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Annecy-Backed HAF Work-in-Progress Animated Film ‘Heirloom’ Examines the Dark Side of Nostalgia While Celebrating Indian Textiles

Upamanyu Bhattacharya’s animated feature “Heirloom” has the emerged from the crucible of Annecy, one of the world’s top animation festivals.

The Indian work-in progress film has been selected for the 22nd Hong Kong — Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF), the project market that operates concurrently with FilMart.

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In the film, Sonal, a teacher, grapples with a hereditary disease, mirroring her mother’s untimely demise. Kirti, her husband and inheritor of a handloom trade, invests generously in a traditional fabric museum collection. Sonal instead advocates that the mill be modernized, sparking conflicts between the two. Kirti’s financial mismanagement leads to a fight and his own mysterious disappearance. Meanwhile, their daughter, Mrinalini, bonds with terrace-dwelling grandmother Baa, unraveling a family tapestry. Sonal falls ill again and in despair, she unravels Kirti’s mystery and is compelled to reflect on her connection to the past and the future.

The project was conceived as a submission and selected for the maiden edition of animation festival Annecy’s residency for first-time features in 2021. The project was then presented in 2023 in the Cannes film market’s Annecy animation day, then Annecy’s own market, MIFA, and Film Bazaar at Goa.

Bhattacharya studied at the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad, India, and fell in love with the city, its history, architecture and particularly, its textile heritage. “NID has a wonderful textiles department, so we had a lot of exposure to the techniques of weaving, embroidery and more. Inspired by these, I’d first written a pitch for a short film about a textiles family when I was in my third year. A subject I’ve always been interested in is nostalgia and people’s inclination for or against change. From here, a story organically emerged about a family confronting changes. That becomes externalized to the textiles industry changing from handlooms to powerlooms, in turn on the backdrop of a city experiencing massive changes in the 1960s,” Bhattacharya told Variety.

“Nostalgia and preservation can be good, but they also have a dark side and can be debilitating. It’s tempting to stay stuck in simpler times. The film’s characters are often enticed by the possibility of disappearing into happy memories, especially when their lives get tough. They’re forced to consider whether this is how they’d like to live,” Bhattacharya added.

On the audience for the film, Bhattacharya said, “The film is aimed especially at young adults and adults, who would be able to best relate to the themes of the story. That said, we are hoping to present a film that’s visually engaging and magical enough for enjoyable family viewing. Our art direction tries to bring the flavors of Old City, Ahmedabad, to the global audience. The embroidery/stop motion portions of the film also aim to showcase myriad Indian textile techniques to viewers everywhere.”

The film is produced by Bhattacharya’s Otter Studios and by Odd & Even Pictures’ Arya A. Menon (“Sacred Games”) and Shubham Karna (“2024”), who are aiming to to meet minority funding and strategic partners at HAF. “‘Heirloom’ highlights India’s massive crafts heritage and delves into local material history. With a portion of the film made in embroidery inspired by Gujarati textiles, the project aims to this aspect of Indian culture to the world. The film targets young adults and adults globally. We hope to release the film to as wide an audience as possible, and to make a lasting example of Indian animation to the world,” Menon and Karna told Variety.

Next up for Bhattacharya is a mixed-media animated short set in Goa titled “Windowlim.” Menon and Karna have a feature film with Vir Das, a documentary on the Silkyara Tunnel rescue operation, a feature film with journalist turned writer-director Manu Joseph, an animated series titled “Adarsh Family” and a fiction series called “Doctor Saheb” in the works.

Upamanyu Bhattacharya Arya A Menon Shubham Karna
Upamanyu Bhattacharya, Arya A. Menon, Shubham Karna

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