The Oscar-nominated short film Raju is something of an enigma. A German student film shot, not in a crew member’s backyard, but in India, the film’s small budget meant that, for director/co-writer Max Zähle, paying the cast wasn’t an option—but he snagged two A-list German actors, Wotan Wilke Möhring and Julia Richter, to star all the same. And, of course, it’s a student film that’s been nominated for an Oscar… and that’s not something that happens all too often.
In Raju, Möhring and Richter star as a German couple who travel to India to adopt a child, only to become entangled in the illegal adoption epidemic—where children are stolen from their parents and sold to couples through phony adoption agencies—that plagues the country. Zähle took the time to chat with MovieMaker about how he managed to snag A-list talent for his student film, the challenges of filming in India and his feelings on Raju‘s unexpected (but certainly most welcome) Oscar nomination.
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MM: How did you learn about the issue of illegal adoption that serves as the centerpiece of Raju? And what about that issue made you want to make a film about it?
MZ: I was researching [topics for my] film and found out about a situation where children get stolen out of the country. The [foster parents adopting them] want to do something good, but it’s bad, it’s illegal. So I started to research, and I found out about this global, massive, child-trafficking illegal adoption problem, and it really touched me. How far is a couple willing to go to get a child? On the other hand, who has the right to have a child? Those were the questions that really interested me as a filmmaker, finding out how far a person would go, what the moral order of a person is if they want to have a child [so badly].
MM: And if they knew where the child had come from, would they do the right thing in returning it to its real parents? I thought was one of the most interesting parts of Raju, how the wife didn’t want to give the child up, but the husband did.
MZ:That was actually the whole drama. Because even the woman, she’s not a bad person. It’s heartbreaking, because she doesn’t want to do anything bad, but they just want the child so badly that it gives them this moral dilemma.
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