• Tuesday, May 28, 2024


Immersive Competition in Cannes to showcase a South Asian female superhero

Maya: The Birth of a Superhero Poster

By: Mohnish Singh

A superhero film at the Cannes Film Festival? It is not what you think.

Maya: The Birth of a Superhero, a staunchly feminist playable artwork with a pronounced South Asian accent, is a 30-minute virtual reality (VR) piece. It is in contention for the Best Immersive Work prize in a competition introduced by the festival this year.

The Immersive Competition at the 77th Cannes Film Festival (May 14 to 25) “aims to spotlight the next generation of international artists who are redefining storytelling and inventing new narrative-driven experiences that move beyond the traditional two-dimensional cinema screen.”

Maya: The Birth of a Superhero, created by UK-based interdisciplinary artist-activist Poulomi Basu, does that and more. It tells the story of an ordinary 21st-century girl who, as her sexuality awakens, transforms into a female superhero powered by the process of menstruation.

The protagonist is faced with the challenge of overcoming her own shame, fear, and society’s restrictive practices to find her inner strength and her true superpower.

“Maya: The Birth of a Superhero decolonises the superhero convention, and represents a South Asian character with power and agency,” she said.

Basu directed the project with longtime collaborator C.J. Clarke, who is a photographer and filmmaker, and wrote it with him and actor-writer Manjeet Mann.

“She uses her South Asian futurism, wisdoms, and philosophies to heal the societies here. Maya is above all a story of her journey to empowerment,” she said.

Basu was inspired to make Maya: The Birth of a Superhero after the law-changing impact of her previous art project ‘Blood Speaks’ about menstrual exile and violence against women in South Asia.

Described by the Guardian as “part superhero satire, part psychological thriller”, Maya, which world premiered at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival, Austin, US, in March, employs an extreme story to illustrate the prevalence of misogyny and gender oppression in all societies.

About what she expects from the work’s European premiere at Cannes, Basu said: “It’s really visibility for the work and for the taboo subjects that it portrays.”

“The project is also aimed at reminding women that they are magical powerful beings capable of reclaiming their narratives and their bodies to achieve true liberation, justice, and joy. The festival platform is important to highlight that intersectional feminism is for everyone, not just for women,” she added.

“It is critical,” Basu continued, “to show this work in a Western space because Maya is about a South Asian girl in London battling patriarchy in the West.”

Growing up in Kolkata, Basu had first-hand brushes with patriarchy within her home. Raised by her mother, she found early inspiration in the city’s rich cinematic history but, following the untimely death of her father, she left home to lead a life that would allow her the choices that earlier generations of women in the family did not have.

The character of Maya is voiced by Indian-British actor Charithra Chandran, who played Edwina Sharma in the second season of the hit Netflix series “Bridgerton”. Indira Varma (who debuted in Mira Nair’s Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love and was more recently seen in Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One) has voiced an illusory past avatar of Maya.

Basu revealed that the immersive film will have a worldwide release via Meta Oculus Quest on May 30.

“People with Oculus can watch it for free for a year all over the world,” she said. It can be experienced with Oculus Quest headsets 2, 3 and Pro.

“Outside of this, we will do more film festivals and are open to displays and installations in art spaces,” she added.

The Cannes Film Festival opens on Tuesday.

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