At the Communications Resource Centre run by Vishy Teki and Manisha Agarwal, filmmaking goes far beyond providing viewing pleasure
Housed in a nondescript house in West Venkatapuram, Alwal, the Communications Resource Centre (CRC) may be difficult to find. Inside, a team works to meet their larger goal of being a window to an India that does not make it into its mainstream media or popular culture. The core team — Vishy, his wife Manisha, Shikha Singh, Lokesh Meesala, Sivanarayanan, K.V. Moulika and Ramanjaneyulu — are dedicated to making films that bring out stories from different nooks and corners of the country, stories that would otherwise remain unheard, stories that have the power to impact both the subject and the viewer of the film.
CRC was established two years ago with little more than the wealth of experience, passion and dedication of both Vishy and Manisha, who have decades of experience as journalists on the field. The space is also a learning ground for many young people looking to contribute to their mission; like interns, including many from the University of Hyderabad, Vishy’s and Manisha’s alma mater. Some like Shikha remain, while others move on with a better idea about documentary film making. Last month, Vishy was conferred the Karamveer Puraskaar award for his work in the field, a well deserved honour for an unsung hero.
Vishy says his journey to where he is now started while he pursued his Master’s degree in Geochemistry in Osmania University. “OU was a hotbed of political activity and although I wouldn’t say I was a part of the movement, I was involved with a lot of left groups,” he says. On his geochemistry field trips, Vishy found himself drawn more to the people of the area, rather than the rocks he was meant to study. “I would speak to the Lambadas and the tribals about their lives; it was from all these experiences that I decided there should be something I can do.” That decision led him to the media and communications department at Hyderabad Central University, which too was a political learning ground for the young Vishy. “I met people from backgrounds — dalits, indigenous tribes, minority groups — and they would offer their perspective on various issues. That’s when I realised that what effects them in one way, effects someone else in a completely different way.”
This realisation continues to be the cornerstone of the Communication Resource Centre (CRC) which is dedicated to bringing out different minority perspectives to the attention of the mainstream. The use of video and film as his medium of choice was also a conscious decision to ensure that they can be seen and understood even by illiterate people.
While the CRC will only turn two this May, Vishy began to deliver socially relevant content right from the day he began work. Following HCU, he spent four years working with Eenadu where he worked on bringing out stories related to agriculture, drinking water and the condition of life in villages. “Being a regional news channel, the idea was to establish a rapport between them and the grass roots,” says Vishy, “ I tried to bring a lot of diversity to the content and develop a keen eye to see various perspectives.”
Following his stint with Eenadu, he made several short films and public service advertisements in the capacity of Media In-charge for Loksatta party after which he proceeded to work with Action Aid. His previous experience with communities and people working on the ground helped him to engage in several causes: he was part of a campaign supporting the setting up of SEZs in East Godavari district, his documentation of the MNREGA programme on the ground inspired the Andhra Pradesh government to start a social audit program; Vishy himself trained seven batches of social auditors on how to use the video camera to capture the situation on the ground. Fishing in troubled waters, his film about the displacement of traditional fishing in the face of corporate investment garnered a lot of international attention, Suffering in Silence was about the care and support of HIV positive individuals, Wealth amidst dust which focussed on the lives of brick kiln workers around Hyderabad provided a much-needed perspective on the reality of the construction business in the city.
“The film documents the human rights abuses that take place in about 1000 brick kilns on the outskirts on the city. The video created a lot of fear in the owners and also put pressure on the labour department to look into the issue,” says Vishy.
The film is a perfect example of the work done by CRC and more importantly, the impact it has on the lives of the people involved. At an age where filmmakers and journalists are vying to go viral and grab eyeballs, the CRC’s ensures that their films, focussed on educating and building awareness are shown to a relevant audience with the hope of affecting some change.
Vishy’s passion for his cause has also taken him to the red corridor in Chattisgarh where he shot the Salwa Judum. He also travelled to Godhra as an ActionAid volunteer during the riots where he documented all the legal cases involving violence against women.
“Wealth amidst dust was also used as evidence in the court. The verdict resulted in the saving of over 400 women in the span of 6-7 years, “informs Vishy, adding that he has constantly worked on migration and the rights of migrant labourers. is something that he has constantly worked on “There are over 50 million migrants in India right now and they subsidise lives in the city by providing important services but they live in a very informal climate and unlike dalits and tribals, don’t have any movement to support them.”
“Most of these videos are made as part of a campaign or in the context of showing it to the government or organisations like the UN who have used these videos to get key learnings about what’s happening on the ground,” explains Vishy, “We see that our work has utility for various organisations who can use it to influence decision makers.”
Vishy’s often radically left perspectives are balanced by his wife and partner Manisha, who was also instrumental in setting up CRC. Also a journalist of several years of experienceNewstime Eenadu, Manisha is dedicated to the cause of creating work that has a social impact. “Finally, it’s about people. When we work on a subject, we actually go and stay with the people involved and that affects the story we tell. We have to be sensitive to their feelings too,” explains Manisha, who has just completed a film called Beautiful Women which documents the life of women sex workers. “I feel the messages we give in our films are very important. What is it that we want to say, what is it that we should say and what is the impact it’s going to have? - these are questions we ask ourselves on a daily basis.”
Both Manisha and Vishy agree that a lot of their work is dedicated at bridging the gap between the ‘real India’ and the India that is portrayed in our cities. “My aim is also to bring certain issues to the mainstream, and by that I mean young people,” explains Vishy. “The youth are so restless; they know something is wrong but not clear on what exactly is wrong. There is this disconnect between what they are shown through popular media and what actually happens.”
The CRC aims at creating lasting impacts, both to the viewers of their films and also to the people in the film “Our films need not be celebrated as artistic works but they should yield specific results to the people involved.”
Ther CRC team comprises of young people that reflect Vishy’s passion. Shikha Singh, who completed her Master’s in communications at HCU began as an internee. “I always wanted to do something in the developmental sector and when I came here I realised that this is where I want to be because it is a communications agency at the end of the day but it is focussed on development,” she says. Lokesh, who has been there since CRC was founded, is an unlikely candidate for the job. A man of few words, Lokesh’s interests lie in feature filmmaking and animation but he too finds great satisfaction in working at the centre where production quality is just as important.
“Their heart and mind is in the right place,” says Vishy of his young team members. “I am also trying to learn from them. Just as young people have biases, so does my generation. These people put a lot of moral pressure on me because I feel accountable for their work and time. In the end it is people like them that I foresee will take over the mantle and continue the work,” he concludes.