In the wee morning hours at a remote railway station in rural India, a chance encounter changes the lives of a few young people forever.
Gautam Bansal is there to pick up his brother Raman for an extravagant destination wedding. The relationship between the two brothers is already tenuous at best, and the thin veneer of familial love is further challenged when they chance upon Jhumpa Mahato. An already broken woman with little to her name, Jhumpa is beside herself with panic when she wakes from her slumber to discover her infant daughter missing.
A series of unfortunate incidents embroil the two brothers into Jhumpa’s pitiful endeavor to be reunited with her young child.
Raman, ever on a crusade for justice and righting the world’s wrongs, believes it's their moral duty to come to the helpless women's aid. Gautam, believes more in the pleasures of a privileged life, and hardly cares to know more about what does not concern him. This perilous journey through the unforgiving hinterlands thrusts the young men out of their sheltered existence, compelling them to confront the harshness of reality.
The Bansal brothers and Jhumpa are forced to navigate the dark underbelly of society, testing their resilience, trust, and ultimately, their humanity. The film does not shy from the inequalities and mistrust that pervade our world while also drawing attention to the unyielding strength of the human spirit. Amidst the heart-pounding action and survival struggles, deeper themes of motherhood, classism and civic responsibility emerge, adding layers of complexity to the narrative.
It gives me immense sense of accomplishment and vindication seeing our film “Stolen” selected to world premier at Venice Film Festival 2023. Since the time I decide to produce films, I always had the firm conviction that in order for Indian cinema to thrive and survive the onslaught of Bollywood and mainstream industries, we need to carve hyper local stories with universal themes catering to a global audiences. While distributing my films “Angry Indian Goddesses” and “Faith Connections” in more than 70 countries, I realised the immense affinity that audiences worldwide have for stories coming from India.
Through “Stolen” we have created a real-time edge-of-the-seat action thriller which keeps the audience hooked while exploring themes and subtexts which are globally appealing. The selection of our film for world premiere at Venice International Film festival vindicates my stand that if made with conviction, heart and sincerity, even an edge of the seat mystery action thriller which engages a wide global audience, can find itself celebrated at the Mecca of art house cinema. The initial reactions of the international audience screening also confirmed this. I’m positive that the success of “Stolen” will pave way to a New-wave of genre films from India aimed at a worldwide distribution
- Gaurav Dhingra
Gaurav Dhingra is a maverick pathbreaking producer who has been part of the new wave of Indian cinema and international TV over the past two decades. While producing multiple globally acclaimed films under “Jungle Book” banner, Gaurav has line produced the biggest international TV shows shot in India like the multiple seasons of “The Amazing Race”, “Ice Road Trucker”, "Survivor" and over a dozen of major Bollywood and international productions including “Rang De Basanti”, “Mangal Pandey”, “Maqbool” "The Myth" and “Delhi-6”.
Gaurav founded Jungle Book Entertainment in 2013 with acclaimed filmmaker Pan Nalin. The same year they created and produced a documentary “Faith Connections” about the biggest human congregation in the world — The Kumbh Mela, which premiered at Toronto International Film Festival and was sold internationally in more than 20 territories across the world.
Gaurav independently produced “Angry Indian Goddesses” (People’s Choice Award-Toronto), which won various awards at Film Festivals, sold theatrically to over 77 countries and OTT platforms like Netflix. Gaurav mounted the first India-New Zealand co-production “Beyond The Known World” with eminent actors like David Wenham (Lion,300) and Emmanuelle Beart (Mission Impossible). With a keen eye for projects with Global appeal, Gaurav co-produced multiple festival darlings like "Peddlers" "Haramkhor" which won critical praise and accolades at reputed film festivals like Cannes.
Since 2017, under the “Jungle Book Studio” rebranding, Gaurav helmed marque international blockbuster projects like Rennervation (2023) for Disney plus and two editions of The Amazing Race (2018 + 2023) in Hyderabad and Jaipur. While working on production of Blockbuster international reality shows, eclectic documentary and binge worthy drama series, Gaurav has also spearheaded the creation and production of advertising and branded content for top tier players like Swiggy and Amazon.
With his latest film, Stolen (world premier at Venice International Film Festival 2023), which he has produced and co-written, Gaurav has almost perfected the art of producing a Global film with universally resonant themes and hyper localised contexts, aimed at an audience worldwide. Along with creating the follow up films in the trilogy of social thrillers following Stolen, Gaurav is working on a non-fiction documentary-series analyzing and deconstructing a complex issue of global relevance and developing a tech driven solution to standardise and scale content production in India
- Karan Tejpal
Karan Tejpal (b. 14.11.1984, New Delhi) is a director and writer, with two decades of experience working in the Indian film industry. Tejpal started as an assistant director in large scale Bollywood films, and moved through a range of projects including advertising and television, until he found his niche in independent cinema. His work explores inequalities and broken social systems that eventually permeate and dislocate communities, and even society at large. Over the last few years he has focused on writing and directing short films, documentaries, series and feature films. Tejpal’s screenplays have been selected for Sundance and NFDC film labs.
From larger than life Bollywood productions, to the gruelling strife of independent cinema, my journey in the Indian film industry has seen both glamour and grit. What continuously inspires me is the opportunity to unravel the tales of our complex and contradictory world, where brutality coexists with moments of profound humanity. I find myself drawn to stories that shed light on the harsh realities of our society, exposing the vulnerabilities of the powerless and the erosion of trust in our social systems.
The story of Stolen grew out of one such reality. Imagine this: In India, every ten minutes, a child disappears without a trace. The fate of these children is presumably to be trafficked, for their bodies to be sold and used without their consent. It is the most impoverished and vulnerable strata of society who tend to be the primary targets of such abuse. A lack of state accountability and limited scope of recourse leads to a growing sense of injustice and anger. The result is for communities to take matters into their own hands.
A disturbing rise in vigilantism has only been further fuelled by the rampant spread of misinformation via WhatsApp and other common digital networks. I was struck by this dark phenomenon after hearing about the Karbi Anglong case in Assam in 2018. Two young men, outsiders travelling through this remote region, were wrongfully accused of being kidnappers due to falsified videos being circulated on WhatsApp. A tight-knight community, injured and frustrated by their own pain and unresolved traumas, turned into a violent mob and took justice into their own hands. I was shaken by this incident, recognizing that innocent individuals could be unjustly accused and penalised for crimes they never committed. Those young men could have been my friends or even myself, and I was compelled to tell their story via the Bansal brothers.
Stolen brings us the interwoven stories of multiple characters and groups, who are each suffering from their own traumas and hardships. While the brothers struggle to prove their innocence, it is Jhumpa, the troubled young mother, whose harsh realities ground this story. Jhumpa is an example of so many countless women in this country whose bodies and agency are endlessly exploited, sold, manipulated and abused. Throughout her journey, she is gaslit for her claims and disregarded by the various powerful and authoritarian figures around her - a bleak situation that is often the reality for women of her social standing.
While the narrative foregrounds the juxtaposition of these central characters, we are also exposed to the plight and struggles that the various other characters such as the police, and the local youth, also continuously strive against. Reminding the viewer that one cannot solely judge a character for their actions, but must also understand the larger contexts and environments that have created these individuals.
In crafting Stolen, I deliberately chose to embrace a raw, unapologetic cinema verité style. By immersing the viewers in the experience alongside my characters, I aimed to engage them fully in the search for truth and justice. Shooting exclusively with wide lenses further enhances this sense of presence, enabling the audience to feel as though they are right there, witnessing the unfolding drama firsthand.
Stolen is my earnest attempt to bring to light the unseen realities that shape our society and to provoke introspection on the issues that matter most. I hope that this cinematic journey will not only entertain but also encourage meaningful conversations about the complexities of our world, ultimately paving the way for a better, more empathetic future.
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