x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Death sentences film on the money

Filmmaker wins contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars for the right to air a documentary she is making about 17 Indians convicted in Sharjah last year for murder.

DUBAI // A filmmaker has won contracts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars for the right to air a documentary she is making about 17 Indians convicted last year in Sharjah for murder.

Dubai-based Indian journalist Soniya Kirpalani, 40, won the acclaim of a global television broadcasters' panel for 17 Not Required Indians at the annual MIPDoc fair for TV broadcasters in Cannes, France, which ended on March 30. The awards could be worth as much as US$200,000 (Dh735,000). The event drew around 80 representatives from Europe, Africa, North America and Asia.

"After the presentation and pitch for the film, 39 television channels from across the world expressed interest in screening it," said Kirpalani. "This case is set to benchmark change, a litmus test for the systems of both UAE and India. It reveals the strength of the common man and [his] ability to rise and affect change."

The film, which is still in the production stage, reflects the ongoing developments of the trial and reactions from the victim's and defendants' families. The Indians are appealing against a death sentence handed down in a Sharjah court after they were found guilty of killing a Pakistani man in a turf dispute over illicit alcohol sales.

The project also proved of value to some of the families of those on trial.

Kirpalani said several relatives she spoke with did not know the whereabouts of their kinfolk and had been in the dark in that regard for quite some time.

"When I met their families I was shocked to know that they did not know their locations for two years," she said. "One of the defendants' mothers was happy to know that her son was alive despite him facing the death sentence."

The case has been adjourned by the Sharjah Court of Appeals to allow for a compromise between the victim's and the defendants' families. The court will reconvene on April 28.

"I have lived in the UAE for 25 years and I have strong belief in its justice system," Kirpalani said. "What surprised me was that 17 men were sentenced to death at once and I wanted to get in and show how Sharia works." All trials in Sharjah are held under Islamic law, or Sharia.

The filmmaker also blasted the Indian government over the way it handled citizens living overseas, saying she had better access to information here than in her homeland.

"I was granted complete freedom from the UAE authorities to film and interview people, but I found some difficulties in India," she said.

"My reason to name the film is to reflect how the Indian government is treating its overseas citizens like second-class citizens. For two years no one followed up on the case from the consulate, and nobody cared."

amustafa@thenational.ae