1497 mentees mentors south asian talent incubator
Top Row: Deepa Mehta, Nisha Ganatra, and Minhal Baig Bottom Row: Iesh Thapar, Jaclyn Backhaus, Purva Bedi, Mahira Kakkar, and Urvashi Pathania

1497, a talent incubator that uplifts and supports creators of South Asian descent, has chosen three mentees for its second annual Features Lab, which will pair them with mentors to help them develop their feature film screenplays.

A pool of 36 semifinalists was narrowed down to 10 finalists, and of those, Alien Kulture writer Iesh Thapar; Bleach, Please writer Urvashi Pathania; and Preeti Popped It writers Jaclyn Backhaus, Purva Bedi, and Mahira Kakkar were selected. 1497’s second annual Features Lab will take place both virtually and in-person this spring in New York City.

After working with Adrienne Weiss, a filmmaker and veteran script consultant, on developing their feature film scripts with an emphasis on the emotional journeys of their stories, Thapar, Pathania, Backhaus, Bedi and Kakkar will be paired with their own mentors. The mentees will also get to work with a group of industry advisors to help them create career roadmaps, including agents, managers, and professionals from production companies.

Oscar-nominee Deepa Mehta (Water, Midnight’s Children, Little America, Funny Boy) will mentor Iesh Thapar on his script Alien Kulture. Sundance darling Minhal Baig (Hala, Ramy) will mentor Urvashi Pathania on her script Bleach, Please, and Nisha Ganatra (Transparent, Late Night, The High Note) will mentor Jaclyn Backhaus, Purva Bedi, and Mahira Kakkar on their script Preeti Popped It.

1497 was founded in 2020 with the goal of supporting and uplifting talent of South Asian descent, and challenging their historical exclusion from and underrepresentation in the American film and television industry. The name 1497 signifies the year before colonization began in the geographic area now known as South Asia.

Last year’s inaugural Features Lab took place virtually and included talent from around the globe. This year, in order to have some of the Lab take place in-person, applicants to be mentees were limited to the U.S. only in order to mitigate potential COVID-19-related travel restrictions.

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“We are excited to support these artists, who are telling stories that break barriers and exemplify what is possible when South Asian filmmakers are given a platform,” said 1497 co-founders Adeel Ahmed, Lipica Shah, and Kamran Khan. “It was incredibly difficult to choose just three projects from the myriad of screenplays that all deserve to find an audience. We will continue to challenge the American film industry to push the boundaries of what stories South Asian and South Asian American filmmakers are allowed to tell.”

Past Features Lab mentees have gone on to find success, including Sofian Khan, who was nominated for an Emmy for his documentary The Interpreters. Swetha Regunathan’s script Sunderbans was chosen for the Cine Qua Non Storylines Lab, and her short “Forever Tonight” recently made its online premiere on Canadian Screen Award-qualifying Short Of The Week. Toby Fell-Holden’s script White Lies was chosen for the Edinburgh International Film Festival’s Talent Lab and secured another round of development financing from BFI. And Kaushik Sampath and Prashanth Vanchy continue to develop their script Qualia, while Sampath recently co-directed an Amazon series alongside director Raja Krishna Menon.

“The 1497 Lab was an invaluable opportunity to meet a wonderful group of South Asian filmmakers with very diverse and unique scripts, as well as receive expert script development support from Adrienne Weiss who helped move my story forward,” said Fell-Holden. “The Lab also provided a rare chance to connect with a group of founders and industry reps who sincerely value and champion talent that is underrepresented.”

Main Image: Top Row: Deepa Mehta, Nisha Ganatra, and Minhal Baig. Bottom Row: Iesh Thapar, Jaclyn Backhaus, Purva Bedi, Mahira Kakkar, and Urvashi Pathania