May 13, 2018

The Bengali-language film Uma is about the recreation of Durga Puja in spring, rather than October, with the help of an “out-of-work filmmaker using a motley crew”

On Saturday, a single mother in the town of St George in Canada’s Ontario province was paying special attention to the world premiere of an Indian film in New York City. The movie, Uma, is in Bengali, but 34-year-old Nicole Wellwood has a powerful connection to it.

Uma is adapted from the heart-breaking real life story of her son Evan, who passed away aged seven in 2015, but not before the townsfolk came together to celebrate Christmas in October, since it was the wish of the terminally ill boy to enjoy his favourite festival one last time.

That tragic and uplifting tale inspired filmmaker Srijit Mukherji to create an Indian version, one that will have its theatrical release in Kolkata in early June. Wellwood will be there for that screening.

Evan Leversage had been suffering from a deadly brain tumour and his death came just days before Christmas. By then, the St George community had granted his wish, getting together into the Yuletide spirit in October, complete with a parade. The town’s population is just around 3,000 but nearly 7,000 people turned up for the event.

Wellwood is looking forward to attending the premiere of Uma, particularly since it weaves into her objective of raising awareness about childhood brain cancer. She has started a foundation, Evan’s Legacy, for that purpose.

“I always believed if people were aware of childhood cancer, brains tumours, there would be more funding for research,” she told the Hindustan Times in an interview.

Mukherji, writer and director of Uma, was delighted with the reception to its first international showing at the New York Indian Film Festival. He said he was “quite overwhelmed with the response”.

Wellwood was surprised when she was first approached by Mukherji, after initial contact was made by him via the Evan’s Legacy Facebook page. “It’s not something that anybody would ever expect,” she said.

Mukherji also became aware of Evan’s story on Facebook, as an article titled, The Boy Who Moved Christmas, appeared on his timeline.

“I was moved to tears. I thought it was an incredible act of humanity,” he said.

Mukherji started working on adapting the story into an Indian context, with Uma, the protagonist, wanting to celebrate one last Durga Puja.

Wellwood was informed about Mukherji’s adaptation, and she said, “That was made clear to me and I was very happy to be part of that.”

“I wanted to tell the story on a bigger plane; telling it to a larger number of people,” Mukherji said, of his intent in taking Evan’s experience to the screen.

Uma is about the recreation of Durga Puja in spring, rather than October, with the help of an “out-of-work filmmaker using a motley crew”.

It captures the essence of Evan’s story, with strangers coming together for a communal gesture in an effort to please a child.

The film pays tribute to Evan, with an In Memoriam section at its outset and during its end credit roll.

But Evan’s event will have more media moments in the future: Wellwood is working with renowned children’s author Eric Walters on a book to recapture those days, while a production company based in Montreal is developing a French-language film on the subject as well.

Uma will have its theatrical release in Kolkata in the beginning of June, and thereafter, will travel to Toronto for the Reel World Film Festival in July.

And quite fittingly, Wellwood and the filmmaker are working on a special fund-raising screening in St George. After all, as Mukherji said, the film is also “dedicated to the people” of that small town with a big heart.

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