Raisa lives with her Ammi and three younger sisters in Hyderabad’s Old City. When Ammi promises her 13-year old daughter, Zainab, in marriage to a foreign businessman, Raisa decides to save her little sister at any cost.
In an old custom that has found new roots among poor families in Muslim ghettos, rich patrons pay for an arrangement brokered by efficient agents, while a pliant cleric draws up both marriage and divorce contracts simultaneously, so that the businessman is free to end the sham union whenever he is ready to leave the city.
Desperate to find a way out for Zainab, Raisa hatches a dangerous and improbable plan involving an archaic remedy that claims to restore a girl’s virginity.
Officially, India is a developing country, but the reality of existence for the underbelly of the population that lives below the poverty line is very much a third-world one.
LEECHES portrays the practice of temporary marriages in communities who live in one of the fastest growing cities in India but are unable to participate in any meaningful way in its economic boom. I came across this practice while living in the city two years ago, thereafter researching the facts through Shaheen, an NGO that helps girls who run away from such arrangements.
On the cusp of destitution, desperate measures are often the only ones available. The system of ‘one-day-brides,’ which is one such measure, offers the fig leaf of religious sanction to a clear case of sexual slavery. Thus, in Hyderabad’s old city, rich businessmen prey on the virginity of underage girls in an archaic tradition that is still propagated under the auspices of Sharia marriage laws. These men take brides for short periods, sometimes just a night, with rates varying according to the duration of the marriage. An intricate web of opportunists facilitates this flesh trade, including many clerics, who service clients with a predilection for teenage-virgin brides.
In the absence of records, it is impossible to find out the extent of the practice, yet the press stories of the individuals compelled me to explore the ways in which young women might react and rebel in these oppressive circumstances. Raisa, the protagonist, represents the courage and spirit of a small percentage of girls who refuse to accept these sham marriages as their fate.
This film is for them.
|Producer:||Payal Sethi, Apoorva Marur, Amartya Shahani|
|Screenwriter:||Payal Sethi, Samir Patil|
|Cast:||Sayani Gupta | Raisa ,Mohammed Abdul Razzak | Nawaz ,Preeti Golacha | Zainab ,Manju Raval | Bilqis ,Najma Nusrat | Ammi ,Barkat Khan | Shafiq ,Sherin Bhatt | Mariam ,Agha Asker Hussain | Sheikh|
Payal studied film history & production at Vassar and later, at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She then worked as an assistant to director Mira Nair on several of her productions, including ‘Hysterical Blindness’, ‘Vanity Fair’, and ‘The Namesake’. Following this, she held numerous roles within the independent film industry in New York at The Tribeca Film Festival, Independent Feature Project and the Mahindra IAAC Film Festival. In 2008, she co-founded the production and distribution company, FilmKaravan.
Payal made her directorial debut with the short film ‘Grant St. Shaving Co.’, which won the best film award at The Smalls Film Festival and the Florence River to River Film Festival, and the Silver Palm Award at the Mexico International Film Festival. ‘Grant St. Shaving Co.’ was an official selection at over a dozen film festivals worldwide, and secured distribution in the US, UK, Turkey and Japan. In 2012, Payal received the Asia Society’s New Voices Fellowship for Screenwriters for ‘Panther,’ a wildlife crime thriller set in Ranthambore & Delhi. Most recently, she has written an adaptation of the Argentinean film, “A Boyfriend for my Wife”, for Azure Entertainment. Her latest short film, “Leeches” won the Grand Prix Internationale at the Brussels Short Film Festival and the Audience Award at the Seoul International Women’s Film Festival, and was screened at 17 film festivals to date, including the Tampere Film Festival, Durban International Film Festival and the Palm Springs Shortfest. Payal is currently working on her debut feature, ‘Maya Deluxe.’