The film workshop involved giving groups of school students (from classes IX through XII) handheld cameras and asking them to go out and make short films of 1-minute about gender issues, human rights and identity. Since most of the students were first timers, they were first taken through an exercise of learning how to use a camera and bring out their objectives effectively on screen in the span of one minute. This exercise was conducted by Sanjeet Chowdhury. The result of this was a series of films from a group of enthusiastic amateurs, attempting to tackle serious issues ranging from child labour to gender discrimination, with even the cameraman Chirag being inspired enough to make his own short film about children with disabilities.
8 films were shortlisted, with the participating schools being Army Public School, Birla High School (girls’ section), Chowringhee High School, Gokhale Memorial Girls School, La Martinere for Boys and Patha Bhavan. Although the first viewing left one thinking that one’s been hit by a rush of stereotypical, clichéd ad films, closer viewing and a bit of deliberation would immediately show that there are lots of little things going on under the surface. For example, the ‘profiles’ of the individual schools affected their films in subtle ways. The students of the supposedly ‘elite’ La Martinere for Boys used a Bob Dylan score in their film while two of Patha Bhavan’s films depicted women from lower middle class homes. It would be fairer, however, to look at each film individually, as a general overview such as this would not be adequate.
Army Public School
This film told an interesting little tale about a young girl, Tinni, who is playing with her two dolls (one a ‘male’ clown and the other a little blonde girl) on the verandah while her mother screams for her in the background. Tinni keeps chiding the girl-doll for not helping the boy (the clown), pushes her away and, as her mother finally finds her, breaks the doll’s head. Her shocked mother asks why, to which Tinni retorts that she was the one who had taught her that girls were ‘bad’ and should be punished, and so she had ‘killed’ her doll. Her stunned mother doesn’t say a word and merely pulls Tinni close to her. Despite its message being too obvious, this film was very well shot and focused well on one single incident. By using a child so young, it put across the idea that prejudices are planted in our minds when we are most vulnerable.
Birla High School (Girls’ Section)
Like many of the other films, this too seemed more like an advertisement than a film. However, by using different ‘kinds’ of women, from the old to the young, the shirt and trouser-wearing to the saree-clad and showing them with their mouths taped, it put across the message that women are discriminated against no matter who they are or where they come from. But here too, the message was a little too obvious, once the women silently held up placards urging people to stop gender discrimination.
Chowringhee High School
Chowringhee High School’s film was the only one in which all the action took place on a Kolkata street. It was a silent short film, allowing the actions of the young protagonist and the noises of the street to speak for it. This film was also well shot, with smooth, flowing camera movements. Its message was subtle, questioning the public only at the end. The film was clearly about child labour, the aspirations of a child, and illiteracy, but seemed most effective when seen simply for itself, without attaching any ‘classifications’.
La Martiniere for Boys
The film made by La Martinere for Boys was probably one of the most impressive. Titled ‘Panic’, it opens with a shot of a man (who, by the looks of it is educated and well-off) sitting on his balcony, reading an English newspaper and listening to a Bob Dylan number on his ipod. Suddenly he takes off the headphones, presses something on the ipod and puts it in his pocket. Then he gets up and surveys the street for a few minutes. All this is done calmly and seems habitual. Suddenly, he runs inside and picks up his phone to make a call. Simultaneously, sounds of bombings, sirens and snippets of news anchors announcing statistics like death tolls and police action are heard in the background. The man goes back outside and continues to talk animatedly on his phone, as if forcing instructions on someone. However, the street that he is looking out on is calm, and normal life goes on as he talks, so it is obvious that the bombings were elsewhere. There is a very brief shot of a police van and police blockade, and then the camera returns to the man on his phone. The film ends with a key reading ‘Panic’ on the keyboard of a computer. The film alluded to the recent spate of terror attacks in the country and the fact that the ‘terrorists’ are educated, seemingly ‘normal’ (he listens to Dylan and reads the papers in the morning) and use advanced technology (hence the use of the i-pod, or maybe the cell phone, as a possible detonator). However, it also makes the audience question what is going on. Is the man we see really the one who has carried out the bombings? Or is it just a coincidence that he fiddles with his i-pod and gets up at exactly the moment the bombs go off, and actually has nothing to do with it at all? This film was well structured, very effective and the open-ended nature of the film was very effective.
Three of Patha Bhavan’s films were selected for the final collection. Two of them depicted gender discrimination in different ways, and the third was about the importance of education and literacy.
What was striking about two of the films was the note of optimism with which they both ended. In the first film, a woman goes about her housework frantically, without pausing even for a second. This whole sequence was shot very well, with abrupt actions being rapidly played out. At the end of it all, she looks exhausted and wipes her brow, and at that very moment, the doorbell rings. A smile immediately breaks out on her face. It is as if she has been given an automatic command to switch identities. When she opens the door, we see why. It is her little daughter, in the arms of the ayah. Everything seems happy suddenly. The mother carries her child into the room; the girl pulls out her school exercise book and shows her mother the alphabet, she has written. Obviously proud, the mother encourages her to practice, and she starts writing diligently. In the background, the ayah too seems strangely content as she wipes the floor. The written message at the end of the film is to spread literacy. What comes across well at the end of the film is a certain harmony, with each character happy with their day’s work.
In the second film, a mother scolds her daughter for coming home late. Quite unmindful of her mother’s nagging, she sits down exhausted and asks for a glass of water. Her mother proceeds to tell her that her fiancé had got a job, and so now her marriage could be finalised. The daughter looks worried and disconcerted. She gets up and walks towards her room, asking her mother if any letters had come for her today. Her mother replies that indeed a letter had arrived and that it was on her desk. The girl suddenly looks excited as she tears open the envelope. She reads the letter and announces to her mother that she had got the job she had applied for. Her mother looks disgruntled and tells her to forget about this job and concentrate on her impending marriage instead. Then she leaves the room. In the last shot, her daughter, who has completely ignored her mother’s admonishment, now rereads her letter and then marks her calendar. Although this film too follows the usual stereotypes, its protagonist is defiant and goes by her own will. This ends the film on a high note of optimism.
In the third film, we see projections of pairs of inanimate objects one after the other on screen, for example an apple and a banana, claiming that these things are not treated differently from each other. Finally, we see an image of a man doing one kind of manual work and a woman doing another, after which it questions why they are treated differently. Although this too was more like a television advertisement on gender discrimination, the directness of its approach was commendable.
Gokhale Memorial School (Girls’ Section)
Gokhale Memorial School’s film was also about terror attacks. Unlike the film made by La Martinere for Boys, this one did not focus on a singular event. Rather, it was like a sweeping ‘coverage’ of the damage bombings can do. Although not really different, we cannot find too many faults in it either. However, the ending was quite confusing, and at first viewing one might not get the point. Perhaps, the soothing music and flashes of ‘normal’ activity, was an attempt at showing the return to normalcy out of the chaos that always follows bomb attacks.