Karishma Dev Dube’s short film Bittu has officially been shortlisted for an Oscar in the Best Live Action Short category. Ekta Kapoor, Tahira Kashyap and Guneet Monga’s Indian Women Rising initiative will be aiding Bittu in its Oscar run.
Karishma is a past Dean’s fellow from New York University (NYU). Shreya Dev Dube is the cinematographer of the film, who also produced the film with Mary Evangelista. The Student Academy Award winning short film is inspired by the case of a poisoning that happened in Bihar in 2013.
A heart wrenching watch, Bittu tells the story of two girls, the eponymous rebel and her sweet best-friend Chand. Like most young kids, their friendship is turbulent, albeit strong. However, an unprecedented accident changes everything for them.
In a chat with News18, Karishma talked about her own journey of making Bittu, her collaboration with IWR and the film’s Oscar run.
Bittu competed with 174 films to make it to the final list of Top 10 films for the Best Live Action Short category. When asked about her first reaction to the news, Karishma said, “I was shocked, proud, stunned, happy. All at once.”
When asked why she chose to tell the story of Bittu, the filmmaker said, “When I heard about the incident in 2013, it broke my heart. Especially since such a thing happened in a seemingly safe space for these kids. I had carried around the character of Bittu in my chest for a long time. I wanted to write about a little girl who was unaware of traditional gender norms, streetwise, beyond her years. And through the course of the story, she is somehow punished for her individuality, and also inadvertently saved by it.
“I think in some way the two girls are also very reflective of the kind of kids me and my sister, Shreya Dube (Producer and DOP of the film) were in school, we were divergent, I was much more shy in comparison and she was a lot more free. Bittu’s story observes the kind of systemic negligence many kids experience. That freedom of thought and curiosity is something we often fail to preserve in children.”
Talking about her personal journey of making Bittu, a film that has a horrific incident at the crux of it, Karishma said, “Making this film has been a very long journey for me, I shot the film two years ago now, but had been developing it since 2015 along with my sister. Through the course of the film, I’ve met with wonderful people who work very hard to sustain a safe, freeing space for these children. But there’s a certain darkness that exists when you realize what you’re writing about, i.e. the inability of our society to protect its most vulnerable, is so alive in so many different ways in our world today. The editing process was particularly challenging. I spent a year almost finding the film in the edit in New York, I felt very disconnected from everyone and everything when I came back to the States after the shoot of Bittu.”
However, Karishma opted to reimagine the narrative. The heart of the film belonged to Bittu and Chand, and not the accident itself. “ I wanted to embed the film in the experience of this eight year old girl so the audience merely follows a normal day at school along with Bittu, and are also rudely confronted by the poisoning in the same invasive way a child might have experienced it.I wanted to embed the film in the experience of this eight year old girl so the audience merely follows a normal day at school along with Bittu, and are also rudely confronted by the poisoning in the same invasive way a child might have experienced it.”
Karishma also talked about her collaboration with Ekta Kapoor, Tahira Kashyap and Guneet Monga through Indian Women Rising. "IWR was born out of a need to support underrepresented stories and storytellers. And yes absolutely, there’s a dearth of institutional support for this in India. I hope more people emulate this effort," she signed off.