HAF: Sundance Lab Alumnus ‘The Catch’ Fishes in Troubled India-Pakistan Waters

Feature film project “The Catch” (Ghol), aims to juxtapose the Indian subcontinent’s troubled and violent history with the present day while telling a simple human tale.

The film will follow Hussain Mirza, an impoverished trawler fisherman on the polluted Indian side of the Arabian Sea. When he strays across the unmarked marine border into Pakistani waters, he is imprisoned for years while his family was killed in the 2002 Gujarat pogrom. His fortunes seemingly change when he nets a shoal of the rare and expensive Ghol fish, every fisherman’s dream catch, prized for its organs in China, Japan and Singapore. The newfound wealth offers him a chance to buy a bigger boat and rebuild his life, but a renewed wave of anti-Muslim sentiment threatens his plans and forces him to confront past traumas.

“The Catch” comes to the Hong Kong – Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF) and the Hong Kong International Film & TV Market (FilMart) after participating in the 2021 Sundance Screenwriters Lab and India’s NFDC Film Bazaar.

The project will mark Rishi Chandna’s fiction feature debut. His short “Tungrus” (2018) played at more than 150 film festivals worldwide, including Hot Docs, IDFA and the BFI London Film Festival.

The film project was hatched when Chandna read an article about a poor fisherman in the western Indian state of Gujarat who became a local millionaire when he caught five tons of Ghol.

“I was struck by the imbalance of this situation, where this man received a rare bounty from a polluted ocean, and how far removed his own life was from the fruits of his labor,” Chandna told Variety. “But in trying to deepen my understanding of the canvas, and in developing the story, I also began to respond to the immediate Zeitgeist in India, where communal divisions are being stoked and exploited for political gain, ignoring a more urgent environmental threat that ordinary people face everyday just to earn a living. It has all led to an allegorical story set in present day India where our hearts are as poisoned as the ocean – from the garbage of hate and bigotry.”

The film is produced by Dina Dattani, a former Fox executive who has worked on “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Life of Pi.” Some $140,000 of the film’s $425,000 budget has been raised via private equity.

“Primarily we are looking for co-producing partners who believe as much as I do in Rishi’s vision to tell a good important story of our times,” Dattani told Variety. “HAF has been one of the best markets in Southeast Asia for meeting producers, financiers and distributors who are familiar with stories coming out of this part of the world and who understand the audiences in this part of the world.”

Chandna received considerable mentoring at the Sundance lab and the script is undergoing final polishes. The project is expected to go before the cameras in the last quarter of this year or early next year, pandemic restrictions permitting.

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