On his way to birthing his debut feature film Sapiens, West India-based indie filmmaker Junayed Alavi has grounded his longtime-coming magnum opus in experimental layers of sci-fi and realism. Having crossed paths with Marvel Studios’ Moon Knight and Werewolf by Night producer Peter Cameron for an equally genre-defying horror short, Hunger (screened at Festival del Cinema di Cefalu in Italy in 2023), Alavi is once again teaming up with Hollywood connections to make his dreams come true. His arduous journey from a lower middle-class Bengali Muslim family was “far from easy.” Nevertheless, the ensuing outcome has been “incredibly rewarding,” as he points out ahead of his feature film’s premiere.

Indie filmmaker Junayed Alavi's debut feature film, Sapiens, will wrap up production soon. It's expected to release in theatres around Christmas 2024 or Summer 2025.
Indie filmmaker Junayed Alavi’s debut feature film, Sapiens, will wrap up production soon. It’s expected to release in theatres around Christmas 2024 or Summer 2025.

In HT’s talks with him, we also received a quote from the Moon Knight producer, extolling Alavi’s resourceful ambitions that translated into a style of filmmaking resonating the echoes of South African-Canadian director Neill Blomkamp’s works (known for his sci-fi projects like District 9, Elysium and Chappie).

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About Sapiens

Alavi’s upcoming debut feature premiere is in production and will wrap up soon. Marvel Moon Knight Peter Cameron serves as the project’s co-producer. The movie also has another Marvel connection, with Ms Marvel actor Asfandyar Khan coming in as the pivotal narrator who witnessed the storyline’s apocalypse. Newcomers Kalyan Goswami, Bulbul Ahamed and Anirbaan Guha take the lead as significant cast members of Sapiens, which was shot in various parts of Birbhum, West Bengal.

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The movie will be available in three languages – Bengali, Hindi and English. Set in a dystopian future, it’s centred around two rival Dalit and Brahmin families who stand their ground in a cyborg-colonised Indian village in West Bengal.

Sapiens has been produced under Junayed’s very own production banner, Alavi Motion Pictures. The Indian filmmaker penned its script during the lockdown. His project saw major progress with his partner, Firdoushi Begum, who is yet another crucial member of the production team. The Sapiens team is rooting for a Christmas 2024 or Summer 2025 premiere in theatres. Digital release details are yet to be discussed. 

Marvel Studios Moon Knight producer Peter Cameron’s artistic journey with Sapiens filmmaker Junayed Alavi:

Here’s what Cameron had to say about the fortunate collaboration that warmly embraced him with the touch of nostalgia: “Junayed carries his country in his soul. It informs every aspect of his work, and it’s been wonderful to watch him hone his craft over the past couple of years. When he reached out to me about Sapiens, the themes resonated with me in a big way, but I also just admire his commitment to the process of actually going out and creating something. He’s incredibly resourceful in a way that reminds me of making movies with my friends in high school and college.”

As for Alavi’s quality work, Cameron underlined the 25-year-old filmmaker’s “Blockbuster-level ambition while letting his environment and community inform the story, and the making of it, on every level. He’s very Neill Blomkamp in that way.”

Junayed Alavi’s Hollywood dreams:

Hailing from a lower middle-class Muslim family, the Hunger filmmaker found his ambition fueled through “Hollywood blockbusters such as Jurassic Park, ET, Back to the Future, and Star Wars.” But before any fallacious ideas soar in the readers’ minds, imagining a romanticised picture of his life’s journey, Alavi lays it all to rest. His forlorn childhood memories recalled “the laughter and mockery from (his) schoolmates and school teachers,” despite which he “held onto (his) grand aspirations”. And ultimately, despite being a reserved child, he found his “voice through the art of cinema”.

The materialisation of Junayed Alavi’s big small-town dreams is coming to fruition in his mid-20s, but his actual stepping-off point arrived at an even younger age. “At the tender age of 13, (he) began making short films, drawing inspiration from the legendary Steven Spielberg“. He continued, “During my childhood, I often felt isolated. Filmmaking became my escape and a means to connect with others.”

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Adulthood brought a baggage of responsibilities and expectations of staying faithful to the societal design. His family reiterated the same dialogue by insisting that he pursue engineering, “dismissing his Hollywood dream as invalid”. Intent on translating his dreams into a lived reality, Alavi “remained steadfast in following (his) passion” and found his own film school in pre-existing works of art instead of a formal institution.

During his college years, he claims to have skipped classes to “create movies and forge connections in Hollywood”. Monumental success eventually caught on with his relentless persistence and grabbed the attention of industry experts. With time, old fractured memories healed and “what was once a dream to go to Hollywood … transformed into (his) live show called ‘Late Night Show with Alavi,’ where esteemed Hollywood A-listers” shared their inspiring escapades and experiences.

For his podcast adventures, the Sapiens director has previously hosted a myriad of celebrated guests on Late Night Show with Alavi, including Lexi Rabe, who played Tony Stark’s daughter, Morgan Stark, in Avengers: Endgame, Jeffrey Weissman, AKA George McFly from Back to the Future Parts II – III, Disney’s Black Beauty director Ashley Avis and horror flick Wrong Turn’s director Rob Schmidt. Additionally, he’s even welcomed noteworthy crew members on his show, like Dune’s Oscar-nominated makeup artist Donald Mowat, Star Wars Set Decorator Roger Christian, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Martian music composer Harry Gregson-Williams, Cobra Kai editor Zack Arnold and many others.

The same podcast platform became a launching pad for his soaring aspirations once he met Peter Cameron for an episode and pitched him the script of my horror short film Hunger. The Marvel producer “loved it so much that he immediately jumped to executive produce the short,” marking the beginning of a beautiful professional partnership. Alavi asserts that Cameron pushed him to make a feature film. With the Sapiens script locked in since 2020, Peter onboarded the new ship owing to his love for the concept, which was “very rooted” in Indian culture and addressed several social stigmas.

As the up-and-coming director continues to climb the success ladder, his parents have warmed up to his artistic professionalism and are “very happy and proud.” People around him, too, appreciate his dedicated efforts and have realised over time that his dreams weren’t mere unsteady fantasies. However, scepticism has rarely ever been extinguished from the roots. Even in the face of an avalanche of scoffing remarks from the Bengali film industry, Alavi has focussed on his goals and harnessed the strength and magic that reside in believing in oneself. You can see his filmmaking legacy taking shape on the big screen soon.



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