When a precocious nine-year-old orphan who works in a back-alley garment factory is suddenly offered a rare chance to attend boarding school, she faces a choice that will determine the fate of her future and her family.
Adam J. Graves is a philosopher-turned-filmmaker, who holds a B.A. in South Asian studies and a Ph.D. in the philosophy of religion from the University of Pennsylvania. Adam has lived extensively in India, where he studied Sanskrit at the Banaras Hindu University, conducted grant-supported research, and volunteered with several youth-focused nonprofits in Rajasthan, Bihar, UP, and MP. Author of The Phenomenology of Revelation, Adam is a professor of philosophy at MSU Denver, where he teaches film & philosophy, and directs Dphi, a center that explores the intersection of philosophy, film, literature, and the arts. He wrote, directed and produced the short film Cycle Vérité (2021) and produced and edited the documentary short The Other Side of the Sun (currently in post-production).
Suchitra Mattai is a multi-disciplinary artist of South Asian descent, whose work celebrates the power of women, reimagines historical narratives, and explores her family’s history of indentured labor. She received an MFA in painting and drawing and an MA in South Asian art from the University of Pennsylvania. Her works are included in the collections of Crystal Bridges Museum of Art, the Nasher Museum of Art, the Denver Art Museum, the Tampa Museum of Art, the Joselyn Museum, the Tia Collection, the Perez Collection, the Shah Garg collection, and the University of Michigan Museum of Art. Upcoming projects include solo exhibitions at the ICA San Francisco (San Francisco), the Tampa Museum of Art (Tampa, FL), the National Museum for Women in the Arts (Washington, DC) and Socrates Sculpture Park (NYC, NY). She produced the short film Cycle Vérité (2021).
I was in the early stages of developing a coming-of-age film, when Suchitra Mattai (my wife and producing partner) happened upon an unsettling statistic: globally, nearly one in ten children under the age of fifteen is subject to child labor (i.e., labor that is detrimental to one’s health, development, and education). The figure seemed very real to us. Our own children were about that age, and they (through my wife’s side of the family) are descendants of indentured laborers from the state of Uttar Pradesh. It was disquieting to think that this ancestral past was a living present for over one hundred and sixty million children around the world.
As the pandemic subsided, discussions about the global supply chain became a fixture in the daily news. Unsurprisingly, the coverage focused almost exclusively on the consumer-end of the story—on the scarcity of goods and the toll it was taking on the economic recovery. But the lack of attention to the supply-side of the story seemed to underscore just how easy it is for affluent communities to ignore their place in a global economic system that often contributes to the exploitation of labor, including child labor.
We wondered why so few coming-of-age films feature the lives of working children. There was an important story here, or rather an entire universe of stories waiting to be told. So, I dove headlong into the research on child labor, paying particular attention to sectors known to export products to wealthier nations. Given my longstanding ties to South Asia—where I’ve studied, conducted grant-supported research, and worked with several nonprofits—I was lucky to have a plethora of personal contacts to draw on. I was put in touch with NGOs that provide assistance to working children and their families, such as the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation and Work: No Child’s Business. This led me to visit the Salaam Baalak Trust, where I met with working (and formerly working) children, visiting their homes, observing their work, and meeting their families. Many of these children, mostly young girls, left school at a young age in order to help support their families.
Despite facing difficult circumstances, the girls I met were resilient, gifted, and inspiring. It was impossible not to be moved by their ability to find and to create joy amidst harsh realities. I felt it was important to make a film that was true to their experiences, but was also something they would want to watch and discuss themselves—one that drew from reality, but without focusing excessively on the doom-and-gloom. I wanted to capture that wondrous combination of magic and emotion, of innocence and mischief, which is part of childhood itself—these are kids after all, not statistics. Though every film is collaborative, this one was much more so than most. Were it not for the talent and support of the children of the Salaam Baalak Trust (especially our brilliant star, Sajda Pathan), we never could have brought this important story to the screen.
ANUJA was researched and filmed with the help of several community partners. The Salaam Baalak Trust (a nonprofit organization that provides food, shelter, and education to thousands of street and working children) played a particularly critical role in the film's production.
Our titular character is played by Sajda Pathan, who lives at a Salaam Baalak residential center that provides a home for girls rescued from the streets of Delhi.
Rudolfo Rajeev Hubert
Writer & Directer
Executive Producer and Producer
Director of Photography
Production Sound Mixer
First Assistant Camera
Second Assistant Camera
Adam J. Graves
Sunita Bhadauria, Work: No Child's Business
Devika Sharma, Salaam Baalak Trust
Adam J. Graves
Adam j. Graves