Nonagenarian documentary filmmaker Vijaya Mulay on the uses of educational technology.

In the recently concluded CMS Vatavaran Environment & Wildlife Film Festival, a host of Indian and foreign documentary films on environmental conservation were shown and a number of awards announced. The event promoting films on environment was a step towards seeking a change in policy, practice and perception. To help their cause some eminent personalities like Jayanthi Natarajan, Medha Patkar, Madhav Gadgil, Shabana Azmi, Amol Palekar and others graced the occasion. Besides, some comparatively lesser known foreign dignitaries, scientists, researchers, academics and directors came out. And then, there was a not-so-well-known 92-year-old documentary filmmaker Vijaya Mulay who waded her way through to the stage to collect her CMS Vatavaran Lifetime Achievement award.

Yet, as at other times when she has been singled out for awards, Mulay chose to put the focus on the area of her work, almost dissociating herself from the achievement. And so, Mulay has never been a household name. Though her work rightfully has been so. Remember Doordarshan’s seven-minute film, “Ek, Anek aur Ekta”, telecast in the 1980s, with the famous song “Hind Desh ke Niwaasi Sabhi Jan Ek Hain”? Well, the film, directed by her, became hugely popular and taught that generation, through the use of technology, the idea of one, many and unity in diversity.

Asked about those years, she reminisces, “I was fortunate to be with people like Satyajit Ray, Gangubai Hangal, and Kabita Sarkar who helped me make the film.” She then takes you further back in time and mentions “Tidal Bore”, her first film. “Well, I was fascinated by the phenomenon of tides, as high as 15 feet, coming to the shore. It was almost like a wall of water. And so, it raised my curiosity.”

The woman who went on to make 35 documentaries is also credited with founding the Delhi Film Society, besides having been the first joint secretary of the Federation of Film Societies of India and presided over the Central Board of Film Certification.

She asserts, “I have been an educationist. I headed the Centre for Educational Technology. And, that helped me reach out to people in villages. Through the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment we once trained 48000 teachers.”

Ask her about her motivation to work for the marginalised and she retorts, “They shouldn’t be spoken for, they should speak. We should hand over the camera to a fisherman, to a tribal woman.” Learning through educational technology, of which she is a pioneer in India, has been possible for a long time now. But, has it benefitted the people as much? “I think, there is a need to understand that the computer can make you only half as knowledgeable a citizen. It doesn’t impart the values, ethics, etc. Next, I am writing a book on educational technology. So, I will address these issues.”