From the tribal community of Sanjay Gandhi National park to the tigers of the Sunderbans, the documentaries shot by the student filmmakers, covered a wide spectrum of complex topics. Sanchayan Bhattacharjee reports
Films have always been a powerful medium to retrospect and introspect different issues of society. While entertainment remains a primary goal, an increasing number of films are focusing on social themes relevant to the times. The art of filmmaking also allows the propagation of information through the audio visual medium in an engaging manner. Using this mode of communication, final year mass media students of Kishinchand Chellaram College, Mumbai screened their respective documentaries at ‘Roll Take Turn’, an annual event at the college. As part of their final year projects for the ‘Contemporary Issues’ subject, students donned their filmmaking hats and shot documentaries on diverse and complex topics across the country.
India is one of the few nations to have not yet abolished the death penalty. The argument of whether to do away with capital punishment remains a hotly contested and seemingly unending one. ‘Black Out’, one of the documentaries focused on this debate. “It is a law used abruptly in our system, often as a political tool. Moreover, there are number of people who are wrongfully on death row in terms of not having had a fair trial,” said Ranjana Srivastava, one of the students involved in making the film. The film also focused on the entire mercy petition process. “It goes from the High Court to the Supreme Court to finally the President of India who either accepts or denies the petition. We found a case wherein a person on death row had a petition pending for 11 years and the paperwork was lost,” added Srivastava.
Another documentary screened at the event profiled the trials and tribulations of people at Jadugora, Jharkhand as a result of uranium mining. The film, titled ‘Jadugora’, looked at the complex health disorders people suffered from in the area as a result of radiation and the untimely deaths or abnormalities as a result. Since The Uranium Corporation of India Limited (UCIL) undertakes majority of the mining activity in the area, access was a problem for students shooting the film. “It was difficult to get a UCIL representative to talk on camera. However, at the recently concluded Indian Science Congress in Mumbai, we did manage to get one of their representatives to answer,” said Anurag Worlikar, one of the student filmmakers. The students also found it difficult to get inputs from the villagers because of the lack of government intervention over the years. “We had to deal with a certain degree of resentment from the villagers as according to them, the end result of all this coverage amounted to nothing,” added Worlikar.
While the ‘Internal Others’ raised a pertinent question of how exactly to define an Indian look with reference to the discrimination towards students from the North East, ‘Eligible Encroachers’ focused on the large tribal community in the Sanjay Gandhi National Park. “According to the Government, it becomes difficult to distinguish between the tribal population who have a right to the forest land and the slum dwellers, both of whom live in the park,” said Shivani Gorle, one of the filmmakers. The documentary portrayed the ambiguity and poor implementation in terms of rehabilitation of this tribal community for forest conservation. “There is a provision for rehabilitating families who settled in this area before 1995, but what about those who came later?,” questioned Gorle adding that the living conditions in Chandivali (relocation area) are very poor.
Several other documentaries looked at issues including the declining number of vultures in India, sexual abuse of children in Goa as well as the man-animal conflict in the Sunderbans, West Bengal. In addition to conceptualising, shooting and editing a film independently, the information gained throughout the respective projects was immense. “Secondary research was not enough to understand the issue. We learnt to look at different shades of an event instead of just categorising them as black or white,” concluded Worlikar.