'Real' woman using the power of `reel'
By Our Staff Reporter
NEW DELHI, MARCH 8. The fields in their films are never in the background.
The "real'' women who are using the power of "reel'', these
are directors who have made change possible with nothing more just a
camera and a little freedom. Not belonging to the breed of directors
who want to make blockbusters, they screen their films to packed houses,
but their "hit" films are about unheard voices.
Hitching up her bright red sari and a headphone strapped to her white
hair, Suriamma could easily be the perfect picture of rapidly narrowing
technological barriers in the country. But more important than being
a poster-girl of a techno-savvy India, this 57-year-old agricultural
worker from Andhra Pradesh is a more powerful symbol of a people's resistance
"We used to wait for filmmakers to come from Hyderabad to record
our lives. But they never understood our language and they spoke in
Hindi or English. They really didn't have the time to understand what
we had to say either. They used to come for one or two days and shoot
in a hurry. So we decided in our `sangam' that if one of us could shoot,
we could document our stories,'' says Laksamma, president of the Community
Media Trust (CMT) who is here in the Capital for "Expressions in
Freedom'', a festival organised by the International Association of
Women in Radio and Television.
The Deccan Development Society which started the CMT has been working
with the most marginalised sections of society, mostly Dalits, for the
past twenty years to band them into groups so as to use the power of
the collective to make a difference in their lives. The CMT is a project
that aims to give some space to these women to tell their stories. Besides,
training them to use cameras, they have also started a community radio.
"We are agricultural labourers, we spend out lives weeding. Our
hands are hard and we first wondered whether we could handle such sensitive
equipment. But then, we were taught with a lot of patience and allowed
to use the camera the way we want and subsequently the fear was gone,''
These are filmmakers who use their cameras to tell only `their' stories
of crops and fields. Documenting their struggle against the endless
drought in Andhra Pradesh and the more recent battle against genetically
engineered seeds like Bt Cotton being dumped on them, they are using
technology to make it their own and speak their language.
"We screened our film about Bt Cotton at a public meeting, it helped
us make our point much more strongly. Otherwise we would talk about
our experiences and it would not make such an impact, but this way we
had documented it and even the Government had to listen,'' remarks Manjula.
Much sought after film-makers, they are constantly bombarded with requests
to be present at weddings or to include people at protests, they are
now training a new generation like Suriamma.
While armed with a camera they have made their cinema relevant to people
in a way most directors can only dream about, their radio initiative
is still to make the desired impact. With more than 400 hours of edited
material ready to go on air, these women have the capability to touch
lives, but are still waiting for a license to do so. "We have so
much material on bio-diversity, women, agriculture and tradition, but
we are yet to get a license. We have to use the cassettes and play them
at `sangam' meetings. I want to know what is the use of a government
that has not given us a license and granted licenses to big institutions
who use our cassettes on their stations?" asks Narshimma.
A 21-year-old woman who wants to have a voice even though she is marginalised,
she might not be literate, she has studied in the DDS schools to now
mans a radio station. While she might have been able to overcome huge
obstacles in her path set by society, she now just wants the chance
to reach out to inspire others.
'Camera breaks caste barrier'
New Delhi, March 9: CASTE is not a barrier anymore. And that's because
of the camera that I carry,'' says Humnapur Laxmamma. The 40-year-old
Dalit woman is a member of the Deccan Development Society (DDS), a voluntary
organisation that works with rural women in over 70 villages of Andhra
Laxmamma is one of the 17 women to have received video training at the
DDS, so that they can record and showcase how they earn their living
and the problems they face. Some of these women are in town for 'Expressions
in Freedom' - a festival of films by Asian women filmmakers, being held
at the I IC. A short film, Ten Women and a Camera, which shows how the
process of filmmaking has helped them grow economically and emotionally,
will be screened on Thursday.
At an interaction with students at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication
on Wednesday, the women also talked about how they are using their own
media for community development. They fielded questions, narrated their
experiences and walked around the room, filming the proceedings on their
''People give way to us when we go to public gatherings with a camera,''
says Manjula. ''We were earlier made to wait outside the house of the
patel (landlord), but now he even asks me to come inside his puja room
for filming the rituals,'' smiles Laxmamma, who is the single parent
of a 17-year-old girl. Her colleagues have a similar background. The
DDS, which has also trained two women in radio recording and transmission,
is waiting to launch its own community FM channel.
''We should have a slot on television channels like Doordarshan and
ETV,'' says Manjula. Laxmamma wants to go further. ''We should have
a rural women's TV channel,'' she says.
(The film will be screened at IIC at 4 pm on Thursday)