Sharjah-based director Sohan Roy next film is based on Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait

Burning Wells will be the first film funded by the Project Indywood, a venture that aims to bring investors together to raise money to make Indian films

Sohan Roy at the 2016 launch of Burning Wells, Courtesy Indywood

Sharjah may not be a hub of movie production to quite the same level as Hollywood or Bollywood, but thanks to the prolific work of one resident entrepreneur, producer and director, it is slowly building up an impressive portfolio of work. Sharjah-based Sohan Roy's 2011 film Dam999 featured three songs on the Oscars' Best Original Song longlist, and was the first Indian movie to be nominated for the coveted Golden Rooster Award in China, the world's second-largest film market.

The three-song Oscar's feat was repeated by 2013's Cannes-debuting Kamasutra 3D, inspired by the book of the same name, but actually a war film, according to director Rupesh Paul, on which Roy served as producer and production designer. 2012's Saint Dracula 3D, meanwhile, only managed two songs on the Oscars' list, but made up for this with a listing for Best Original Score, although none of them made the final nominations.

Roy is the founder of the Indywood Film Carnival, a huge event held annually in Hyderabad that combines a film festival, film market and trade show for the cinema, production and related industries. Roy also has Indywood to thank, in part, for his next movie. The Project Indywood film fund aims to bring investors together to raise a billion-dollar fund to make Indian movies, and the US$25-million-budgeted (Dh91.8m) Burning Wells will be the first film funded by the project.

Burning Wells tells the story of Bharath, a young non-resident Indian in Kuwait who was orphaned during the 1990 Iraqi invasion, and his struggles to find the truth of what happened to his parents. The film was originally due to begin shooting late last year, with Roy co-directing alongside his regular collaborator I V Sasi (director of more than 150 films, mostly Malayalam, but also Tamil, Hindi and Telugu. Unfortunately, Sasi died from a heart attack in October, temporarily derailing the project while Roy considered his options. Eventually, Roy decided to continue, albeit with the 2019 release date pushed back to 2020, and the shooting schedule also pushed back by about a year.

"I V Sasi's death was an unexpected blow to the project," Roy explains. "[But] it is my dream project, his too, so we are proceeding with this big-budget movie in a big way as a tribute to the veteran filmmaker."

Roy is keeping the link to the movie's planned co-director by taking on Sasi's son, Ani, as a member of the crew. Sasi Jr is himself an accomplished filmmaker, having served as assistant or co-director on several films already, and he is currently working on a movie with renowned Malayalam director Priyadarshan.

"Ani will be assistant director," Roy explains. "Since he was assisting I V Sasi in finalising the script, he is aware about the subject well and it is helpful for me. But the frames of I V Sasi cannot be replaced by anyone."

Roy says that he expects to make a final announcement on casting in three to four months, and that the 170-day shoot will commence at Hyderabad's Ramoji Film City, the world's largest integrated film studio, and, subject to permissions, on location in Kuwait about the turn of 2019. He also says that he already has a distribution deal in place that will see the film release on 7,000 screens globally, including 1,000 Imax screens, in 2020. The movie will initially be released in Hindi, English and Arabic, with dubbed versions in a further 30 languages eventually planned.

It will be interesting to see if Roy and his team succeed in obtaining permission to shoot in Kuwait. The country has a somewhat fractious relationship with films about the Iraq War and ensuing conflicts, with a number of films featuring such subject matter, including Michael Moore's 2004 documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 and 1999's South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut, previously banned in the country.

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Roy seems confident he will succeed, however. “We are trying our level best to get all the clearances from Kuwait side so that there won’t be any ban from the government side,” he says. “We have already submitted the script and have assigned consultants before submissions, so we don’t see any troubles. We have not included any controversial portions or statements. Hopefully, we expect the green signal soon.”

Burning Wells may not have even started shooting yet, but the ever-ambitious Roy is already looking towards 2021's Oscars. Like his previous films, he is focusing on the musical side as his most likely source of glory, although he adds that, as one of the first movies to be shot in 8K resolution (Guardians of the Galaxy 2 was the first to commercially release last summer), he would also consider submitting in technical categories.

"Until 2011, India had just one movie [each year] in the foreign film category. Dam999 was the first movie from India which went to the mainstream Oscars [categories]," he says. "Burning Wells will also be sent to the mainstream Oscars as per the procedures. The Oscars is a dream for every filmmaker and we will try our best to fetch prestige for this project."