Acclaimed city-based documentary filmmaker Pavitra Chalam takes us through a journey on ‘Indelible’, her award winning feature documentary on seven heroes with Down’s Syndrome
No one is perfect. And Indelible is a film that celebrates this imperfection at its best. Trisomy 21, or more commonly called Down’s Syndrome, is a condition caused by an extra chromosome where the person is typically associated with physical growth delays, characteristic facial features and mild to moderate intellectual disability. However, for city-based filmmaker Pavitra Chalam, the people with the genetic disorder are the real heroes in society and her film projects their stories as a message of hope to all humanity.
Pavitra, a graduate of the New York Film Academy who studied in Frank Anthony Public School and Mount Carmel College and is presently founder of CurleyStreet Media — a Bangalore-based independent production house, has made films on a wide array of sensitive social issues ranging from drug addiction to mental illness for close to a decade. Having won the Asia Pacific New Documentary Award for Outstanding New Asia Pacific Documentary Talent out of 10 films at the DocWeek Film Festival 2014 in Australia, Indelible is India’s first official film on Down’s Syndrome.
“At its heart, Indelible is a story of hope and a tribute to the human spirit,” says Pavitra. Set amid the beaches and bylanes of Chennai, Indelible discovers seven heroes and their families, bound together by an extra chromosome. Babli, Revathi, Arti, Manimeghalai, Archana, Sandhya and Ashwin invite us into their homes and hearts to witness everything that we never knew about the genetic disorder. Through these stories, we witness a magical world and an unlimited capacity for love and courage, adds the filmmaker.
On the award, Pavitra says: “We celebrate the fact that the film created such an impact in another part of the world. It’s an affirmation that we got to take an important story out there because Down’s Syndrome exists in a lot of isolation in India, and the film and the award have given it greater visibility.”
The people in Indelible are real life heroes who fight in the face of adversity, says Pavitra. “They taught me how to look at life positively. Archana, who is a Special Olympics gold medallist, says in the film ‘be proud of who you are, of you, of your life’. They are so positive and in the moment while we are all worried about tomorrow and yesterday. They really teach you to live in the moment. This is not just a film about the syndrome. It’s a film about life.”
When it comes to the name, Pavitra says it’s really hard to take something that is so much greater than you and give it a name. “Indelible means something that cannot be erased and that is exactly the experience that the people left with us. Our lives have been changed forever and we hope that it would leave an indestructible mark out in the world. The film gave us fuel to carry forward our own quest and an opportunity to become better people.”
On how she picked this topic for a film, Pavitra shares that her company and her are about telling stories. “We tell stories of hope. Without hope, we have nothing. I’m quite a crusader for hope. I never know what the next story is going to be since it’s really like falling in love. It’s an organic natural process and I gravitate towards a story as much as it gravitates towards me.”
So has Pavitra taken it upon herself the onus of being a champion for the cause? Yes, she says. “I think it’s important for everyone, no matter who you are, to champion a cause that is dear to your heart. It’s our innate responsibility to be a champion of change. We are India. Everyone is always trying to better themselves. If you can just expand that scope a little bit more, you are leading a movement towards collective change. And Bangalore is phenomenal since everyone here is looking outside of themselves. It is no more the era of ‘I’, we are in the season of ‘We’.”
From her debut film Bus to Indelible, Pavitra has had a passionate journey. “There were times when I wondered how things would turn out. What’s stayed, never changed and only grew stronger is the passion. I am also blessed with the most exceptional team and that is quite rare in any profession. The support that has come in from everywhere, especially Bangalore, has being overwhelming.”
Looking ahead, Pavitra aims to pursue her quest for change with Rooting For Roona, an ongoing movie campaign for the health of the girl child. “The film is a true testament for change. Both films mark the beginning of a journey where we can all begin to hope for a better world.”