Sunday, 27 January 2013
It was in a small village of the south Indian cotton town of Warangal. I was shooting a film on the suicide deaths of agricultural workers. A larger film on the politics of hunger.
Sakubai was the character I was following. A few years ago, struggling to repay a loan of 10,000Rs (200$), her husband committed suicide by the most common method of all, consuming pesticide. She was left to fend for herself and her two sons. The older of the two was 12 years. Sakubai worked her husband’s field and hoped that the new cotton harvest would wipe out the loan and help her start a new life.
Following a local NGO worker, we found Sakubai and thought that this feisty young woman would be perfect to tell the story from a gendered perspective. The first day we interacted with her and her sons and the next the day was the shoot. 8 am.
She was missing and so was her 12 year old son. The younger son was amused but wouldn’t tell us where her mother was, the next morning. There was a hush in the village and some people who we encountered were not forthcoming. We, including the local coordinator, were perplexed. Why this sudden reversal?! Finally we caught up with the mother and the son duo slinking away in the shadows. So what was the problem? Why this sudden change in mood? They mumbled something in Telugu. I looked at the local coordinator. He too was perplexed. The situation was getting tense. Finally after some more mumbles and hushed conversations, I learnt that the 12 year old was upset that his mother was getting involved in some sex films (BF he said) with some city men who have come with cameras. For this 12 year old it was the only real interpretation of movies he found for himself in these circumstances. The economic and emotional hardships the family was going through must have also forced him to enter the adult world unnaturally early.
Whatever the personal journeys of this 12 year old may have been it threw us completely off our plans. If our main character was missing. So what do we do! The only way was to talk to the 12 year old and convince him. He could understand broken Hindi. I tried to walk him through the story we were trying to film with his mother. But he didn’t seem to move from his position.
The only thing left to do, was to make him a part of the shooting process and try and make him understand what we intend to do. We requested Sakubai to take us to her cotton field. I placed the camera on the tripod and framed her walking into the field. We rehearsed once. I repositioned the tripod and invited her son to now look through the viewfinder and frame his mother. Once everybody was in position, I asked her to walk and asked her son to push the record button while he was looking through. Shot over, he cut the camera. I could see he was already shaken up by this experience. I rewound the tape and played it back for him. Eyes glued back to the viewfinder, this time he saw what HE had shot.
He couldn’t contain his happiness, more possibly for his relief that it wasn’t a BF after all! We couldn’t contain our relief either. Harvesting Hunger- the film went on to pick up awards and adulation and Sakubai’s was the most moving story in the film.
A little piece of participatory video made it possible.
But 14 years ago I didn’t know it was called that, neither did I know, that one day I will be a part of an organsiation, which would use this tool to reframe realities for hundreds of children across the country!