A new television series is trying to change society’s attitude towards the visually impaired.
"My family members don’t realise what I am doing on my own without their help. They only see what I don’t or cannot. This upsets me no end.” I remember these words by a senior research scholar I knew. He was visually impaired.
That was in the early 1990s. Today efforts are on to make people understand that visually-impaired people, if granted resources and encouragement, are no less than a person with normal vision. One such endeavour is Nazar Ya Nazariya, a new serial on Doordarshan aired every Saturday at 9.30 a.m., which highlights the achievements of visually-impaired people in different fields. Each episode is introduced by actor Naseeruddin Shah — who incidentally played a visually-impaired principal of a school in Sai Paranjpe’s critically acclaimed film Sparsh in 1980. Television actor Harsh Chhaya anchors the series.
The serial will feature 32 case studies from across India. For example, a visually- and hearing-impaired dance group from Bijnour, a businessman in Guwahati, a theatre group in Kolkata, a national swimming champion, a journalist, a national level chess player and people in corporate and rural India. One episode showed how visually-impaired students have to drop science and math after Std. VIII. It featured two boys — Karthik Sahni from Kolkata who scored 96 per cent in these subjects and has been offered a Stanford scholarship, and Prateek Dutta who did cryptology from IIT Karakhpur and has been conferred the J.C Bose Award — and raised the question of whether the problem lay with the student’s capability or in the teaching.
In other episodes, visually-impaired achievers talk of their lives or showcase their skills, while making viewers realise that they are leading normal lives.
The serial was conceived of by George Abraham, Chief Executive Officer of Score Foundation, an NGO dedicated to finding resources for the visually-impaired. This is his debut production, in association with Sightsavers, an international charity that works to combat blindness in developing countries.
“The idea is not to raise [awareness of] problems, because everyone knows about them. It is about making people change their inse nahi hoga (They can’t do it) attitude. It is about trying to show that blindness has lot of possibilities and if proper training is imparted, the blind can be utilised as the best human resources available,” asserts George. The serial will also suggest that the government policies ought to support the visually impaired. “We are not focusing on what they can’t do but on what they can. We are asking if the problem is one of nazar ya nazariya (lack of sight or lack of vision),” he adds.
A team of 10 people travelled across India and throughout, George says, they met curious people. Children were more interested in the “subjects” than the shooting and wanted to know if serial timings would clash with their school timings.
Handling the team had its own issues. Transferring his sensibilities to the team was a challenge. For instance, “the camera would focus on the subjects’ eyes. I didn’t want that usual negative attitude throughout a 22-minute episode. So, I had to intervene to show them as normal human beings,” he recalls.
George had conceived of the idea many years ago and even spoken to actor Shashi Kapoor about it but it didn’t take off. “After a talk with Tripurari Sharan, the Director General of Doordarshan, I posted the idea on Facebook and filmmaker Somu Ghosh contacted me. With their cooperation, my dream became a reality,” says George.
Though the timing is not audience-friendly, George insists this slot has less competition, and he doesn’t have to contend with soap operas on prime time.
Scripted by Sehba Imam and directed by Mohammad Faizan, the serial already has people like Shashi Tharoor, Harsha Bhogle and V.V.S Laksman tweeting about it, while MSN and Godfrey Phillips’s Be Brave website also promote it. The team is also researching the impact of the serial simultaneously.