I learnt an important thing as a documentary maker and a storyteller. People, most people want to tell their stories to others. I’ve roamed around with a video camera in hand in the middle of nowhere and in the center of the center. And many, people have said, yes, I’ll talk to you. They’ve sung for me without my asking it. They’ve answered my questions when I asked them. They’ve shared information with me , sometimes in a language I barely understood, though they knew I barely understood them.
In the exhibition ‘Round and about India’ in the Tropical Museum in Amsterdam, are short films I made. They are portraits of people in contemporary Mumbai in India. People I did not know, and who did not know me. People who are now telling the thousands of visitors to the museum about their aspirations. I chose that theme because I want to understand the aspirations of the people I come into contact with.
‘As long as I live, I will sell cloth.’ Atul Shah
‘If you are born into a lower caste family,
you will remain in a lower caste’. Dr Ramaiah
‘I don’t always want to remain a maid’. Sujata Masurkar‘I’m restless but I am not afraid’. Aahana Kumra
This image shows the film on Aahana as it appears in the exhibition.
Click on the image to view films on the You Tube Channel of the Tropical Museum
The concern for the loss of diversity in South Asia has led to a new initiative. One that gives a platform for stimulating and presenting photographic and video documentation of people marginalized in India. One point of view is that these people (more generally referred to as ‘tribes’ or ‘adivasis’) chose to live apart in higher or forested landscapes to avoid contact with dominant ways of living around them. Another is that they have been ‘pushed’ to the margins. Today, many of them are completely unable to benefit from the booming economy of present day India.
The website of the Indian Tribal Heritage hosts some of the visual documentation that I have made in northeast and central India
i Click on this button to go to the website of Indian Tribal Heritage
To capture a man, then immediately marry him, you need a chicken
It is a truth (not widely accepted) that to capture a man, then immediately marry him, you need a chicken.
But not because the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.
The Garo Hills. An extension of the eastern Himalayas. When the cotton is in full bloom, it is the season for man capture. Men from one village capture men from another for marriage to their unmarried sisters, cousins and nieces. If a man accepts the marriage, he moves into the village of his wife and shares her property.
And if he doesn’t?
Ratmi, a young, single mother wants to get married. The film follows the process of capturing a man for her as it observes the players behind Ratmi’s marriage in 2000/2001 and again in 2006.As we follow Ratmi’s story, some questions emerge for us. What doesIndia look like as it is in some types of unseen fringes, where power shifts back and forth from individual to group, man to woman, the person behind the camera and the people in front of it? This film about the India that we don’t see, reverses some of the dominant images we see all the time about caste, gender and difference.
Produced by Chitra Katha Productions
Directed by Nandini Bedi
Distributed within South Asia by Under Construction, Delhi (UCL Films)
If the global does not encompass the local, then what does it contain?
Ambi Jiji has always planted her crops on soil on which forests have been burnt. At the end of each year, this jhum field would be abandoned and left to regenerate into forest and a new one burnt. This is ofetn referred to as ‘shifting cultivation’. The burning of forested lands and the choice of new fields was an action performed by the village as a whole unit. Jiji is one of the custodians of the community owned village lands.
When Jiji was a young woman, she didn’t need to buy food. The people of her village relied on the great variety of crops that their fields produced. Forest cover was not reduced over the vast area under the control of her village. Now Jiji is about to retire. The rampant felling of trees for cash has aggravated the ecological balance for shifting cultivation. Chekjak, her daughter has been converting her fields to orchards, taking them out of circulation from the shifting fields. Waljak, another daughter, continues to depend on shifting cultivation but cannot meet her food needs any more. Chekjak and other villagers orchard produce give them cash and food security. Community lands are being privatized without consent and mono crop orchards are replacing organic multi crop fields. As some move aggressively forward, the disparities in wealth between villagers in what was a more homogenous society becomes inevitable.
This observational film follows conversations between the protagonists and other villagers that suggest an abuse of social control over land use by the village folk themselves. It focuses on Jiji, who spends her days between planning her retirement and trying to regain control over the threads that are the fabric of her society. Through her opposing actions, the film points to just how difficult it could be to turn events around in her village to bring back a balance into community life and the environment.
Are we witnessing more generally known global phenomena in a remote village in the Northeast of India?
First Prize – Jeevika – Livelihood Film Festival- Delhi – July 2007
First Prize – CMS Vatavaran Film Festival – Delhi – August – 2007
Also screened at
India International Center, Delhi – July – 2007 (Followed by a discussion)
Shared Histories – Celebrating India in South Africa – Johennesburg – Sept. Oct. 2007
The 9th Madurai Documentary and Short Film festival – Nov 2007
CMS Vatavaran traveling festival – in 8 Indian cities in 2008
Watson institute of International Studies, Brown University, Providence – February 2008 (Followed by a discussion)
Bangalore Film Society – January 2009 ( Followed by a discussion)
India Institute – Amsterdam – January 2009 ( Followed by a discussion)
Nepal International Indegenous Film festival – Kathmandu – June 2010
‘It is not that we are not knowing English. It is just that we are knowing it in our own way only. Tell your name please’.
Many Indians tend not to use the simple present tense when they speak English. An English flavored by India is recognized as ‘Indian English’. According to data from Google, Indians search for English training more than any other peoples of the world. My latest documentary ‘Simple Present Future Perfect‘ is a look at one of the ‘kinds’ of English being taught in a school for ‘English Training and Personality Development’ in Mumbai, India. Students are expected to speak Indian English and be comfortable with it. On the board, hangs a newspaper clip ‘Indian English will take over the world’ – an idea expressed by a famous Welsh linguist. ‘Yes’ says the director of the Mumbai school. ‘It will. There are more Indians speaking English today than in any other part of the English speaking world. And numbers count’.