Akshun Abhimanyu’s film on racism in USA goes to Cannes Film Fest

Indian American actor/writer Akshun Abhimanyu’s film based on the Kansas racial shootings is heading to be shown at the popular Cannes Film Festival. His new film showcases the heightened feelings of “fear and uncertainty” into words and gives a voice to all those people in his new film, “Seven Rounds.”

The killing of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, an Indian American engineer, at a Kansas bar in February 2017, sent shock waves through the community which continues to reverberate to this day.

The perpetrator, Adam Purinton, who recently pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and attempted murder charges, also injured two others in the attack, including Alok Madasani. Authorities alleged that Kuchibhotla and Madasani were targeted because of their ethnicity, race or national origin.

Even though Purinton is now behind bars, immigrants, who shudder recalling the fateful day, fear there may be more Purintons out there. Many are left wondering where all the hostility is coming from. Though there are no easy answers to this question, since cinema is reflective of real life, Abhimanyu and his team have just released a gripping and eye-catching trailer for the film produced by Hollywood’s Three Flames Productions.

“The incident also seemed relatable to my situation in Los Angeles,” Abhimanyu, who conceptualized the story and plays the lead role, told the media. “I’ve never faced racism as such but the idea of people perceiving me differently has been a question many a times. Whenever I have a beard and I’m going to places where I’m perceived as a ‘brown guy with a beard’ where people think I’m a Middle Eastern, and I get that look of I’m a Muslim guy and I could be a threat, a general consensus.”

At times, said Abhimanyu, he is meted the same treatment from fellow Indians.

“The minute they realize that I’m Indian, their reaction changes…they become nicer and welcoming, saying, ‘Oh! You’re like a brother,’” he said. “That kind of made me worry that these instances, which are probably directed towards a certain community, are affecting everybody else, anybody who looks like from that part of the world.”

In the film, during President Donald Trump’s travel ban, two young Indian engineers go to their local bar only to encounter a series of challenges related to perceptions of their ethnicity. Abhimanyu said this decision of the travel ban kind of legalized various forms of discrimination.

“It’s about how these two friends go about their journey in a day’s time and how they face these daily small moments of subliminal racism but they don’t question it until a big thing like a shooting happens,” said Abhimanyu. “After the travel ban, questions were raised about the Muslim community. It was a strong hate towards these people which other Americans were creating because of the understanding at the top level.”

The film, he said, was shot in Kansas City since “these instances are more common in the Midwest,” adding that he wanted to focus on the rise in such incidents since the ban. Such rhetoric, he said, was tearing apart communities and creating a racial divide in the country.

“Such plans make people look at other people differently,” he told India-West. “Hate them without even knowing where they’re from. Nobody in that bar was Muslim or Middle Eastern, a Caucasian man is getting shot, a black woman is getting shot…they are getting killed and shot because of a perception.”

Friend and writer Karthik Menon, he said, helped adapt the story into a screenplay. “My character illustrates the underlying phobia amongst American people,” said the New Delhi native. The film also touches upon the rise in gun violence and mass shootings.

A graduate in biotechnology, Abhimanyu said his future goal is to either make this into a feature or a docu-series. “My main focus is to give it to bigger platforms so that people across the globe can get the message and I would like to work on a set of series which work on such issues,” he said.

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