The feature version of a 2015 short which premiered at Cannes, Sonejuhi Sinha’s Stray Dolls was informed by the director’s experience volunteering for the Women’s Prison Association, at a time when she was “researching stories around women and crime, and how that takes place in America.”
During this period, Sinha learned that the incarceration rate among U.S. women was 20 times higher than it had been a decade prior, along with other astonishing statistics—and from this stream of revelations, a character-driven story was born.
Starring Cythia Nixon and Geetanjali Thapa, Stray Dolls centers on Riz, a young woman who leaves India behind, in order to break from her criminal past. Stateside, she lands in a housekeeping job at the Tides Plaza Motel, working under manager Una, amidst other young people whose lives are in dire straits. As one petty crime spirals into another, a visually mesmerizing thriller kicks off.
After developing her feature at several high-profile labs, and receiving several grants, Sinha was able to make the film, with a specific vision in mind. In comparison to her short, Love Comes Later, the feature would comprise a richer, expanded universe, with more characters and genre elements that would have viewers on edge, engaged “in surprise and tension.”
In India when she was contacted about Stray Dolls, Thapa immediately locked into her director’s vision. “As an actor, I’m greedy. I would do anything to do this film because Riz is such a strong character, and I don’t think I’ve ever played something like this before,” the actress told Deadline recently.
Like her co-star, Nixon was compelled by the “moral ambiguity” of all the film’s characters, sensing in Sinha the presence of “an exciting new voice.” For Nixon, the director’s story of outsiders also resonated powerfully with the experience of living in the U.S. at the moment. “I think it would be an interesting film at any time. But obviously in Trump’s America, when immigration is such an issue, we see immigrants vilified so much,” she remarked. Standing in the face of the rhetoric employed by the President, Stray Dolls offers an entirely different assessment of immigrants, emphasizing not the threat they pose, but instead, “how incredibly vulnerable [they are], how they have no one to turn to, and [how] any hope of law and order is just a pipe dream.”
For more from our conversation with the director and stars of Stray Dolls, which recently premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, take a look above.
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