Truth be told on reel

Gender violence

Truth be told on reel

At the 62nd National Film Awards, the 2014 documentary Daughters of Mother India was recognised as the Best Film on Social Issues. In it, the director and producer of the film, Vibha Bakshi, is on a personal quest to understand the changes in society that followed the brutal gang rape of 2012 in Delhi.

With lens to draw out the positive doings of people amidst grave realities and inspire the rest with the same, Vibha hopes that the movement to address the burning issue of gender violence (that has well-begun) will not die out.

In a phone conversation, the Mumbai-based filmmaker discussed the documentary and more. Here are the excerpts from the interview:

Why did you make the documentary ‘Daughters of Mother India’?

The documentary is a cry of my conscience. I watched what followed the brutal gang rape of 2012. I watched so many people, especially women, on the streets protesting and wanting justice. I wondered if any other country had reacted the way India had. It was a historic moment and in that I saw hope. People wanted change. So I told Vishal, my husband, that the issue was burning and we had to show it. But it had to be a responsible film and we didn’t seek any support from production houses to avoid influence on the way we would tell the story. It had to be as straightforward as possible.

What were your expectations going into this project?

The editor of the documentary, Hemanti Sarkar, suggested that this project be an ordinary person’s journey as it was too imposing an issue. So we decided to capture the voices on the street, begin with a clean lens, and drop any biases. Our focus was on sensitising people about the realities that followed the incident.

How did you prepare yourself to portray the sensitive issue of gender violence?

It was an emotionally tough time. After I spoke to a young victim of gender violence (whose story is featured in the documentary), I broke down and told my husband that I didn’t have the strength to continue filming. I’m a mother of two sons, what if it had happened to them? But he convinced me to go on, saying what I had seen could not be unseen, and what I had heard couldn’t be unheard.

You had access to the Delhi Police command room. How did you seek permission?

Right after Nirbhaya’s death, I made an extensive list of all the reasons why the police should give me time inside their command room. Within two minutes of my conversation,  the commissioner of Delhi Police let me in, saying, “I understand, I’m a father of two daughters.”

Why did you want to show the police’s side of story?

When we went into the command room for filming, we had no agenda. After spending two weeks there, we realised that they are our mirror image — they had the biases that we had! So, instead of bringing down the system, we decided to focus on those doing good work. We realised if they were empowered, others would be inspired. Like a theatre person says in the film, multiplication of positive thoughts is quite powerful to bring about change.

An experience that startled or moved you during the filming of the documentary…

The biggest revelation was: OMG! These policemen are also human beings. The first few days inside the control room were easy to handle because the head of the department guided us and was behind the personnel. Then we became uninvited guests. That’s when they became more forthcoming about the realities in the room. One night, a policewoman, after her shift ended, changed into her sari and before leaving, said, “I too feel scared when I go out at night.” That’s when we realised there are no
villains or heroes.

What lessons has this film taught you in filmmaking?

It has taught me that more than technique and craft, intent and emotional empathy are key. Without the two, the film will not work out.

What are some of the reactions and responses to your documentary?

It’s beyond overwhelming, from society in general, and uniformed men in particular. One policeman later said to me, “Didi, a lot of work remains to be done.” To see a movie theatre full of uniformed men was rather overwhelming.

What does recognition mean to you?

It’s quite an honour, but much more than that, because of the award, the issue of gender violence has gotten the attention it deserves. It keeps the issue alive because we cannot afford to stop talking about gender crimes. Also, it’s not a personal triumph, but a team effort.

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