– Nitika Khaitan and Aastha Mathur
Photos by Nikhil Singhal
Three times a week, from November to February, a group of 10 college students would take time out of their busy schedules. They would land up at the Ummeed Aman Gharana (Run by our partner organisation, Centre for Equity studies) near Qutub Minar; armed with digital cameras, 2-page lesson plans and emotions that ranged from excitement to apprehension. Then, they would get down to business.
An outsider observing the barren field in the Home, from 5 PM every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday would have seen a remarkable change. One by one, 25 children would start abandoning their elaborate games and tyre swings, disappearing into a classroom lit by a few electric tube lights. There, he/she would have observed the same college students, playing, working and interacting with the children at times with patience and love and at times in utter bewilderment.
All of this was part of one big (clinically insane) idea – take a group of children, who’d never held a camera in their hands before and in 3 months, turn them into movie directors.
Not quite like Professor Higgins quest to turn Audrey Hepburn, a flower girl from the dirt and grime of London’s streets into a refined lady of the royal household; our motives, of course, were different- we believe in Article 19 written by our nation’s forefathers –“All Indian citizens have the right to freedom of speech and expression.” But we also questioned, ‘What significance could that possibly hold for those who didn’t have the means to speech and expression?’ And that’s when we applied to participate in the ‘Adobe Youth Voices’ program, run in partnership with The Global Fund for Children, which provided us with all the technical help we needed to work with the children through a medium of communication as powerful as film.
That belief and the need to answer that question is what kept us alive through day-long training sessions where we struggled with developing editing skills, the horrendous traffic jams we valiantly endured to reach our destination and of course, all the red tape that The YP Foundation convinced us was absolutely essential (it was only at the end that we realized they were right).
Even more monumental was the challenge of (as our 3 Year Strategic Plan so eloquently puts it) ‘bridging the gap.’ Our whole idea depended on the assumption that children with life stories we’d only witnessed in versions of films like ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ would open up to us and actually learn what we wanted to teach them. To our utter bewilderment, they did actually want to learn with just a tiny difference: when we said ‘digital stories’, they heard ‘Bollywood films.’
Session by session, they finally understood the difference and made their peace with the idea that they wouldn’t be filming song-and-dance routines but instead, would be telling a different story, one of ‘meri kahaani, meri zubaani.’ We use the phrase ‘made their peace’ because they didn’t actually think their life stories were interesting enough to be told. Mind you, they are, in fact, extraordinarily interesting.
With more sessions (on scripting and storyboarding), they also (finally!) opened up to us – giving us an insight into their likes, dislikes, hobbies, the importance of education and their aspirations – which invariably involved earning lots of money and then giving back a lot of the same money to people growing up just like them; a selfless aim missing in many of us growing up today.
Missing in so many of us today is the belief in ‘living for the moment.’ Pure unadulterated happiness, a sense of profound wonder and awe at holding a camera in their hands, a broad excited grin at the mere sight of crayons and a blank sheet of paper. They would observe silently, play noisily, listen patiently, enquire impatiently, participate enthusiastically in activities and reluctantly listen to lectures, critically examining what we said yet also unquestioningly accepting our big idea as worth their while.
The end result of this process? Well, as some wise guy said, ‘Knowledge is Power’. If in the future, they want to share their stories, they’ll know how to do it. If in the future, they want to work with a camera, they’ll know how to handle it. If in the future, they want to work in a group, they’ll know how to accommodate other’s opinions while forming their own. If in the future, they want to just reach out and express their thoughts, they’ll know how to use an incredibly powerful medium to do it.
As for us, the core group of volunteers working on this- our initial emotions of apprehension turned to amazement at the children’s incredible capacity to retain what we taught them, then to excitement at the thought of playing and learning with the kids and finally, pride – at our kids, who now understand not only lighting, camera angles and the manual mode on a DSLR, but are confident, vocal and unafraid to express their ideas and ambitions.
And that, for those of you who patiently read this up till this point, was our big clinically insane idea.
To read more about our Digital Media Partnership with the Global Fund for Children, click here. The project, run in partnership with the Center for Equity Studies will continue in 2011 – 2012, scaling to work with an additional 25 children and 15 peer educators, ensuring that 25 children who graduated from our 2010 class continue to work with digital equipment in an enhanced media programme. Watch this space, as we release the final films of our 2010 Class of Superstars!