Jayant Somalkar’s debut Marathi feature Sthal shines at 48th TIFF

A scene from Sthal, which shone at the 48th Toronto International Film Festival, and has real villagers as the cast. Photo: Mauli Singh

With a World Premiere. it was the only Indian film in the Discovery section of the 48th Toronto International Film Festival. Writer-director Jayant Digambar Somalkar’s debut Marathi feature film Sthal (A Match) is produced by Dhun and co-founded by Karan Grover, Shefali Bhushan, Jayant Digambar Somalkar and Riga Malhotra.

It is the only Indian film to be selected in the Discovery Program, which showcases the first and second features of emerging filmmakers from around the world. Sthal explores the tradition of arranged marriages in rural India.

Elated about the World Premiere, Jayant says, “I am overwhelmed. I never expected this kind of a response from the audience at the film’s World Premiere at TIFF. People connected to the story, the characters and every nuance of the film. It seemed to have touched their hearts. We had a houseful premiere show and the second screening is also already houseful.”

Jayant Digambar Somalkar and Shefali Bhushan at the 48th TIFF. Photo: Mauli Singh

Shefali Bhushan, who wrote and directed Jugni and co-directed Guilty Minds says, “Men and women from many different nationalities and ages watched the film and responded wholeheartedly to it at the premiere. It’s a great feeling to have the film speak to such a diverse group and leave them thinking.”

Karan Grover added, “Sthal is a reflection of what we are, or what we could be as a society. As a producer, I deeply felt the need to share a story with viewers for the positive change that I hope to bring with it. Even if it helps a few women gain self- belief and assure parents of a change, we would have seemed to be done our job well. Hope you love our effort.”

The film shot in Jayant’s native village, Dongargaon, in the Chandrapur district of Maharashtra, features an ensemble cast of first-time actors from the village—Nandini Chikte as protagonist Savita along with Taranath Khiratkar, Sangita Sonekar, Suyog Dhawas, Sandip Somalkar, Sandip Parkhi, Swati Ulmale, Gauri Badki and Mansi Pawar.

Sthal narrates the story of a determined young girl, Savita, from a village in the Vidarbha region, who yearns for education and a brighter future. However, as her farmer parents anxiously struggle to find a suitable match for her, societal expectations place immense pressure on her to prioritize marriage over personal aspirations.

Being dark-complexioned and short in height, Savita is seen as an added burden on her parents and marrying her off is deemed as difficult as finding a fair price for their crop. Facing countless rejections from potential suitors, she must navigate a world where the pursuit of marriage overshadows the very sustenance of life.

Jayant has earlier written and directed an award-winning short, Iyatta: Class (2016) and also co-wrote and co-directed the Amazon Prime Original Series Guilty Minds (2022). Born in a village in the Vidarbha region of India, Jayant himself is an engineering graduate, but his creative bent of mind made him veer towards filmmaking. Sthal marks the director’s debut feature, showcasing his talent for storytelling and commitment to presenting social issues in an authentic and compassionate manner.

Says Jayant, “As I hail from a humble rural background, I have been fascinated by grass-root level stories that are socially relevant and affect the lives of common people. Through this film, my goal as a director is to bring out the realities faced by young women like Savita, who are almost sacrificed in the urgency for getting them married off. Being the youngest of four siblings, I saw my sisters going through this as I grew up. The idea for this particular film crystallized when I accompanied my cousin for one such ‘match’ meeting. Through this film, I hope to spark conversations around the tradition of arranged marriage, gender inequality, and the pressing need for change.”

He adds, “To capture the authenticity and rawness, I chose to shoot on real locations with real people from the village as the cast, all non-actors. By doing so, I sought to create an immersive experience and allow viewers to connect with the characters at a more emotional level.  I was lucky to fulfill the dream of shooting in my own village, in fact, in the very house where I was actually born. I could also include my extended family, some as cast and others in production roles. The pride they felt, seeing one of their own, bring a crew to the village and shoot a film, is, for me, indescribable.”



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here