BAFTA-winning filmmaker keen to explore crime stories in India

By Sugandha Rawal

New Delhi, Dec 4 (IANS): Sarah Macdonald has told stories of child abuse in North Korea and Burma through her films, and also delved into the Aarushi Talwar murder case for a four-part crime documentary series. The BAFTA-winning documentary filmmaker feels India is a treasure trove for stories that "resonate globally".

She is keen to explore more crime stories in the country.

"I would like to do more crime stories in India. With such a rich culture, a police and legal system that I can comprehend and a melting pot of classes, cases and corruption, India offers incredible stories that resonate globally," Macdonald told IANS over an email from London.

Macdonald backed "The Talwars - Behind Closed Doors" -- which is Star World's first venture into investigative crime documentaries. The series, which unfolds the file of the 2008 case, is available on Star World and on online streaming app Hotstar.

The Aarushi Talwar murder case created ripples not only with the seriousness of the crime, but also its twists and turns. Aarushi's dentist parents - Rajesh and Nupur Talwar - were blamed for killing their own daughter and domestic help Hemraj. They were acquitted by the Allahabad High Court on October 12, and they walked free from Dasna prison on October 16 four years after conviction.

On the four-part original series, produced in association with HBO Asia, Macdonald said: "I hadn't heard of the Talwar case until I came across a story on the internet. After probing a bit more, and then contacting Avirook Sen, the author of the book 'Aarushi', I realised that this very tragic story was both gripping, ongoing and carried themes that would resonate with viewers across the globe."

She believes it is a "very strong series that delves into the very heart of this tragedy".

Many documentary makers like David Michod are taking up the route of feature filmmaking with big names to address an issue. MacDonald, also an acclaimed journalist, wants to follow the same and already has a story in mind.

"We have launched a company for cinema and TV drama called MAKE Entertainment that is based in our Singapore office and headed by the talented Nick North. If I had the chance to personally pull one of those films together, it would be to tell the true story of British secret agents working with the Chinese in China to spy on Japanese fleet movements," she said.

What is the story?

"It's a little known story and I have the rights to a book MI6 has prevented from being published. Of course, it has a dashing English leading man, and a leading Chinese man and woman... there's even a scene set in India because that is where the spies trained before being flown into China. I would love my leading Chinese character to be Zhang Jingchu, a brilliant young actress.

"I am very inspired by films like 'Blood Diamond' and 'Spotlight' that offer important lessons through entertainment. My feature films will always be inspired by fact… because as we know, fact is stranger than fiction."

The London-based investigative journalist has conceived and produced documentaries for networks like the BBC, CNN, CNA and Channel 4 Dispatches. She picks up hard hitting subjects with the aim to make an impact and drive change for the better.

Reflecting upon her influences, MacDonald said: "Having children made me heightened to stories where children are mistreated. I have been able to use my investigative skills, sometimes going undercover, to bring their stories to light.

"I have made a career out of trying to bring to justice abusers and those that keep their abuse secret. This was at the heart of the three films I made for the BBC about clerical child abuse within the Catholic Church. These films led to the resignation of a Bishop and a Government inquiry. I aim for social justice and I aim for social impact."

She is currently "branching out and producing a feature documentary about climate change and hopeful solutions across the Sahel region in Africa".

"We are telling the story through music, but will also be using our expertise operating in dangerous locations, to bring this riveting story to cinemas and the festival circuit. I am now trying to raise nearly $1 million for this film, which is unusual for me because I normally have fully paid commissions from broadcasters.

"But feature documentaries operate more like Hollywood and producers must raise the money independently primarily. I am more than halfway there."

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