine a better impetus.

This story deserves to get out and I would encourage anyone who wants to support our film to check out the page at www.wishberry.in/campaign/leeches Anybody can get involved for any amount, however small. Rewards start at US $4/INR 250. Ultimately, it is the show of hands that will matter.

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