Sunday, 29 January 2012


Kakoli was wearing a new dress that day. The white kurta had tiny silver stars, which shimmered as we set out. The children where all excited and showed it in their own ways. Kakoli sang under her breath. We had been training now for 5 days. But most of that had been under controlled situations. Either inside the house or in the neighbourhood. We could sense a new excitement as the children loaded all the gear in. They would be able to test what they had learnt. See if it was all for real.

We were headed for Dumdum Railway Station. Most of the children had spent their early childhood on the platform and the streets of this busy railway station. They still had parents, siblings and friends living there. During our training we had discussed how to start shooting when you arrive at a location. How we should not just pull out our cameras and start shooting. We should give it time. Relax and observe and become a part of the scenario as it were. Only then we could pull out our cameras and maybe just casually sling them around our neck or our arm. We would talk to people. Let them see clearly that we carried a camera and then slowly just pick it up and start shooting. If we sense discomfort, then talk to the people and share with them what we are doing. All this we had discussed and practiced.

We arrived at Dumdum. Got off at the maath (field). An unused parking lot just outside the station. This is where the children had lived before they came to the home. The place was dotted with countless street dwellers. Little families on one end, cooking up lunch under a wood-fire. The lush green leafy vegetables piled high on a wok. Some boys, playing cards near the mud pile. Children running around playing with a largish rag doll and so many others. Just sitting and chatting. The children’s family. Kakoli’s family. Her friends. But the children hesitated. Hung back. Almost hiding behind us. Suddenly the purpose of their being at Dumdum… to make a film about their life had created a barrier between them and their own people. They felt awkward and shy. So we had to break the ice and reach out and then there were hugs and kisses as mothers came rushing and embraced their children. Aunts and sisters and brothers came running. They where all at once hugging, talking, laughing and before we knew it, the cameras were out and the children had started filming. Talking with their friends and family and filming. The awkwardness was over and the stories began to flow. We stood back and watched. A proud moment.

The children wanted to interview some of the other children. But it couldn’t be done on the ‘field’. They had decided to talk about some controversial stuff. So we had to be away from the eyes of the police and other people. The children selected a spot below the over bridge and we set out in small groups. Kakoli was interviewing a brother and a sister. Much younger than her. May be 10 or 12 years old. They began talking about a policeman who came and beat up children in the night. He beat up the children and threw out the ones sleeping on the station even if it was raining or cold. They were so scared of this policeman and his stick.

Suddenly we heard a commotion behind us. We came out from under the bridge and there was chaos on the field. The wok full of vegetables lay splattered on the ground amidst embers from the fire still smouldering. Some bundles of clothes lay scattered. People stood huddled in groups and chattered angrily, anxiously. While we were away the police had come and just hustled people up. Kicked out the wood-fire and the family around it. Beat up some of the older boys. Kakoli’s brother had been beaten up. Why? What had he done? Nothing really. He lived on the streets. That was crime enough to be beaten.

Kakoli wanted to rush out and film the policeman beating up her people. I held on to her hand. Stopped her. She walked away. She was angry. Very angry. Tears came to her eyes. What’s the point, she said. What’s the point of having a camera and not being able to shoot? She wanted to shoot the policeman. How do I explain to this girl who is angry and hurt. Not just for today but for the years of torment that she and her family and friends had suffered. She has a camera in her hand and she wanted to shoot the policeman. Her anger was not misplaced. She was right for being angry. I tried to explain to her that if she took a shot at the policeman today then he could break her camera. Worst still, he could just pick up her parents or her brother and beat them up. Throw them in the locker. So we have to be careful. Having a camera doesn’t mean that we can just shoot. We are responsible for what we do with it. One act of bravado can have severe consequences. We have to be aware of those. We have to chose. It is up to us. If it was just me or some other filmmaker like me, we could have filmed the police beating and then gone back to the safety of our home. But for Kakoli it is different. Her family will still be on the streets, vulnerable to this policeman. And the policeman could use this vulnerable chink to stop her from shooting again. If she wanted to make a difference with her camera, then a strategy had to be laid out. Consequences weighed. The decision would then have to be made very intelligently. All of this I tried to explain to her standing in one corner of the field. Holding her hand. Feeling unhappy for her tears. My own eyes smarting.

That evening we got back tired after a full day of shooting. On our way back, Kakoli was singing again. She later told me that she had wanted to walk out from the film project that day. She was so disappointed and frustrated. Whatever I had said did not make any sense to her. But she had stayed back and continued because she trusted us. She said she stayed back because she loved us. Now, after their film is made and has had so many screenings... I hope she understands.

Kakoli is 16 and lived her childhood on the Dumdum Railway Station. Today she lives along with many other children like her, at ‘Apon Ghar’, a home run by an NGO, OFFER, which works for Social Orphans in the city of Kolkata, West Bengal.

Kakoli together with her friends, Arup, Sukumar and Leema have made a film about their lives and the lives of other children living on the streets of Kolkata. This film was a part of a larger film made by urban middle class children of Delhi and the tribal children of Madhya Pradesh.

Scroll down below to watch the film and to read more about this project.

Kavita Das Gupta
6th May 2011


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