Private Project


A new born baby thrown into the trash on the streets of India’s religious capital Allahabad is adopted by a well meaning, middle class couple. At the age of 20 the boy accidentally comes to know of his birth. Disillusioned and unable to accept the reality, he runs away from his family to go to Allahabad in search of his real identity. His journey coincides with the largest religious festival in India, the Kumbh Mela.

Raj Gupta – a first year MBBS student of a Delhi college is eager to return home for the holidays. A sudden offer of a scholarship exam makes him cancel his trip. A question about his sense of identity in the personality section of the exam troubles Raj. Later he talks about this with his friend Imran, gets drunk and makes an impromptu rap about his struggle to get a good education. The next day Raj discovers an old document in one of the books that he had asked his parents to send to him. It is a letter from an orphanage about the adoption of a child born on 16-11-1996, the same date as his birth day. He confronts his parents about this. They try to hide the truth from him, but finally admit that Raj really was adopted and that his birth mother – an unmarried labour worker had given him away as he was born a bastard child. Raj then has a mental breakdown. He feels rejected by his birth mother. He also wants to know more about her.
Raj searches online for details of the orphanage. He finds an old picture of the building, located in Allahabad, where the Kumbh Mela is currently being held. Raj sets out on his bike for Allahabad.

On reaching Allahabad he desperately shows the old picture to various people, asking them if they know the location. No one is able to help him. Raj shows the picture to a group of men. They make lewd suggestions about Raj’s mother and a fight breaks out. The men leave Raj beaten and bruised, and take his phone, money and motorcycle.

A traveler then takes Raj to his tent. He praises Raj, gives him a herbal pill and attempts to molest him. A drugged Raj barely manages to run away. Raj runs around in a delirium and then falls unconscious. Here in a dream Raj speaks with Lord Shiva, who attempts to counsel the disturbed young man. Wandering around he sees an old man in the Kumbh Mela looking for his son. A stall owner informs the old man that his son has abandoned him. This makes Raj recall how well his parents treat him. Later Raj meets a young sadhu. The young sadhu also urges Raj to rise above his negative emotions. Raj finally speaks with a rude official of the orphanage who cruelly informs Raj that no details of the birth mother can be shared without her specific consent. Raj feels anguished and lost. In this state of sadness, he runs into a little girl Arya who got separated from her parents. Raj helps unite Arya with her mother. The experience changes Raj and he begins to feel grateful to the parents who adopted him. With a new light in his eyes, Raj rediscovers the Kumbh Mela. Finally with his heart at peace, Raj takes a dip in the holy Ganga river.

Artistic Approach
Raj is a film where simple lives get complicated by a dark secret, and identities are shattered. The film takes us from Delhi, the capital of India, filled with smog, sounds and sights that seek constant attention, on a 400 mile journey to Allahabad during the Kumbh Mela festival, a religious event which happens once every 12 years, attended by millions of pilgrims from all over India. The cross country road trip is filled with beautiful open landscapes, along with the grey foggy pollution of the national highway. In Allahabad, the Kumbh is filled in incredible colors, characters and a nightmarish carnival atmosphere. The nights are filled with harsh fluorescent lights and the days with muddy light of the river. I had the amazing opportunity to take our cast and film there during the most recent Kumbh Mela, giving me some incredible footage against the background of this unique event. I plan the film to combine the aesthetics of Indian folk art and the backgrounds of the kumbh Mela with handheld docu-style cameras with a very fluid poetic way of moving the camera to get intimate and personal with the characters and their emotions. I also love to hold the camera on my actors and let them lead me into silence, stay still and not move the camera too much.

The other unique feature of this film is that it will be punctuated by animated sequences throughout. My father ran an animation studio from our family home in my childhood. My world was full of art and color, and I was given the freedom to draw on the walls of the house even! This early exposure to the raw textures and forms of art has left a lasting impact. I also have a background of over 25 years in visual effects and animation studios around the world, particularly Rhythm & Hues, where I was the first person on the ground in India to set up the studio branch. I’ve worked on multiple Academy award winning films during my career. This mix of influences has given me a love of all kinds of physical and digital media animation techniques, which I have been experimenting with in my own short films. I am also a painter, and love to see people beyond their physical form, and create abstract portraits. I will use this extensive background to create a wide variety of animated sequences throughout the film that expresses the inner psychological worlds of the characters. This will give the film a unique visual style, and storytelling medium.

Sound, music and lyrics are also very important to me, and I write songs for my own short films. I am working closely with many artists and folk singers in India and Taiwan for the sound of the flute. I’m also working with musicians here in LA. My lead actor Harsh also has many talents as a musician, so we have choreographed a song where is playing a mud pot and singing inside the pot to understand the impact of how words travel in different environments. His character creates rap and beatbox music in the film also.

As this project is a one-man kind of a film, I feel the merging of different mediums will create a unique cinematic experience. From various natural medium 2D animation techniques, to potentially shooting scenes on a virtual production set with Unreal Engine, to the raw docu-style footage in the Indian environments, it will all accentuate the emotions of the young man who is the central character and will play a huge role in creating a unique kind of storytelling from an independent filmmakers point of view.

  • Saraswathi Vani Balgam
  • Saraswathi Vani Balgam
  • Sriharsh Sharma
    Key Cast
    "Raj "
  • Gautam Shapiro
  • Rajendra Thakurathi
  • Saraswathi vani Balgam
  • Sriharsh Sharma
  • Rahul Bhandare
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    60 minutes
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
  • Language:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Director Biography - Saraswathi Vani Balgam

Saraswathi Vani Balgam, an award-winning filmmaker and producer, is a lover of visual storytelling. Her compelling journey of filmmaking began at the young age of 16. A South East Asian Indian born in South India and an avid world traveller, Vani uses these invaluable experiences to translate her characters' unique journeys and common humanity into compelling visual poetic stories. Through her films, she attempts to impact people. Her passion for both watching cinema and making it earned her 2018 documentary, Sisya, the Audience Award at the Stuttgart 2018 Indian Film Festival. Some of her award winning short film works include Baba, Rinn, Arising, and Bhauvra.

In 2013, Vani founded Dancing Atoms, a Los Angeles based content and creative development driven motion pictures production company. Previously in her illustrious career, she was the founding director of Rhythm & Hues Studios, Asia - an Academy Award® winning VFX and Animation studio. She also served as the Head of Creative Management and Training at DreamWorks Animation's studio in Shanghai, where she championed and mentored Chinese creatives.

She actively promotes community building all over the world. She is currently the president of Asifa India, an organization dedicated to the art of animation. She also has been the president of Women in Animation - India for over 10 years. In the last two years, Vani was selected to participate in the prestigious Unreal Fellowship for Virtual Production hosted by Epic Games. Furthermore, Vani also served as an official Mentor for several Unreal Fellowships and has helped talented artists and creators from all over the world produce over 40 films using Unreal Engine. She also assisted Karen Dufilho with organizing the Writing in Unreal program that was conducted in collaboration with Tribeca in Nov 2021.

Apart from this, Vani along with Asifa India partnered with Epic Games to launch the Women Creators Program in India. The Women Creators Program has since taken to new heights and the format is going to be launched for the South East Asian countries in 2022.

Vani was also a mentor for Sony Talent League by THU where she creatively & emotionally mentored the Sony talent league team members to structure their stories and make their dreams come true.

Saraswathi is currently developing and pitching several original animated preschool TV shows. One show is currently being co-produced with a leading Asian animation studio, and a second show is being co-developed with a prominent Canadian company.

Add Director Biography