Karishma Dube had a very specific set of goals when she set out to make her third-year film for NYU’s graduate film program. “I really wanted to make a film that was shot in Delhi, the city I grew up in, that examines sexuality and class but within a contemporary Indian household similar to the one I grew up in,” Dube recalled.
After months of writing and planning, three weeks of preproduction and six days of shooting on location in Delhi, Dube produced the 12-minute “Devi” (“Goddess” in Hindi), a finalist in TheWrap’s ShortList Film Festival that tells the story of a well-to-do modern Indian teenager coming to terms with her sexuality and her attraction to her childhood maid.
Although the film is not autobiographical, Dube — who was “brand spanking new” as a filmmaker when she applied to NYU — said that she drew from her personal experiences to develop the story.
The film also served as Dube’s vehicle for coming out to her family. “It’s inspired by the people I’ve grown up around, and we shot in the house where I grew up, but the characters are created,” she said.
“We have this culture of domestic help in India,” she said. “I was raised by a woman who was like family and was like a second mother to me, and I wanted to put these women in a script and put them in a room and have these conversations that I’d never seen them have.”
The shoot was not without its complications since most of her crew were visiting India for the first time. “There were a lot of accidental illnesses,” she said, “and the gaffer and cinematographer were really ill.”
The opening scene, which features a mob chasing the central character through a real-life market at night, was the hardest to shoot. Since Dube was the only one on her crew who could speak Hindi and communicate with the extras, she also had to fend off unsuspecting bystanders who thought the scene was a real fight and tried to join in.
“It was very exciting,” Dube said with a laugh, adding, “nothing bad happened.”
Dube has been pleasantly surprised by the positive reaction to the film within India as well as internationally.
“I was expecting a lot of negative feedback and I didn’t get that,” she said. “It resonated a lot, and a lot of people reach out to me and try to understand the film a little bit better.”
To Dube, that impulse to initiate discussion of a once-taboo subject like homosexuality is a real achievement. “In India there’s a culture of never addressing things,” she said, “and if the film can get people to start talking about [these issues], I will have achieved what I set out to do.”
Watch the film above. Viewers can also watch all of the ShortList finalists at any time during the festival at shortlistfilmfestival.com and vote from Aug. 8-22. The ShortList Film Festival is supported by Topic and AMC Theatres.