Deepa Mehta is set to direct “Troilokya,” a thriller about an Indian woman known to be a serial killer. Production is through pan-Asian film company Through the Lens Entertainment and India’s Open Air Films.
The story, set in 19th century Calcutta during British rule, sees a female prostitute embark on an unheard of killing spree. For more than a decade, she is hunted down by detective Priyonath Mukhopadhyay. The screenplay, written by Juhi Chaturvedi (“Piku”), navigates through eccentric relationships fraught with lust, obsession, revenge and hatred.
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Production is set for August and September with locations including India and Thailand. Though the Lens Entertainment is looking to appoint a distributor and aims for a theatrical release in India, with digital distribution in international territories.
“The challenge of depicting a serial murderess as a heroine is what intrigues me most about ‘Troilokya.’ ‘Is it possible to muster empathy for this child bride turned prostitute turned killer?’ is a question I ask myself. And the answer is always an unequivocal ‘yes,'” Mehta said in a statement. “Her journey in British colonized India is, in my opinion, jaw-dropping. ‘Troilokya’ finally lays to rest the image of long-suffering, docile and husband-worshipping Indian women with mind-blowing compassion. ‘Troilokya’ was a no-brainer project to resist. I can’t wait to be on set and say ‘Action!’”
Mehta is no stranger to controversy or feisty female protagonists. Her “Elements” trilogy ranged across subjects including female sexual identity, the partition of India, pre-colonial oppression of women and the caste system. Her 1996 “Fire,” considered a lesbian film classic in some quarters, sparked violent demonstrations against cinema operators, a government backlash against the Censor Board which had passed the picture uncut and vigils for and against the film. “Earth” (1998) dealt with the partition of India and Pakistan seen from a child’s point of view. The Oscar-nominated “Water” (2005), set in the world of widows at an ashram, dealt with child marriage and misogyny and attracted violent protests while filming in India, forcing the production to relocate to Sri Lanka.
Mehta went on to direct “Midnight’s Children” (2012), an adaptation of the book that caused its author Salman Rushdie to be put under a fatwa by religious extremists; and “Funny Boy” (2020), which told a gay sexual awakening story set against the backdrop of clashes between the Sinhalese and Tamil communities in Sri Lanka.
“Not only is ‘Troilokya’ a spectacular historical drama, it is also a magnificently twisted love story of up to now un-heard true events,” said Aditya Chand, filmmaker and producer at Through the Lens Entertainment. “Juhi Chaturvedi, who is so good at pushing the boundaries of Hindi-language movies, has really brought this amazing story to life in such magnificent and vivid ways. I cannot wait to see this all come together under Deepa Mehta’s excellent direction and vision, as it’s been years in the planning. It feels right to be helmed with such a powerful, tour-de-force female-led team.”
“The stories we most like to tell at Open Air Films are compelling social commentaries told authentically, with the intent to entertain,” said co-producers Sameer Pitalwalla, Priya Sreedharan, Wasim Khan and Ruchir Joshi from Open Air Films. “What stoked our interest in ‘Troilokya’ was not only the story of our lead, but that her journey into darkness was also a reflection of deep-rooted gender and class inequalities that are relevant even today.”
Through the Lens Entertainment is backed by Chand and Bruce Berman, a senior executive who was previously CEO and chairman of Village Roadshow Pictures.
The company is headquartered in Singapore with operations in the U.S. and Japan. It aims to combine the opportunities of the East and the power and experience of the studio systems in the West “to offer a new studio ecosystem out of Asia that is built for the digital age.”
Chand previously told Variety that the company would typically be involved in projects that range in budget from $1.5 million to $25 or $30 million and that the slate will include local-language and English-projects, feature films and limited TV series.
Its current projects include “The Incident Report” with Britt Lower (“Severance”), directed by Naomi Jaye and executive produced by Charlie Kaufman; “Left-Handed Girl,” a Taiwanese feature film written directed by Shih Ching Shou (“Tangerine”) and produced by Sean Baker (“The Florida Project”); and “Skysong,” a South Asian fairytale developed as a comic book and feature film with Freida Pinto and her company Freebird Films.
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