Bringing movie magic to street children

Bringing movie magic to street children

As a family rule, says Shreya Soni, they rarely give money to street and slum children, but their cars are always stocked with biscuits and clothes to donate.

So during their short meetings at city crossings, she won’t give money, but would happily share her meals with them. But, one day while Soni was headed for a movie, she met her street friends and shared her plan.

“Their response to my movie plan was that they’ve never seen a movie before. This stayed with me for weeks and it truly bothered me that in a city like Delhi, where entertainment and arts are bursting at its seams, these kids had such minimal access to the cultural diaspora,” she says.

So instead of sitting on this, Soni took the initiative and decided to bring the movies to them, if they couldn’t go there. Hence was born ‘Picture Wala’, an entertainment club for street and slum kids which uses cinema, art, music, and sports as a medium to engage, entertain and inspire.

“Since I moved back from London, I observed an explosion in the art and entertainment scene in the city where we had some fantastic music/theatre/comedy and art events.

However these were targeted to a slightly more privileged community.

To me this seemed odd, as the group that needs a break, a laugh or a smile are the kids on our streets. Their reality is so far removed from ours, and I wanted to give back to my friends on the street,” she tells Metrolife.

Started in 2013, the club aims to get disadvantaged children within the folds of culture and meaningful entertainment through skill building workshops of cinema, art, dance, sports, photography, self-defence, craft, music and theatre. The idea is to broaden their thought horizon and get them to think creatively and encouraging them to voice their thoughts into constructive action.

“Picture Wala has introduced the concept of outdoor-cinema where we pull down a large screen with excellent sound and visuals in the basti where these children stay. Instead of making them conscious and awkward in a fancy movie theatre, we like engaging with them in their natural and comfortable surroundings,” she says.

As part of the process, Soni personally prescreens and selects movies that get showcased to the children.

Keeping regular Bollywood at bay, she prefers screening movies that highlight a social message in a fun way. She says the children love watching inspiring movies like Iqbal, Hawa Hawai, Bhoothnath and Fandry “where the underdog comes out as a hero despite his challenging circumstances”.

Apart from screening movies, every fortnight the club introduces a new medium of entertainment or cultural arts and has also organised visits to the Science Museum, Delhi Photo Festival and an ISL football match.

But, the initiative had its share of hurdles, one of which, says Soni, was to convince the parents of these children.

“Initially, the parents didn’t see the benefit of sending their kids away for three hours when they could instead earn some money via begging. For them, the opportunity cost was immense. But tons of persuasion and reasoning got some parents to cave in and we had 35-40 children at the first Picture Wala movie screening!” she says.

However, with every progressive skill building workshop, the number of children has increased and they now interact with an average of 75 children per workshop.

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