Synopsis: During the Muslim ban in 2017, two young Indian engineers go to their local bar only to encounter a series of challenges related to perceptions of their ethnicity.
The 15 minute film, directed by George Savvidis, stars Abhay Walia, Akshun Abhimanyu, Dennis Getmanski, Karl J. Morris, Kevin Mukherji, Nakia Secrest, Kiara Beltran, and Orlando Pineda. This short premiered at Cannes in 2018, and is inspired by the tragic February 2017 Olathe, Kansas, shooting in which Adam Purinton targeted two Indian engineers, killing Srinivas Kuchibhotla and attempting to kill his friend Alok Madasani. Seven Rounds will be screened before the feature film Half Widow on Sept. 23 at 4 p.m. at the ShowPlace ICON Theater. Below is an interview (edited for length and clarity) with producer Miranda Guzman and actor/co-writer Akshun Abhimanyu.
What was the inspiration to create this film?
Akshun Abhimanyu (AA): Living in the United States has been an eye opener towards the aspects of diversity and changing society. In contemporary times, when religious biases and subjects like the “travel ban” are a subject of discussion, the lives of many people are at risk due to rising hate crimes, gun violence and bigotry.
I was shocked and inspired by the shooting of two Indian engineers that occurred in Kansas in February 2017. I felt connected to it personally and was able to also observe various other subliminal forms of racism that I had personally faced and chosen to ignore during my life in America. Taking real life instances and acknowledging the growing fear amongst American people, I chose to work on this subject and showcase the life of an immigrant from the east in the west.
Miranda Guzman (MG): I was honored to be asked to produce this film. I remember the news of the two men that got shot in Kansas by a racist man and it hurt my soul. I am myself a Mexican immigrant, facing the same discrimination any person from any other country is facing. I was terrified and knew I had to speak up and this film was a powerful way to do it.
What are you hoping audiences take away after watching your film?
MG: We want our audiences to empathize with these character’s story. Unfortunately the terrors that are shown in this film are based on true events and we want people to get inspired to take a stand against racism and all types of discrimination. Small or big, standing up for others is important.
AA: Seven Rounds showcases the growing fear amongst the American people with changing demographics and diversity. The “travel ban” was directed towards a specific religious community and countries, however it inversely affects the lives of all American people. Though none of the individuals [in the film] were Muslim or from the Arabic world, everyone was tormented for life.
I hope people watch this movie with an open mind and incorporate acceptance towards diversity and promote love and harmony towards people of all colors, race and gender.
How did you get interested in filmmaking and why?
MG: When I was a little girl my grandmother would give me movies as gifts. She gave me classics like Jaws, On The Waterfront, and E.T., and I was inspired by them. The first time I saw Singing in the Rain I watched it over and over again until I knew every song and dance. What all of those movies did for me is what I want to do for other people.
AA: I was always motivated to tell stories by performing in theatrical plays and “Nukkad Natak” commonly known as “street plays” in India. Eventually, after completing my bachelors education in biotechnology from Jacobs University, in Germany, I chose to pursue my passion of filmmaking and performing arts in the United States and moved to Los Angeles. I further pursued my education in filmmaking, acting and entertainment business at NYFA and UCLA. The audience in India and the world is growing and it’s essential to create movies driven with societal based issues, yet entertaining. Hence filmmaking came to me as a hobby and eventually I realized that I was meant to be a part of the reel world.
What was your filmmaking process like? How did you meet the cast and crew? Were there any major setbacks/challenges? How did the film come together?
MG: Like all films it had its moments of stress and its moments of utter happiness and flow. We got a cast and crew from all over the place, from friends, co-workers, recommendations, scouting and casting sessions. We were challenged because we had a limited amount of time to shoot and we wanted to get all the right puzzle pieces to do the best job possible. Honestly we were lucky in many ways but we also worked really really hard to get to where we are, guided by a powerful story.
AA: Upon drafting a story, I collaborated with my friend and screenwriter, Karthik Menon, and wrote the script. Finally we were approached by our mutual friend and director, George Savviddis, an immigrant from Greece who was dedicated to direct this film and could also relate to the project. Then, Miranda Guzman, a renowned and highly skilled producer, along with Trevor Doyle chose to produce this script into a complete short film. The effort of the crew and the cast is beyond par.
The feeling of success was at its peak when I attended the world premiere of Seven Rounds at the Cannes Film Festival in May 2018 along with family, friends and the core crew.
What would you like to say about Chicago South Asian Film Festival and the team?
MG: Everyone from CSAFF has been absolutely amazing! As filmmakers they have helped push us and our film forward inside and out of the festival.
AA: The warmth and consideration given by Jigar Shah, Festival Manager, is phenomenal. The team that is responsible for organizing this festival is truly dedicated to create a global platform for all the creators, artists and audience. I’m super excited.