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Short drama film
68 backers pledged AU$ 7,401 to help bring this project to life.
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AU$ 7,401

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We're sending out a huge thanks to all the generous souls who supported us in reaching 100% of our goal! We're really grateful that dozens of you showed your faith in this project and that we're now able to make this film, thanks to your support. 

Stretch Goals: There’s still 7 days of our crowdfunding campaign to go, so we're now fundraising for our Stretch Goals - the additional elements that will help us come even closer to our vision for the film.  Our revised goal is to raise an extra $2000 (to reach a campaign total of $9000). Please see the Budget section below for more information.  To show our appreciation to supporters who pledge towards our stretch goals, we'll send you exclusive 'behind the scenes' shots of the film shoot! 

Overview

A young man in a saree who resists change. A young woman who needs him to change. A transgender activist who cuts to the truth. And the lively festival that gives them hope and a new way through. 

Short drama film A Bride Of Aravan is a contemporary hero’s journey through clashing notions of modernity and tradition. It captures a young betrothed couple at a point of crisis, whose dilemmas are resolved in the alchemical dynamics of the real-life Aravan festival in south India. 

With plenty of peppy Tamil dialogue, the script mixes in mythological and Shakespearean elements, with pathos and some humour stirred in. It’s a gender-bender too. At the Aravan Festival, local men dressed as women mingle with trans people from across the region, traditional priests and curious young men in a crazy unexpected melding. 

Dealing with themes of gender norms and fluidity, social pressures and the weight of choice, the film is a rare lens into a unique festival and slice of rural-urban life not normally seen by outsiders. It’s also a unique and playful form of storytelling, blending dynamic documentary footage into enacted dramatic scenes to create a distinct hybrid genre. 

The film will be shot in Tamil Nadu in 2019 by by directors Lesley Branagan and Yatra Srinivassan. 

Become a part of A Bride of Aravan

The great news is that this project is supported by MatchLab (an Australian government initiative), so every dollar you donate will be matched by a dollar from MatchLab.

You'll be supporting: arguably the first short Tamil language film made in a style that will appeal to international audiences and film festivals, enabling international audiences to learn more about Tamil culture. The film also offers inspiration for Tamil youths to find ways in which their modern aspirations can be realised, without overtly upsetting traditional expectations. For the filmmakers, the film will be an opportunity for cross-cultural collaboration and learning, and a way to reach new audiences. 

Check out the 'rewards' on the right to see how you can support our goals. Your donation will trigger a donation from MatchLab to the same value!

Synopsis

Tamil Nadu: In honour of a promise his mother made to the god Aravan when he was a baby, Prasad goes each year to fulfil his ritual obligation at the Aravan festival, dressed as one of the god’s brides in order to enact an ancient myth.

As the annual festival approaches, Prasad's life is upended. He loves feisty Kavi, but cancels their marriage when it becomes clear that Kavi's own aspirations exceed the limits of the accepted cultural constraints - constraints that he upholds. 

When he goes as a 'bride' to the Aravan festival, Prasad undergoes a journey of discovery. Through his interactions with a warrior deity, a wise transgender beauty queen, and Kavi - who turns up dressed as a boy - he is forced to reconsider his assumptions. But can he find a way forward that synthesises tradition and modernity in order to have a future with the girl who has his heart? What is he prepared to sacrifice? 

Inspiration - the 'Why'

Lesley: Some years back, I met a young man in a village in Tamil Nadu who told me how his mother had taken him to the Aravan temple when he was a sick baby boy, and begged the god Aravan to cure her son.  Like other parents of sick boys, she made an oath that if Aravan cured her son, the boy would worship every year at the Aravan festival, as one of the god's brides. I was fascinated by the young man's nonchalant attitude to fulfilling this annual obligation to engage in gender fluidity - a stance that was shared by the local men. I began visiting the Aravan temple, speaking with the elders, and attending the festival. I also engaged with the trans women who attended the festival, and heard their stories. Somehow, my initial plan of a documentary film on the topic seemed too prosaic an approach for this rich topic. As I spent more years talking with my young Tamil village friends, I heard them express their frustration about the constraints that their culture sometimes placed on them, the confined gender roles they were expected to play in everyday life, and the conflicts they experienced with their parents and peers around the expectations of these roles - conflicts that highlighted the clash of traditional notions and ideas of modernity. It struck me that the possibilities that the festival offered - for gender fluidity, to break out of stereotypical roles - often do not carry over into everyday life. I wondered, how could young people take up the symbolic possibilities offered by the festival, and use them to navigate through conflict and gendered expectations in their everyday lives??  This film imagines one creative solution that upholds both tradition and modernity while allowing the characters to be true to their hearts and to live authentic lives. 

The Legend of Aravan

In the south Indian version of the epic Indian mythical text, the Mahabharata, the warrior god Aravan agreed to sacrifice himself in battle to ensure the end of an extended war.  He had one condition: he wanted to marry before his death. No woman wanted to marry a man sentenced to die the next day, so the god Krishna - wanting to honour Aravan’s sacrifice - assumed female form (Mohini) and married Aravan for one night. After a night of bliss, Aravan went into battle and was beheaded.  In a few villages in present-day Tamil Nadu, Aravan is worshipped as the local deity. In this day-to-day context, he is also renowned for curing sick baby boys. Mothers bring their sons to the temple and strike a bargain with the god: If the baby is cured, the boy will worship at the annual festival for the rest of his life as a ‘Bride of Aravan’. In this way, many local men become brides for one day each year. Trans women also attend the festival, as they identify with the mythical transformation of Krishna  into the female form of Mohini. Both local men and trans women are ritually 'married' by the priest to Lord Aravan and become ‘brides’ for 24 hours of ritual celebration. At the end of the day, the giant effigy of Aravan is then pulled to a 'battle' ground outside the village and beheaded. The brides dramatically mourn the death of their husband, breaking the marriage jewellery in order to symbolise the end of their ‘marriage’ to Aravan.

Project information

Based on a story concept by Australian director Lesley Branagan, the film has been developed over four years by co-directors Lesley and Yatra Srinivassan, who collaborated previously on a documentary film in the same locale (Womanpower 2003). The Aravan film project received a small seed grant from Australia-India Institute in 2016, which enabled research and and intensive script development with our dedicated scriptwriters.  We have consulted village elders, and shot research footage at previous festivals. The lead actors have been cast. Srinivas and Lesley's long experience of collaboration, local credibility and cultural sensitivity will be built upon to make the film. 

When: The shoot will take place during the annual Aravan festival in late April 2019. The shoot duration will be approximately six days, including two days filming at the festival itself. Completion/delivery date is estimated September 2019 (to allow time for editing, test screenings, feedback and revisions). 

Where: A village near Pondicherry in south India, which holds an annual festival centered around the village’s Aravan temple. 

Release: The film's approach and distinct genre aims to appeal to a broad global audience via international film festivals and arthouse platforms - people who might otherwise rarely be exposed to Tamil language films or contemporary Tamil culture.

Future: While A Bride of Aravan is a stand-alone short film, it will also be used down the track as a 'proof of concept' to gain support for a feature-length film that further develops the same themes and characters.  

Team

Director Lesley Branagan is an Australian independent filmmaker, specialising in Indian culture. Her documentary film A Life Exposed: Robyn Beeche (2013) was commissioned by Australian Broadcasting Commission, screened internationally on TV and in film festivals and has received various awards (Best Australian documentary, WOW Film Festival etc.). Other films, such as Mogadishu Dreaming and Shack Life, have screened in international film festivals and on TV. Her radio documentaries (for ABC, BBC, RNW) have focussed on Indian culture, gender, religion, the arts and social issues. Lesley received a Prime Minister’s Australia Asia Endeavour Award for anthropological research in India, and has a PhD in the same field. She is passionate about storytelling that foregrounds the voices, ideas and issues of her subjects, and that highlights the tensions between traditional and modern practices in contemporary India.

Co-director Yatra Srinivasan studied film directing in Chennai and comes from a family of performers. He has directed and produced dozens of drama and documentary films for numerous international and Indian agencies (UNICEF, USAID, French Red Cross etc.), and has received multiple state-level awards for his plays and films. He worked as co-director on feature films with renowned Tamil film director Chimbu Devan, and also acted in the TV serial Vanakkam Chennai.  He is the founder of Yatra Multimedia (professional moviemaking services) and Yatra Arts Foundation (an arts charity for children). He incorporates puppetry, film, theatre and multi-media into his work, and is constantly experimenting with new ways to tell stories and to challenge conventions. 

Cinematographer Aravindan GP studied cinematography at India’s premier film institute, the FTII in Pune. His graduation film screened at the Berlin International Film Festival. His documentary, A Far Afternoon, won the Indian National Award for the Best Film (Art and Culture category) and was in the official selection for the New York International Film Festival, 2016. He has shot various films, TV programmes (such as the well-known Satyamave Jayate), commercials, short videos for NGOs and documentaries. He participated in the Kyoto Filmmakers Lab in 2017, as India’s representative. 

L to R: Lesley, Srini, Aravindan
L to R: Lesley, Srini, Aravindan

Scriptwriter John O'Brien is an Australian award-winning script writer in TV and film.  His short films have screened at Cannes, Venice, Edinburgh, London and in theatrical releases. He created the TV series Bondi Banquet (SBS) and Fireflies (ABC), and has written for major Australian TV shows MDA, Water Rats and Rush. He has won Australian Writers Guild Awards for his films Masseur and A Wreck A Tangle, as well as TV series Security (starring Ben Mendelsohn), Bondi Banquet and Rush. John teaches script-writing, drama and filmmaking, and is a musician and video maker in the trio Fancy. John is always striving to create great characters and energetic shows that have real meaning. 

Scriptwriter Roanna Gonsalves’ book The Permanent Resident (published in India as Sunita De Souza Goes To Sydney) won the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Multicultural Prize 2018, and was longlisted for the Dobbie Literary Award in Australia. Roanna’s four-part radio series, On the tip of a billion tongues commissioned and broadcast by Earshot on ABC Radio National,  is an exploration of contemporary India through its multilingual literature. Her theatre scripts include: Yet to Ascertain The Nature Of The Crime, co-written with colleagues, which won the Australian Writers Guild Award in 2011, The Queen's English which is currently in development. She has a PhD (UNSW) and her work has been published and performed across various media in India and Australia. Roanna is a recipient of the Prime Minister’s Australia Asia Endeavour Award. She is a highly sought after speaker and workshop facilitator. roannagonsalves.com.au

Actor Vinu Karthick started acting in school plays in Chennai, and then graduated to short university films. With Auroville Theatre Group, he played lead roles in Romeo and Juliet, Tennesee Williams’ Glass Menagerie and Arthur Miller’s All My Sons. He acted in a Tamil feature film titled Thiraikadal, set in Rameshwaram about the fisherman conflict between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. He also pens original scripts, including: Once Upon a River which was performed by Auroville Theatre Group; a TV series Guardian Gods in Asia  and a new interactive play-meets social experiment, Stop, which he is currently workshopping.

Actor Parshathy J Nath has performed in award winning theatre director Prasanna Ramaswamy’s Maddish the Cobbler and Telling Stories in Chennai; the National School of Drama’s Theatre Olympics in Bangalore; A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Auroville Theatre Group; and Build a Wall for Short + Sweet Theatre Festival in Chennai. She had a short role in the Malayalam indie film Samarppanam, which is now on Netflix, and has directed and acted in multiple college plays. She has degrees in English literature and broadcast journalism, and worked as a feature journalist for The Hindu for six years. A trained dancer and singer, lover of words and movie enthusiast, she believes theatre and cinema are the confluence of all art forms. 

Scriptwriters John and Roanna. Actors Vinu and Parshathy.
Scriptwriters John and Roanna. Actors Vinu and Parshathy.

Budget

Every donation will be matched, dollar for dollar, by the MatchLab programme!

Our Kickstarter goal of $AUD7000 has been reached, hurrah! This will be matched by $7000 from MatchLab, reaching our total goal of $14,000. These funds are stretched to cover pre-production, equipment hire (ouch!), transport, accommodation and catering, a a basic fee for the project's key creative people, as well as post-production and marketing. 

There’s still 7 days of our crowdfunding campaign to go, so we're now fundraising for our Stretch Goals - the additional elements that will help us come even closer to our vision for the film.  An additional $2000 will enable: 

· Payment for extras - background actors who will ensure continuity of vision across the festival shoot and the re-shoot days (when we re-construct some of the festival scenes in order to shoot close-ups of our actors’ dialogues), including their travel and food costs.

· a raised fee for key creatives  and cast – raised from miniscule to a fee that is more commensurate with their huge efforts in wresting an artistic film from the chaotic conditions of the festival. (This will cover cinematographer, scriptwriter, co-director, lead actors etc.).

· Several props that we have to get a carpenter to make

· our ‘icing-on-the-cake’ fantasy: drone shots of the festival! This would enable us to depict the dramatic visual of the effigy being pulled on a cart by dozens of villagers out to the 'battle ground' at the end of the film. 

We hope to raise this additional $2000 in the remaining 7 days of the campaign. MatchLab – which has kindly matched our funding to $7000 – has hinted they might be able to match us for an additional $1000 (i.e. to $8000) if we raise these additional funds.  

If we hit our stretch goals, we'll be thanking you vociferously on social media, and sending you exclusive 'behind the scenes' shots of the film shoot! 

Risks and challenges

We've planned the film pretty meticulously over the last four years. Now we've reached our fundraising goal, supported by MatchLab's dollar-for-dollar funding, we're able to make this film a reality. Thank you for being part of A Bride Of Aravan.

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Funding period

- (28 days)