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Nocturnal Burger: Indie filmmaker Reema Maya’s new short makes it to 2023 Sundance Film Festival

The 28-minute film focusses childhood sexual abuse and the trauma that lingers around one’s entire life

Nocturnal Burger: Indie filmmaker Reema Maya’s new short makes it to 2023 Sundance Film Festival
Reema Maya has written and directed the short film 'Nocturnal Burger'
  • Reema Gowalla

Last Updated: 11.14 AM, Jan 12, 2023

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“It’s time more OTT platforms commission short-format projects and not just serve as a viewing space,” says award-winning filmmaker Reema Sengupta (aka Reema Maya), whose latest short, Nocturnal Burger, is all set to have its world premiere at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival this year. India is currently brimming with independent directors, who believe that short films have the potential to narrate compelling stories as much as feature films. And, according to Reema, OTT platforms can help nurture that by investing more in the format. “It’s the same finesse and craft that is required to make a short. The time is ripe to create more infrastructure and resources for short films, which will eventually help build an industry around it,” she adds.    

It isn’t the first time that Reema’s film is going to be screened at Sundance. In 2018, her globally acclaimed short Counterfeit Kunkoo - featuring actors Vijay Verma and Kani Kusruti - also premiered at the festival. Cut to Nocturnal Burger - a Catnip film - it’s the story of a 13-year-old girl (named Minu)​ and a 30-something man, who find themselves at a dilapidated police station in Mumbai in the middle of the night. They are brought in by two strangers, who claim there’s a case of sexual assault that needs to be investigated. Right when she was going to clock off, a female constable (named Sarita) - who herself may be a victim of harassment at work - is called back to record statements about what unfolded that night and what could have happened. In a span of 28 minutes, the audience navigates a storyline of questionable motives and unreliable narrators.

A still from the film
A still from the film

The coming-of-age narrative grapples with fantasy, trauma, paranoia, precaution and the promise of a burger. Nocturnal Burger is the tale of night that gets catapulted into an investigation of child abuse at a dysfunctional police station in Mumbai. The cast includes actors Bebo Madiwal, Millo Sunka, Trupti Khamkar, Shrikant Mohan Yadav, Pushpendra Singh, Somnath Mondal, Vicky Shinde and Mukesh Pachode. An XRM Media presentation, the film is produced by Reema and Michael Y Chow. Nocturnal Burger competes in the ‘US Fiction Short Films’ category. The 2023 lineup includes a total of 64 shorts, chosen from as many as 10,981 submissions.

Speaking about what inspired her to pick a topic like this one, Reema - who has written and directed the short film - says, “The story is loosely based on a real-life incident that took place when I was travelling with my mother one night in Mumbai. We saw two people, including a minor, in a questionable state inside a running auto-rickshaw. Coming across an incident like that, we had no way out but to report it to the nearest police station. It was rather a very traumatic experience for me, something that took me years to reconcile with.”

The short film focusses on the life of a 13-year-old girl, named Minu
The short film focusses on the life of a 13-year-old girl, named Minu

Incidents about young girls being deprived of basic education and pushed to take up maternal duties for their younger siblings at home are not exclusive in India. But it’s also true that such happenings are not documented enough, let alone ensuring justice to these little girls. On the other hand, although happening rampantly throughout the country, not every case about childhood sexual abuse make the headlines. “This short film, which centres on the promise of something as insignificant as a burger, throws light on the dreams and aspirations of little girls like Minu. It’s also the story of Simi, who finds herself walking through unpleasant memories again, thanks to what happened to Minu. Meanwhile, the narrative also focuses on Sarita, who is just called back to work because a new case has come in. Through the film, we try to comprehend how these three characters deal with their own ideas of abuse, trauma and escape,” the director elaborates.

The plot revolves around abuse and trauma
The plot revolves around abuse and trauma

Apart from the primary themes, the short film also dabbles in the elements of sensitivity and empathy. “Nobody has a blank canvas. But as a filmmaker, how you want to tell a story depends on you. Every frame is a decision that you take, nothing is incidental. The graphs and journeys of every character are in your hand. For instance, it was a deliberate choice to include a group of transgender people in the cast. They are often a common sight in city police stations, and so form an integral part of this narrative. They know about how the administration handles such cases. There is a telepathic power of shared empathy that they portray, which adds value to the narrative” Reema elaborates. 

Apart from social fictions, Reema has two other alter egos. She is into conceptual advertising and worked with several high-end brands. The Mumbai-based filmmaker is also recognised in the music industry, where she has collaborated with music labels - like Elektra and Warner Music Group - and has created music videos for artists such as Prateek Kuhad, Ritviz and Badshah and Divine. Reema has also been featured in Hindustan Times ‘30 under 30’, Harper’s Bazaar’s ‘101 Creatives to Watch’, Elle India’s ‘5 Boss Ladies Who’re Changing the Indie Music Scene’ and Luxelife’s ‘The New 40’.

Nocturnal Burger will have its world premiere on January 21 at Sundance Film festival 2023. 

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