Filmmaker Puja Maewal has spent the last two years immersed in the lives of street kids in Mumbai.
Born and raised in Texas, Maewal directed plays and children’s theater in high school, which sparked an interest in storytelling. After graduating early from Yale University, where she studied English literature, she moved to Southern California to pursue a filmmaking career.
After working as an assistant for a prominent Hollywood producer, she entered the film program at UCLA. As a student director, one of her films was nominated for a BAFTA student award. The Indian American youth then received a Fulbright grant, jointly sponsored by the U.S. and India, to shoot her UCLA thesis film in Mumbai.
The resulting project, “Jaya,” is inspired by the true story of a teenage girl in a Mumbai street gang who masquerades as a boy to make a living as a thief, until she meets a man who could be her long-lost father.
Maewal and her team researched the lives of street kids, in particular girls, to tell their story. After auditioning hundreds of teenagers from the streets and slums for lead roles, the filmmakers shot on location in Mumbai. Some of the difficulties they had to overcome included harassment by police and unpredictable monsoons.
Some members of the crew, including associate producers Nina Sawhney, Alisha Varma, and Asha Sitaram, volunteered with underprivileged youth in Mumbai at the non-governmental organization Akanksha. They hope one result of the film will be to raise awareness of those living in less fortunate circumstances.
“We are in the final production stages of the film and need support in order to finish it and submit it to film festivals worldwide,” Sawhney, the daughter of San Francisco Bay Area physician Dr. Vin Sawhney, told India-West in an e-mail.
Trailers for the film can be seen at www.indiegogo.com/jaya.
“Through this site, you can become a part of the project, become a producer and purchase DVDs and posters,” the “Jaya” team said.
For donations, contact the director at firstname.lastname@example.org.