A Mother’s Quest for Justice in the Arabian Gulf Takes Centerstage in Toronto Selection ‘Yellow Bus’

A mother’s quest for justice is the fulcrum around which Toronto Film Festival U.A.E. selection “Yellow Bus” revolves.

Set in an unnamed Arabian Gulf country, “Yellow Bus” follows an Indian family that endures a tragedy when their daughter is neglected on a school bus in the sweltering desert heat. Consumed by grief, mother Anada (Tannishtha Chatterjee), sets out to find the truth about who is accountable.

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The film is the feature directorial debut of American Wendy Bednarz who teaches film in the Middle East. It is inspired by multiple real-life incidents of neglect across the region, which stayed with Bednarz – a mother herself – and she decided to make a film on the subject. The filmmaker strove to be as authentic as possible.

“Even before I decided to make the film, I really questioned my own positionality in terms of, who am I to actually make this film about these people who are not from my cultural background,” Bednarz told Variety. “I’m from the U.S. I grew up on the West Coast. I’m a New Yorker. So, going into it, I was really eyes wide open that I had to do a lot of research and be really thorough and align myself with people in the know who would help me [and] whose own cultural background would reflect the story itself. The main thing for me is that through the research and the collaboration, that the story, moment to moment, was authentic.”

Bednarz says that she was keenly aware of her position as an expat and ensured that the story was told through various lenses reflecting the multicultural facets of the Gulf, while being mindful of not imposing her own, even subconsciously.

The filmmaker assembled a formidable cast headlined by Chatterjee, whose credits include “Brick Lane” and “Lion,” Kinda Alloush (“The Swimmers”) and Amit Sial (“Qala”).

“The script in itself was so complete that, as an actor, what I had to do is live every scene to its utmost honesty. Being the mother of a daughter helped [me] on the one hand and broke my heart on the other,” Chatterjee told Variety. “This is one film that brought me closest to feeling why as human beings we love listening to stories or why do we even want to become actors. There are so many emotions that we want to probably live in our lives, but [which] we don’t want to actually experience them in reality. Because it would actually bring in so much trauma to us. And yet to live a character who is going through such a catharsis by the end of the story is a spiritual experience in itself.”

Bednarz says that her intentions in making the film were to provide a voice to the myriad people who are marginalized and become invisible or face unconscious prejudice in the tightly-knit constructed socio-economic Middle Eastern society, amplify themes of alienation and connection and also to provide access to a part of the world where not many films are made. “It’s a dance here to tell these stories truthfully, to give voice to these stories, even invisible people, I was challenged on that,” Bednarz said.

“Yellow Bus” is produced by Nadia Eliewat with Shivani Pandya Malhotra serving as executive producer. Production companies include Screen Project, Metatron Productions, Orbit Showtime Network, Creative Venture, Sikhya Entertainment, PIX44 and Ta Films.

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