Passers by...of lives and livelihoods

Names and images with almost similar stories...future, past or present...the seven 'Raahi' Zindagi Rozana films, made by young women from low-income peripheries of Delhi/NCR belong to all of us who live in this urban metropolis. We are the raahis, the 'passers-by' of these everyday lives in this fast-changing much as we witness or ignore them! 

Afshan, Ankita, Juhina, Mamta, Ruby, Shashi, Sona...Sumaira, Sanaa, Bharti, Ayushi, Kajal, Nandini, Shabenoor, Muskaan, Shahnaz, Raveena, Shabana, Naima, Parul, Sunaina—young women from working class communities...these names merge into the frames as do the lines between the women protagonists and the women film makers, that Ankur Talkies brings to us. 

Many of these women live, study or work in our residential or workplace neighbourhoods. Some of them may be daughters of our domestic workers, drivers, cleaners, security guards, local shopkeepers, service providers, home delivery persons or other support staff working in homes, workplaces, theatres, malls etc. Yet, we wouldn’t know them or their lives unless we had these conversations with their parents or we saw the Raahi films facilitated by the Ankur Collective. 

Ankur is a 30 year old not-for-profit organisation that works in the area of alternative education with a pedagogy that is embedded in the realities of the community it works with and within. Over the last few years, Ankur has been engaging with young women in working class settlements of Delhi, providing them a space to strengthen peer networks, engage in research and creative practice and explore alternatives for future. An important form of such expression and articulation is to encourage them to write stories. It is this engagement that led seven young women to create moving images through a four-month learning and film making process. 

It was the women’s day weekend, the #tenthofmarch #twentyeighteen, two days after scores of social media messages and wishes, big words and announcements were heard and (perhaps) forgotten, advertisements and PSAs repeated cliches but some made forays into new territories too, companies sold millions of face creams, clothes, accessories and more to the ‘celebrating women’s day’ customers, some men tried to appreciate, acknowledge, gift the women in their lives (by way of real or consumerised intent), there were rallies/ marches, seminars, award functions, friendly meetings and outings, and the continuing humdrum of daily work, gender discrimination and violence against girls and women. 
The small Kriti Film Club space with curtains drawn to shut the light out, doors closed to shut the noise out from a neighbourhood with similar working class stories and sounds experienced 'zindagi rozana' uncovering the dreams and aspirations of young travellers in this busy city...the young women in front of and behind the 'mobile camera'. 

It was the coming together of 30 women (and 5 men) across age, community, class, caste, religion, education and experience...collectively viewing and discussing the outcomes of a mobile film making journey led by Samina Mishra, film maker, author and story teller. Short films made by young women...first time film makers...but who could say that as one saw their films and heard them speak after. They are infact story tellers as part of Ankur’s Collectives and the film making facilitation has just added another feather in their wings to fly. 
A process of 12-14 workshops which taught them film making using the most accessible equipment available today—the mobile! And yet, it was not easy for all the young women to have such a mobile camera—some borrowed their brothers’, some their mothers, some the film protagonists itself! 

From identifying women they wanted to make films on, meeting and explaining to more than one woman and their mothers or brothers what and why they were doing and finally, shortlisting their 'Protagonist—the film making journey included scripting, planning shoots, mobile camera and audio work, and sitting on the edit table with a mentor to weave their shots into the final frame. There is a glow in their eyes, a high in their spirits and a bounce in their voice...a new identity is emerging for many of them. They are not the actors (an expectation that their families visualised) but the film makers, they are not the passive viewers but the eyes that are capturing living stories from behind the ‘mobile’ camera. 

Isn’t it amazing how despite the great divides between the core and the periphery, digital technologies are building new bridges and pathways to unify lives and aspirations of these young women. Gone is the day when only the professionally qualified or the privileged could think of becoming a film maker. As these young women spoke of their journey before independent documentary film maker women, an executive producer, a member of a women film and radio network, I realised once more why I want to encourage documentary film making among communities and show documentaries across diverse audiences as I have been doing for the past 18 years. The camera has the power to affect the mind, heart and body to think, feel and act across context...images and sounds takes one closest to life experiences. In those moments of moving reels (sadly only figuratively speaking now), we can be one with whom we witness before us. We can be 'thought-provoked'...we can be happy, sad, angry or just numbed; we can question, challenge or find answers; we can take steps towards new beginnings and so much more. 

Young women who are stepping out into the 'market' in search of livelihoods for various reasons...yes, women must have a 'reason' to be doing this! Its still not expected of them as it is of 'men'! Even while the young men in their families may be loitering around with friends, roaming the neighbourhoods on bikes without helmets, trying their hands (in some cases) at local jobs but not lasting through them for want of a 'higher profile' job and pay is these young women who are taking tuitions at home, cooking and cleaning, and managing jobs. Traversing the city in e-rickshaws and the 'mobility lifeline' for many such women – the metro gets them to and fro each day with more ease than was expected in this capital city of Delhi. Public transport has been a bane of contention for most girls and women before the metro...experiences of 'pinching' and 'teasing' in buses forms part of almost every delhi girls' lifestory. The metro somehow seems to have created a more secure and practical travel option and one that seems visibly safer, whether its about the CCTV cameras or the crowds or the pace that the metro offers. 

“Don't let work overpower you, there is nothing bigger than a human being”. “I took the first step in my mind and became independent”. “I took the decision to work with my parents. They are my biggest support.” “Only jobs can improve the lives of girls”. “I also wanted to dress up everyday and go out to do a job, stand up on my feet and see the world” “I love sitting on the bus window seat and have now been able to see dilli dil waalo ki”. “I am able to support my family and myself.” Glimpses of the worlds these young women inhabit in their dreams and realities...running shops, assisting local clinics, crowd sourcing for film shootings, opening bank accounts in low-income neighbourhoods, making tour packages in travel agencies, working in malls, courier companies....thinking like free birds and influencing others in their neighbourhoods to step out into the world of work. 

Dressing up every morning to give meaning to their lives and make their livelihoods...supporting their families due to the sudden death of a father, ensuring continued education of siblings, taking forward business legacies, finding new ground in local markets, malls, clinics and banking spaces where they didn't think they belonged...the Raahi women mirror the voices of lakhs of young women in our country. Negotiating through socio-cultural sub-texts, sometimes challenging them and sometimes accepting their perils, these young women with 'mobiles' in their hands are creating spaces for themselves in an otherwise patriarchal economy. 

I can't but applaud the effort of the team of 14 young film makers (two women per film), whose hard work in scripting, cinematography and direction showed in overt and subtle ways—in the stillness of their camera work while moving by foot, rickshaws, on buses and the metro; the candid and context shots, interplaying the individual narrative amidst and of the 'raahis'...unpacking the everyday lives of their protagonists with beauty and determination as the constants. 

The post-screening conversations were as enriching as the young film makers recounted the trials and tribulations they went through...from losing a mobile with the entire footage to spending hours practicing how to hold the mobile still to shoot and creating their stories with limitations of sound and image quality that were inherent in their basic mobiles...the stories didn't fade out! We saw potential script writers, cinematographers and directors amidst these women and spoke of the films (among them Nirnay and Modh) they should see, women film makers they should meet (among them Pushpa Rawat) and more. The inputs of the 'formally' trained (or professional) film makers and producers brought a glow in their eyes and a confidence that will reveal itself in their journies ahead. May many young women film makers bloom from Ankur Talkies! 

written by Aanchal Kapur who is the founder of the non-profit organisation, Kriti: a development praxis and communication team of which the Kriti Film Club is a flagpost initiative.