Vijay Jodha’s “Poop On Poverty” tells the story of some rural women in Rajasthan, who use camel dung as cooking fuel

It is hard to find a feel good film on poverty that doesn’t overstay its welcome. Filmmaker Vijay Jodha has just managed to touch the issue without dramatising or sermonising. Shot during the Pushkar Fair Poop On Poverty is a short on women, who collect camel dung and use it to cook their food. A story of grass root ingenuity, it is being watched with interest in international film festivals. Vijay says over the past six months it has been shown in multiple languages and in over 200 countries. “Nearly 70 broadcasters were involved in the process making it perhaps the most widely seen programme from India,” says Jodha.

Excerpts from an interview:

What was the catalyst?

This film is part of world’s largest television programme dealing with poverty. It is using long and short films, viral videos etc. to create awareness, raise questions and encourage debate about why so many people are still poor in a world marked by so much material wealth, communication technology and access to information. Participating filmmakers and film locations are from across the world and the end products have been seen on over 200 channels. The producers have won world’s oldest and most prestigious television award – The Peabody Award (USA) for best series. It was launched at UN headquarters in New York as a special event.

Who has funded it?

The film has been funded by an organisation called Steps International that is based in Denmark and South Africa.

Why do you think it is relevant?

On the face of it, my film is about the ingenuity of the poor (Spending a week collecting camel dung so that cooking fuel issues are tackled for the next several months). It also demonstrates the idea that just because poor people lack resources, doesn’t mean that they lack brains. In fact they are probably more resourceful than the rest of us. But more important than this aspect of ingenuity whose examples were found across the world (such as making footwear with discarded mineral water bottles in parts of Africa), was the fact that the film showed the underbelly of one of the most photographed and films places in the world. Pushkar appears on every must visit of the world and its camel fair is one of the most unique and beautiful experiences but there is this side which gets completely missed by almost everyone.

Don’t you think it is an ingenious way to reduce the use of firewood though the users seem to know very little about environment issues?

That some people use camel dung and thus putting less pressure on surrounding forests, natural environment etc. is a welcome step. However, it does not take away from the fact that such a huge population worldwide, due to lack of access to electric stoves or cooking gas at home, are forced to do so much labour and spend several hours everyday just so that they can cook their daily meal. That reveals something about the world we live in.

Some people on the social media have found expressions like ‘forced to’ as a little condescending. What’s your take?

I disagree. As much as I am in favour of reuse and recycle and anything that reduces pressure on natural environment, I didn’t want to give a positive spin to what is after all a difficult, time consuming and perhaps occasionally humiliating task that such a large number people are forced to do due to their circumstances. As a working person, I cannot imagine that of my eight work hours everyday, a couple go away in locating cooking fuel. I don’t think any of these people would do it either if they had a choice.

Tell us about the shooting experience…it seems except for the camels all the people in the frame are aware of the shoot!

We shot over a course of ten days including two days rehearsal for this film. It was made during the Pushkar Fair of November 2011. Since it was being done in multiple languages and across so many countries, cultures, our idea was to make it as accessible to different people as possible, we tried to make the visuals do most of the talking. We wanted to make the point without taking away the beauty of the people, place and culture of Pushkar. As any visitor during the fair would tell you, the place is packed with professional and amateur filmmakers and photographers who are documenting almost every single texture and activity in that place during that week. We shot as the women went around doing their work and whatever reaction they were getting from other people or even the camels. We didn’t want to make it a typical information heavy or voice of god narration documentary that people may either find dull or forget details two days after viewing it. Without compromising on the concept and the authenticity, we wanted to convey some lasting ideas that would, hopefully find a universal resonance. The way we wanted to make the film was something that starts off as a typical travel and lifestyle channel exotica film but suddenly twists and goes off in another direction.