Giving voice to deaf children on celluloid

Hailing from Uttarakhand, journalist-turned-filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt has been closely associated with social causes, and has explored stories of courage and adventure from the state’s Himalayan mountain region. He used to make small-scale films and screen them at schools and local television channels. However, during one such event he came across some people working with deaf and mute children. Intrigued, he started interacting with the children, and rest is history.

“After spending around two years with these kids, I felt they have some abilities which are beyond normal people, and that they are differently-abled instead of being disabled. Being a trained mountaineer myself, I thought of creating a story around the Himalaya and the difficult sport of mountaineering and how these ‘supposedly disabled’ children can actually dream of climbing the mountains,” he tells Metrolife.

Thus was conceptualised The Silent Heroes, which Bhatt says is a “small story with a big heart”. The 118 minute film narrates the story on 13 ‘silent heroes’, who are actually deaf and mute children from the Bajaj Institute of Learning, Dehradun. Aged between seven to 13 years, the children were selected after the team made multiple visits to their school, briefed the staff, observed the children, interacted with them and gauged their physical fitness, ability to take instructions, their willingness and of course, parental acceptance.

“This film is a fictional story of 13 deaf children from a school in Uttarakhand who want to do something which will bring them respect from the world. The school is run by two teachers who feel that if these children become mountaineers their dream to rise above everyone shall be realised — after all mountaineering is a difficult sport and deaf children attempting it is much bigger challenge. Children and their families get excited about this and want to pursue it, but they need someone to train them and believe in their near-impossible dream,” Bhatt says.

He adds that the remaining story is about their trainer, their rigorous regime, the events that unfold in the Himalaya, the rejections they face and their final expedition to their dream destination in the extreme weather conditions. The film was shot with the help of two sign language instructors from the school.

Previously screened at the Kolkata Children's International Film Festival, International Film Festival of Prayag and the Dehradun International Film Festival, The Silent Heroes is all set for a theatrical release on December 11. It will also be the first time a Hindi film will have open captioning, he says.

However, their journey was not without its share of stumbling blocks. Shot over a span of about 50 days at ‘virgin locations’ in the Himalayan towns of Dehradun, Uttarkashi, Harsil and Chopta during freezing winter months of January and February, the cast and crew had to battle extreme weather conditions.

“It was difficult to reach many of the locations on time. Sometimes roads were cut due to landslides, other times sudden snow storm would start while shooting or sometime we simply had to stop shooting as the crew could not handle the severe weather or the equipments stopped working due to the cold. There were times when our actors were so tired mentally and physically that we had to reschedule shooting dates and locations, which obviously resulted in extended shooting schedule and financial loss,” he says.

Further, they needed multiple permissions from the government, disaster management teams, army, forest department, and of course, there was budget crunch.

But, Bhatt is elated that his team overcame all the challenges, and says: “We made this film with an objective that the world shall look up to these children with respect and adulation and that people know that there is nothing which these children cannot achieve even if they cannot speak or hear. They too have dreams and the courage to realise those dreams. There are a huge number of speech and hearing impaired persons in India (29,02,590 as per 2011 census) and bringing them respect, adulation, recognition and inclusion in mainstream professional arena will be the measurement of our success.”

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