In Reema Sengupta’s short film Counterfeit Kunkoo, a middle-class woman sounds finds herself homeless in Mumbai because she does not have a husband. Counterfeit Kunkoo, starring Malayali actress Kani Kusruti and Monsooon Shootout actor Vijay Verma as the husband, has been selected for the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.

Counterfeit Kunkoo is among 69 other short films that were selected from among over 9,000 entries. Short films screened at the festival have been on to get nominated for and win awards, such as Lucy Walker’s The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom (2011), Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash (2013) and Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow (2015). Whiplash inspired the acclaimed feature-length film of the same name.

Sengupta never expected the Sundance nomination. After sending the 15-minute film to a few international festivals, she was on her way to Film Bazaar in Goa in November where Counterfeit Kunkoo was being screened for prospective distributors and festival programmers. On the way from Mumbai in a bus, she received an email confirming Counterfeit Kunkoo’s selection at Sundance.

Vijay Verma and Kani Kusruti in Counterfeit Kunkoo. Image credit: Catnip Productions.

“It [the selection] was unreal and did not feature anywhere in mind when I got the email,” Sengupta said. “Because getting selected at Sundance is particularly difficult. For five days, I kept re-reading the email. I even checked with the organisers that it was actually selected for an official screening and not for some random showcase. I finally believed it when I saw the name on the official website.”

The story of a single woman struggling to find a house to rent in Mumbai was inspired by Sengupta’s personal experience.

“A couple of years ago, my parents had a fallout,” Sengupta said. “My dad told my mom that at the end of the week, you are on your own, and suddenly, this 45-year-old woman, a teacher and respected member of the community, was scrambling to find a house for rent because she did not have a husband by her side to give her a character certificate.”

Counteirfeit Kunkoo transports this personal experience to a lower-middle income household. “If something like this can happen to a financially well-off and privileged person, what would someone with no resources go through,” Sengupta said.

The filmmaker wrote the script two years ago. While Verma was a case of easy casting, Kerala-born Kusruti, who is not fluent in Hindi or Marathi, came on board after some deliberation. The decision has clearly paid off.

Reema Sengupta.