Busan Asian Cinema Fund Recipient ‘Mariam’ Tackles Plight of Migrant Workers, Illegal Surrogacy in India

Arvind Pratap’s “Mariam,” which has post production support from the Busan International Film Festival’s Asian Cinema Fund, tackles a range of social issues in India.

Millions of families from rural India move to the big cities in search of employment and “Mariam” follows one such migrant worker family. The breadwinner is Mariam, who has to look after her three daughters and also takes on an illegal surrogate pregnancy to earn for her family in Mumbai.

Pratap, who previously directed the acclaimed “The Reluctant Crime,” got the idea for the film from a newspaper article detailing changes in the Surrogacy Regulation Bill by the Indian Supreme Court, where single parents were excluded from surrogacy.

“At that moment, I thought about what will happen to the baby and surrogate mother if a couple get divorced during the pregnancy period. Whose responsibility will be the baby? That thought lingered for a long time and it was the seed for generating the story of ‘Mariam’,” Pratap told Variety. “Later I read some other articles about illegal surrogacy in a small town called Anand in Gujarat, India. The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the migrant workers a lot who came from far off cities to find employment in a big city like Mumbai. Though a large number of them went back to their villages, there were many who stayed behind. This backdrop inspired me to write the story of ‘Mariam’.”

The family at the heart of “Mariam” happens to be Muslim. “I used to give private tuition to a boy in Mumbai. At their home a Muslim maid was working and sometimes she would serve me tea and snacks. I could sense grief on her face. Her personality gave me the image of Mariam. That maid also lost her job at the time of the pandemic. And from there I decided to keep a Muslim family in my story,” says Pratap.

Mariam is played by Chitrangada Satarupa (“Ahare Mon”), who prepared a backstory for her character and watched a few films recommended by Pratap on the not-so-pleasant side of the pregnancy experience. This helped her widen her perspective regarding representation of pregnant women in cinema. The actor also researched pregnant women, especially women who have conceived more than once or twice, and was fortunate in that two people close to her were pregnant at that time.

Satarupa workshopped with the three girls who play her daughters in the film. “We workshopped together for several days to create the bond, to bring the natural essence to our chemistry and also own the characters as much as possible. It’s the first time all three of them acted in front of the camera so it was challenging for me to make them feel at ease and perform in the same rhythm as mine,” Satarupa told Variety.

Thanks to her mother who operates an NGO, Satarupa knew some migrant workers in Mumbai. “To be honest, during the shoot when we actually shot in a location which was literally a migrant worker’s makeshift camp my idea of it changed,” Satarupa says. “It was a different world. People travel with their families to a distant city without knowing the language, live in tents made out of plastic, with no electricity and filled with dust, right on the side of the highway just to earn a few bucks. That was a workshop I did not plan, yet it gave me a reality check as well as a lot of strength and experience for a lifetime.”

The film is backed by Red Carpet Moving Pictures. “At the heart of every film is the story, the uniqueness of the idea, the humility of the director in the way he was telling the story moved us to support this film,” producer Sanjay Bhutiani told Variety. “The director also was very keen that we should be part of this film and help him reach out to more people.”

Red Carpet previously received post support from the ACF for “Hotel Salvation” (2016). “It’s a tremendous support for any independent filmmaker and an honor and privilege to premiere the film at such a huge global platform,” Bhutiani says.

“Mariam” premieres Thursday (Oct. 6, 2022).

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